Never one to shy away from controversy, James Franco takes on the ex-gay movement in his next release. Directed by Justin Kelly, I Am Michael recounts the true story of Michael Glatze, a prominent gay activist who made headlines when he suddenly announced that he was renouncing his homosexuality, and went on to marry a woman and become a fundamentalist pastor.
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Written and directed by Justin Kelly, the film tells the true story of a gay activist who became a straight Christian pastor.
Brainstorm Media, the Beverly Hills-based indie distributor, has acquired writer-director Justin Kelly’s I Am Michael, starring James Franco, Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts, which it will open theatrically Jan. 27 in 10 markets along with a day-and-date VOD release.
Based on a New York Times magazine article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, the film, which debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, tells the true story of Michael Glatze, played by Franco, who was a high-profile gay youth activist who provoked controversy when he became a straight Christian pastor and claimed he was no longer gay. Quinto plays Glatze’s boyfriend, while Roberts plays the woman who becomes his girlfriend
“I Am Michael is an incredibly original film on a very important topic: identity. As we move into a new presidency where sexual orientation might once again be called into question, a film that examines this from such an unusual perspective is invaluable. I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Franco, who also collaborated with Kelly on the recently released King Cobra.
The film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant and produced by Franco and Vince Jolivette of production company Rabbit Bandini, Michael Mendelsohn of Patriot Pictures, and Scott Reed and Ron Singer of That’s Hollywood. The picture was financed by Mendelsohn’s Union Patriot Capital Management, LLC.
The deal was negotiated by Brian O’Shea of The Exchange, Michelle Shwarzstein for Brainstorm Media and Mendelsohn. DADA Films will handle theatrical booking and Required Viewing will handle PR on behalf of Brainstorm.
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Michael Glatze’s controversial journey from passionate gay rights advocate to committed anti-gay preacher made for one fascinating 2011 New York Times Magazine cover story. But turning that radical transformation into a feature film?
James Franco, who plays Glatze, just couldn’t see it — at first.
“The trajectory of the character is not one that you would expect for a movie,” he said in a phone interview from Toronto. “You usually would expect a character to be closeted and come out and overcome those types of obstacles.”
But when Gus Van Sant, the director Franco had worked with on the Oscar-winning “Milk,” suggested the idea, Franco reconsidered.
“If Gus Van Sant thinks it’s going to potentially be a good movie, then you kind of listen.”
Certainly the audience will listen and likely have something to say about the even-keeled “I Am Michael,” a bold opening night film choice at Frameline39, the Bay Area’s 11-day festival that kicks off Thursday and showcases movies with pertinent LGBTQ themes.
Franco, a Palo Alto native, is not the only Bay Area tie to “I Am Michael.” The article the film is based on, “My Ex-Gay Friend,” was written by former Contra Costa Times reporter Benoit Denizet-Lewis, who had worked with the real-life Glatze at the San Francisco-based XY magazine.
The filmmakers understood that “I Am Michael” required a careful approach in realizing Glatze’s journey and radical turnabout. The Dartmouth graduate who championed gay youths while working at XY magazine and then co-founded the Young Gay America publication with boyfriend Ben (played by Zachary Quinto in the film), went through a spiritual crisis that resulted in his denouncing gay life and converting to conservative Christianity.
Glatze, now a minister living with his wife in Wyoming, was open to having his life portrayed on screen, with one condition.
“As long as we were going to tell the story in a very evenhanded way,” Franco said. “From the beginning, it was definitely the intention that we present the facts of his life, rather than trying to vilify him.”
Doing so led to a few conversations about whether the filmmakers needed to “clarify even more that we don’t necessarily agree with what Michael said,” he recalls. But he believes that anybody reading this as a pro-conversion narrative is willfully misreading the movie. The ending of the film reflects that.
To prepare for the role, Franco consulted with director Justin Kelly, who also wrote the screenplay for this, his first feature- length film. The 37-year-old actor says he approaches how he researches roles based on the individual he is playing.
He’s played a variety of characters based on real people, some alive, some from the past. Some are very public figures such as James Dean and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and some are just known for what they did, like Aron Ralston (who famously cut off his own forearm when he got trapped bouldering) in “127 Hours,” or Scott Smith (iconic gay activist Harvey Milk’s boyfriend) in “Milk.”
“With James Dean, everybody knows what he looks like, everybody knows what he moves like and sounds like, so taking on the physical behavior and mannerisms was part of that role,” he said. “With Aron Ralston, it wasn’t. What was important was what he went through, not how he sounded.”
For the role of Glatze, Franco communicated with Michael via email and Skype before filming, “more to get his final blessing … so he could look me in the eye and see that I wasn’t out to vilify him and all that.”
But his acting decisions, he said, were informed by Kelly, the director. He also tapped into feelings he experienced about where his career was leading early on.
“I can’t relate a lot of specifics to Michael’s story, but I think a lot of people do go through a similar type of crisis, granted often to a smaller degree than what Michael went through.”
When he was in his late 20s, Franco realized he wasn’t happy with his life.
“In my case, it was how I conducted myself professionally and the kinds of projects I was doing and how I was living my life socially and how I was kind of a recluse. … It’s a completely different type of change than Michael (underwent), but I did feel some of that panic. I sort of went through a mini-depression and needed to figure out some new path.”
In his career, Franco has played more than a few gay characters and been involved with projects with gay themes. Currently, in addition to “I Am Michael,” he co-stars as Robert Duvall’s estranged gay son in the recently released “Wild Horses” (available on some streaming platforms).
These roles and his ease with them have led to speculation about his sexuality. Franco sees that as happening whenever he takes on a role.
“That’s what part of being in the public eye is. You become a fixture of discussion. If I do a film where I play a stoner, people will think I’m a stoner. And if I play in a movie where I have a boyfriend, then some people will want to think that I have a boyfriend. It’s just part of being a public figure.”
He credit’s Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” which cast two straight actors — Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal — and landed multiple Oscar nominations, for breaking ground in Hollywood.
“Even in the last 10 years, there has been a real change insofar as the stigma or the danger of taking on a gay role, whether you are a straight actor or a gay actor,” he said. “(But) I believe it’s never enough if you weigh it against the way it should be.”
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I have add photos from the ‘I Am Michael’ Press Conference – 65th Berlinale International Film to the gallery.
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They play lovers in their latest movie and James Franco and Zachary Quinto gave a sneak peek of their on-screen chemistry last week.
The two actors were caught on camera passionately kissing as they tried out the New York Times’ slow motion video booth.
James and Zachary can be seen gazing intensely into each other’s eyes before locking lips
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James Franco’s newest film, I Am Michael, sprung from something banal: an email from his friend and director Gus Van Sant. In an exchange between friends, Van Sant emailed Franco a link to the New York Times Magazine profile of Michael Glatze , who James Franco plays in the movie, and Franco was immediately intrigued not only by the story but by the fact that he knew the author, Benoit Denizet-Lewis. Denizet-Lewis was a friend of Michael Glatze, the former gay rights activist who proclaimed he was straight and became a pastor who Franco portrays in the film, directed by Justin Kelly.
“If I hadn’t followed up Gus’ pretty casual suggestion, we probably wouldn’t be here right now, I have learned to listen to whatever Gus says,” Franco said in an interview with The Huffington Post at Sundance. It’s not bad advice for Franco to follow; he’s seen great success working with Van Sant before in playing Harvey Milk’s partner Scott Smith in the 2011 film Milk. In a post-screening interview at Sundance, Bustle’s Anna Klassen reported, Franco said he found a way inside Michael Glatze’s character by focusing on his humanity: ”With this role, I thought what is primary here is his journey, his experience, his transformation — his beliefs and how those change.”
Director Justin Kelly was meticulous about writing the script and doing justice to Glatze’s unique story, mining people from his life to help round out the biopic:
Kelly spent over a year working on the script, traveling to meet Glatze and some of his former friends, most notably three of his ex-boyfriends in Nova Scotia. According to Kelly, those men helped fill in the meat of the story and bring color to who Glatze had been in his gay advocacy days.
It’s this respect to the complexity of the human spirit that tied Kelly and Franco together with the Glatze in the film; the real Michael Glatze, surprisingly, came to Sundance for the screening and afterwards, thanked the cast and crew for telling his story. The most interesting part about I Am Michael is that Franco’s and Kelly’s motivations were not about passing judgments, but rather to illuminate the difficulty of the journey of life and attempting to show how one man struggles. Franco said it’s obviously near impossible to capture exactly what Glatze was feeling when he decided to leave his partner of ten years and become a pastor identifying as straight:
It’s not so simple. We came to this belief that the character really did believe that he was changing. That he’s not lying to himself. He was somebody who, for his whole life, had been grappling with and defining identity. Or defying identity. It was already something that was at the forefront of his mind.
It’s this commitment to authenticity and realism that make Franco a great character actor. As much as he enjoys poking fun at himself at Comedy Central roasts and making comedies like The Interview (and as much as we can poke fun at him for it), Franco really chooses roles that many actors would not be brave enough or dedicated enough to play.
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James Franco and Zachary Quinto ribbed and praised their I Am Michael director, newcomer Justin Kelly, during an interview about the ambitious new film, which just premiered at Sundance. Speaking with Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers, the trio talked about the film’s roots, the experience making it and the reaction it garnered from the real Michael Glatze, a former gay rights activist turned evangelical Christian pastor.
Franco, who plays Glatze, explained the story first came to his attention when executive producer Gus Van Sant sent him a link to Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ 2011 New York Times Magazine article “My Ex-Gay Friend.” The article detailed Glatze’s rise within the gay rights movement, as well as his spiritual crisis, conversion and ultimate split from his lover and the gay community as a whole — a story Van Sant believed could make a great movie.
“At first I thought, ‘You think this would make a great movie, Gus? I don’t know,'” Franco remembered with a laugh. “But I just kind of went on faith. We kept going with it…Gus recommended Justin [to direct], who had been an assistant editor on Milk and saw all my nude scenes from Milk in detail — he still has them!”
I Am Michael marks Kelly’s full-length feature debut as a director, and Quinto praised him for establishing a collaborative spirit right from the beginning. “It permeated the whole journey that we took together,” he said. “He didn’t have to max out his credit cards, but it’s not like people were throwing money at him and giving him free rein; we were working under some pretty some serious constraints at the time.”
As for the real Michael Glatze’s reaction to the film, all three were pleased — if not somewhat surprised — to say that he thoroughly enjoyed it. “He came up to each of us and said, ‘Thank you,'” Franco said. “I guess we did the whole experience justice.”