There was a time when it felt as though James Franco strode among casting directors like a colossus; half the announced films around Hollywood seemed to either want to snag his services or had convinced him to attach his name. He doesn’t crop up quite as much these days – probably because he’s already busy working on the jobs he accepted, making films of his own, earning degrees or popping up on soap operas – but he still pings the radar now and again. He’s just added yet another real-life role, agreeing to play photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Best known for his huge, stylized black and white portraits, pictures of nude men and women and images of flowers, Mapplethorpe became a lightning rod for controversy and criticism, especially over public funding for the arts and censorship. He was also credited with iconic images of other artists and musicians, including Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones and Patti Smith, whose album Horses uses one of his pictures.
Mapplethorpe died aged 42 in 1989 after suffering complications from AIDS. Before his death, he founded the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which has since gone on to promote his work around the world and donated millions to fighting AIDS.
The film itself has been in development since at least 2009, spearheaded by Eliza Dushku and her brother Nate, who had intended to star as Mapplethorpe. Now, however, with Franco on to star, the biopic has a director in documentarian Ondi Timoner, and has just scored $15,000 in extra funding from the Tribeca All Access Program. There’s no word yet on when it’ll get started shooting.