On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation in which five women accused James Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behaviour. The news dropped just days after Franco’s Golden Globe win, which had prompted women—including The Breakfast Club actor Ally Sheedy—to share disturbing stories about the actor on social media.
Building off those comments, the women told the Times that while teaching at acting school Playhouse West in North Hollywood and at his own now-closed film school Studio 4, Franco, 39, pressured students to perform topless scenes and grew “visibly angry” when they didn’t comply. One former student, Sarah Tither-Kaplan, told the Times that while filming an orgy scene with Franco and other actresses for one of Franco’s films three years ago, he removed the protective plastic guards covering other actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex on them. Another, 23-year-old Violet Paley, recounted the allegation she made on social media that Franco pressured her into performing oral sex on him. (You can read the full comments here.)
Hey James Franco, nice #timesup pin at the #GoldenGlobes , remember a few weeks ago when you told me the full nudity you had me do in two of your movies for $100/day wasn’t exploitative because I signed a contract to do it? Times up on that!
— Sarah Tither-Kaplan (@sarahtk) January 8, 2018
Cute #TIMESUP pin James Franco. Remember the time you pushed my head down in a car towards your exposed penis & that other time you told my friend to come to your hotel when she was 17? After you had already been caught doing that to a different 17 year old?
— Violet Paley (@VioletPaley) January 8, 2018
The Times piece was published a day after Franco’s appearances on Late Night With Seth Meyers to promote his new film, The Disaster Artist, and two days after his chat on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. On both shows, Franco was questioned about his alleged behaviour and asked to respond to the women’s stories. Franco denied the allegations to Colbert and Meyers, called the reports “inaccurate” and said he doesn’t know why Sheedy posted her now-deleted tweets.
But while Franco was busy denying shit, we were watching him closely: from his *serious* face to his avoidance of eye contact, we wanted to better understand what his physical reactions indicated. So, we asked body language expert Blanca Cobb—a senior instructor at the Body Language Institute in Washington, D.C.—to decode Franco’s response to the line of questioning. Here’s what she said.
Talking to Stephen Colbert
The first interview Franco did was with Colbert on Wednesday, Jan. 10, and it’s Cobb’s impression that the actor was way more comfortable than when he spoke with Meyers a day later. At 1:43 in the clip above, Franco says, “I have no idea what I did to Ally Sheedy. I directed her in a play Off-Broadway.” As he speaks, Franco uses open hand gestures, which, according to Cobb, indicate openness and honesty. “However, he looked away from Colbert,” Cobb said. “When you have conflicting body language gestures, I tend to believe the negative.”
At 3:30, Franco says, “Like I said, if I, if I, I can’t, I can’t. The way I live my life, I can’t live if there’s restitution to be made. I will make it. So, if I’ve done something wrong. I will fix it. I have to. I think that is how it works. I don’t know what else to do.” As he’s speaking, Franco hunches his shoulders and furrows his brow. Cobb says this indicates Franco is likely unsure about what he’s saying. “No one typically says that they’ll make restitution if they’re absolutely innocent of something. It’s like you being accused of stealing $20, but you say you didn’t do it. And yet, you fork over $20.”
His Appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers
On Thursday, Jan. 11, Franco sat down with Meyers, and, in the beginning of the interview, he had his hands clasped together with his fingers interlaced. Cobb notes that Franco was covering what she calls his “pleasure zone” (a.k.a. his private parts) with his clenched hands, “which is a vulnerable area of the body,” Cobb explains. “He was taking deep breaths. All of these behaviours suggest that Franco was feeling uncomfortable and unsure.”
“When Franco answered questions, he tended to look down and not give eye contact,” she says. “This is a way to disconnect from Meyers… Sometimes, it makes it easier to talk about the topic.”
At 1:18 in the clip above, Franco says, “Yes, I had a great relationship with her,” in reference to the tweets from Ally Sheedy. At the same time, Franco shook his head and gave a slight shoulder shrug. “These are both low-confidence behaviours,” Cobb said. “I’m not convinced that he and Sheedy [really did have] a great relationship.”
In sum, it’s Cobb’s opinion that, “Franco believes that there’s a chance of differing points of view of what actually happened, and different definitions of what’s considered appropriate and inappropriate.”
While body language isn’t a clear indicator of guilt or innocence, we will be watching to see how Franco acts when—and if—he speaks out about the allegations again.
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