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‘That was wrong’: James Franco admits he slept with students in his acting school

Actor addresses 2018 allegations at length for the first time; says relations were consensual but a mistake, and that he was ‘not clearheaded’ at the time

James Franco arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, January 7, 2018. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
James Franco arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, January 7, 2018. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

American actor and filmmaker James Franco has admitted to having sex with students in his acting school while he was running it, some four years after five students accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior, and five months after he agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed against him over the case.

He addressed the case directly for the first time on a Wednesday episode of the Jess Cagle Podcast on SiriusXM radio.

Franco continues to deny many of the allegations against him, but acknowledged having consensual sexual relations with his students, and said it was wrong of him to do so.

“Over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students, and that was wrong,” he said.

In January 2018, five women told the Los Angeles Times that Franco had acted in a sexually inappropriate way toward them, adding to earlier accusations on social media.

Three women who studied at the Studio 4 filmmaking school Franco founded said he had acted inappropriately on set, including becoming angry when they did not want to take off their tops and removing plastic guards covering women’s genitals in a sex scene.

Another former student said Franco would make people think they could get a role if they performed sexual favors or took off their shirts. A fifth woman said Franco pressured her into performing oral sex while the two were in a romantic relationship.

In late 2019, two former students in the school, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, filed what eventually became a class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles that ended last June with Franco agreeing to a $2.2 million settlement paid to the two plaintiffs and other former students.

They claimed Franco had tried to “create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education.”

Responding to the allegation in the new interview, Franco said he had not had nefarious motives when he opened the school.

“But like I said it was not why I started the school and I wasn’t the person that selected people to be in the class so it wasn’t a master plan on my part,” the actor said. “But yes, there were certain instances when when yes, I was in a consensual thing with a student and I shouldn’t have.

“I suppose at the time, my thinking was if it’s consensual, okay,” he said. Asked how he was unaware of the power dynamics between a teacher and student and how that affects consent, he said: “At the time I was not clearheaded.”

It was the first time Franco spoke about the matter at length since the allegations were first made. He explained his extended silence by saying that “there were people that were upset with me and I needed to listen.”

In 2014, Franco admitted to having flirted with a 17-year-old girl on Instagram and offered to rent a hotel room so the two could meet, after the girl posted photos of their exchange online.

JTA contributed to this report.

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