Warning: This article contains disturbing and sexually explicit language. Please read at your own discretion.
James Franco has responded to two former female students who alleged they were sexually exploited and pressured into uncomfortable activities during their time at his acting school.
The Pineapple Express actor filed a written objection to the lawsuit filed in October 2019 by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, calling their allegations “salacious.”
“The #MeToo and Times Up movements have made tremendous and important contributions to improving not only the culture of the entertainment business but also the world as a whole. Unfortunately, while these movements have rightly brought down a number of reprehensible individuals, they have also ensnared an innocent man. James Franco,” reads a notice of demurrer obtained by Vanity Fair.
“The salacious allegations in the Complaint have made great tabloid fodder, but like most tabloid stories, they are false and inflammatory, legally baseless and brought as a class action with the obvious goal of grabbing as much publicity as possible for attention-hungry Plaintiffs.
“This lawsuit is a travesty of justice and the culmination of a meritless campaign that has unfairly tarnished a decent man’s hard-earned reputation,” the court document added.
The Disaster Artist actor opened his film and acting school Studio 4 in 2014, which he owned with business partner Vince Jolivette. Franco’s now-defunct Studio 4 closed its doors permanently in October 2017 without explanation.
In October 2019, a New York Times report included further detail from Gaal and Tither-Kaplan, as well as two of Franco’s other students, Hilary Dusome and Natalie Chmiel. (Two other women came forward as well but chose to remain anonymous.)
The women claimed 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, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal, alleged 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 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.
In response to Tither-Kaplan’s allegations, Franco’s written objection said, “Ms. Tither-Kaplan had always expressed gratitude for having been given the opportunity to work in Emmy-nominated productions with Franco, one of her teachers.”
“Tither-Kaplan was so effusive in her praise of Franco that she had posted unsolicited tweets and texts extolling Franco’s virtues, how much she admired him and how much she got out of her time at Studio 4,” the demurrer added.
The court document also stated that Tither-Kaplan “knowingly engaged” in nude scenes with Franco.
“The casting director and others involved with those films have confirmed that all actresses, including Tither-Kaplan, were aware of the nudity scenes ahead of time, that they were constantly checking to make sure the actresses felt comfortable, that they signed nudity waivers, and that no one — including Tither-Kaplan — ever complained,” the court document read.
After the women filed the lawsuit against Franco in October 2019, his lawyer released a statement saying, “This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked.”
“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,” his lawyer Michael Plonsker said at the time.
Tither-Kaplan first 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 above.)
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.