Warning: This article contains disturbing and sexually explicit language. Please read at your own discretion.
UPDATE: James Franco’s lawyers released a statement Thursday night, responding to two students’ sexual exploitation allegations.
“This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked,” said lawyer Michael Plonsker. “We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit.”
The women claim that Franco and his partners subjected them to sexually exploitative auditions and film shoots in exchange for acting opportunities that were never materialized or released.
In the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the two women, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, allege that Franco and his partners “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal say that the actions of Franco and his partners “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”
The Disaster Artist actor opened his film and acting school Studio 4 in 2014, which he owned with business partner Vince Jolivette. Both are named as defendants in the lawsuit alongside Rabbit Bandini production company and its manager, Jay Davis.
Kaplan and Gaal said that other students were promised opportunities to audition for independent films that Franco directed and produced.
Both women paid monthly tuition of around $300 but they said the school also offered master classes which cost up to $2,000 each. One of the classes included a master class for sex scenes which cost $750.
According to their suit, prospective students for classes involving sex scenes allegedly had to audition on videotape so Franco could review the material.
The lawsuit claims that the class targeted “often young and inexperience females” who “were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.”
Tither-Kaplan came forward to accuse Franco of sexual misconduct in a Los Angeles Times report published in January 2018.
Tither-Kaplan posted to social media, saying Franco allegedly engaged in inappropriate behaviour and mistreated her (and others) in acting classes.
Franco has previously denied the accusations, saying they were “not accurate.”
“The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long. So, I don’t want to shut them down in any way. It’s a good thing and I support it,” he said. (You can watch the clip below.)
The Times report includes further detail from Tither-Kaplan, along with two of Franco’s other students, Hilary Dusome and Natalie Chmiel. (Two other women came forward as well but chose to remain anonymous.) Franco’s now-defunct Studio 4 closed its doors permanently in October 2017 without explanation.
Tither-Kaplan alleged the actor essentially forced his students to strip naked on set for $100 per day, after signing a “vague and general at best” contract. In the Times report, she elaborates on what allegedly went down in his acting classes.
“I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable,” she said.
She told The Times that she shot a nude orgy scene with Franco and several women in 2014 and that he allegedly removed protective plastic guards covering the actors’ vaginas while simulating oral sex on them.
Then, she claimed, she and her female co-stars were asked to shoot another topless scene, this time wearing animal skulls on their heads and dancing around Franco. Tither-Kaplan said a woman who refused to take part was swiftly sent home the next day.
“I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don’t say ‘no’ to this guy,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
—With files from Chris Jancelewicz