When James Franco was an English major in UCLA, he took a class on novelist Cormac McCarthy and fell in love with his work, particularly his book Child of God published in 1973.
For the final assignment in class, he was permitted to write a short script rather than a paper, Franco recalled during the NY Film Critics Series screening of his film based on the book on July 21. In turn, Franco wrote a script and sent his finished work to McCarthy’s agent. At the time, his script was rejected. But, five years later, Franco made another attempt, and McCarthy finally gave him the rights to direct a film adaptation.
Many fans may wonder what intrigued Franco to take this dark novel about necrophilia and adapt it into a film. The 36-year-old star – who often plays in comedies – explained that the book deals with a universal topic that people can relate to.
“For me, this is about a guy who wants what we all want. He wants to love and be loved, he wants to make connections with another being. And, he is incapable. He is cast out of civilized society,” Franco told host Peter Travers about lead character Lester Ballard. “And so, he figures out a way to have that intimacy without having to share it with another kind of consciousness.”
Franco had a list of established actors in mind that could play the lead character, but instead he chose newcomer Scott Haze to portray Lester, an almost senile man who lives an isolated life in the rural part of Tennessee and murders women to use their corpses for companionship.
Haze, who received an overwhelming applause for his impeccable performance, revealed that the role seemed challenging at first.
“I remember reading the novel and I was like ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?’” said Haze, who had to wear noticeably fake teeth for his transformation in the film.
To prepare for his role, Haze moved to Tennessee and lived in isolation just like Lester. “There were times where I thought ‘This is crazy’ and ‘What am I doing this for?’” Haze said. “But, a lot of that stuff did translate into the movie.”
Although the material in the novel is grisly, Franco toned it down for the film and left out scenes he felt might repulse the viewer. "My aim wasn't to condone anything [Lester] did," said Franco, who also has a small cameo in the movie. "But I really just wanted to make him watchable."
Child of God, also starring True Blood’s Jim Parrack as Deputy Cotton and Tim Blake Nelson as Sherriff Fate, comes to theaters on Aug. 1.