- The suit claimed James Franco pushed student actors to perform sex scenes in an “orgy type setting.”
- In May, Seth Rogen, a longtime Franco collaborator, said he has no plans to work with Franco again.
- Both sides called now a “critical time” to address the mistreatment of women in Hollywood.
James Franco has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a sexual misconduct lawsuit brought against him by his former acting students.
Details of the settlement for the suit, which allege that Franco pushed students at his Studio 4 school into increasingly sexual and exploitive scenes on camera, were made public in a L.A. Superior Court filing obtained by USA TODAY on Wednesday. A judge still has to approve the deal for the settlement, which was reached in February.
The plaintiffs, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, accused Franco and his partners of “sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.” According to the filing, $894,000 will go “to settle the Named Plaintiffs’ individual sexual exploitation claims” while the remaining $1.34 million is for a common fund to settle fraud claims.
Both parties agreed to the following statement as part of the settlement: “While Defendants continue to deny the allegations in the Complaint, they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues; and all parties strongly believe that now is a critical time to focus on addressing the mistreatment of women in Hollywood. All agree on the need to make sure that no one in the entertainment industry – regardless of race, religion, disability, ethnicity, background, gender or sexual orientation – faces discrimination, harassment or prejudice of any kind.”
In early March, the Oscar-nominated star’s legal team filed a demurrer calling for the dismissal of three causes of action against their client. Franco’s lawyers Debra Ellwood Meppen, Laurie DeYoung and Gene F. Williams praised the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, but slammed the women’s lawsuit as “a travesty of justice.”
Franco opened Studio 4 in Los Angeles in 2014 with his business partner, Vince Jolivette, who was also named in the complaint, as was Franco’s production company Rabbit Bandini Productions. The school closed in 2017.
The women’s lawsuit claimed Franco intimidated student actors into performing sex scenes in an “orgy type setting,” all while promising “false hopes of acquiring job opportunities.”
“The reality was that (Franco) was looking to create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation,” their lawsuit added.
The situations described in the suit allegedly arose during a master class that Franco taught at the school. The lawsuit alleges that to take Franco’s master class, students had to audition by simulating sex acts on film, which he watched to choose candidates.
It says the class began with “encouraging female student actors to appear topless, then perform in sex scenes, then orgies and gratuitous full nudity,” without the careful guidelines and closed sets that are the industry standard for shooting sex scenes.
How the lawsuit will affect Franco’s career long-term is unknown. Since winning a Golden Globe for 2017’s “The Disaster Artist,” Franco starred in the HBO series “The Deuce” (which concluded in 2019) and directed a few films, including the unreleased indie drama “The Long Home.”
In May, his longtime friend and frequent collaborator Seth Rogen said in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times that he has no plans to work with Franco and regretted saying he would in an 2018 interview following the allegations. Rogan also expressed remorse over a 2014 “SNL” joke about Franco dating underage woman and addressed an April Instagram post by actress Charlyne Yi, in which she said Rogen enabled Franco on the set of “The Disaster Artist.”
“What I can say is that I despise abuse and harassment and I would never cover or conceal the actions of someone doing it, or knowingly put someone in a situation where they were around someone like that,” Rogen said.
Contributing: David Oliver, Bryan Alexander and Charles Trepany, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press