Lawyers for James Franco accusers slam actor for downplaying survivors

Lawyers for James Franco’s accusers slam actor after he brushed off sleeping with students at his acting school: ‘He continues to downplay the survivors’ experiences and ignore their pain’

  • James Franco, 43, spoke in a podcast which aired on Thursday about his 20-year struggle with sex addiction as well as his battle with alcoholism 
  • In January 2018 five women told the Los Angeles Times that Franco had been sexually inappropriate or exploitative with them 
  • Franco confessed on Thursday to being unfaithful to all his former partners and said he slept with students at his acting school
  • The actor said that he has previously dealt with other addictions – to attention and validation
  • He said: ‘I was in recovery before, for substance abuse. And there were some issues that I had to deal with that were also related to addiction’ 
  • In June it was announced that Franco had settled an October 2020 lawsuit filed by his accusers, and paid a $2.2 million settlement  
  • On Thursday lawyers representing some of his accusers said they felt Franco was downplaying the harm the women suffered

Lawyers representing women who accused James Franco of sexual misconduct criticized his decision to defend himself in a podcast, saying he showed a lack of remorse and downplayed the harm done to the women.

Franco, 43, admitted in the podcast, which aired on SiriusXM on Thursday, that he slept with students at his acting school and ‘cheated on everyone’ he dated during a 20-year battle with ‘sex addiction.’

His interview marked the first time he had addressed the allegations since being accused in January 2018 of sexual misconduct by five women – four of his ex-students and one who said he was her mentor.

A suit was filed by two of the women – Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal – against Franco in October 2020.

In June this year it was announced that a $2.2 million settlement had been reached. 

Lawyers for the accusers were angered by Franco’s interview for The Jess Cagle Podcast.

‘In addition to being blind about power dynamics, Franco is completely insensitive to, and still apparently does not care about, the immense pain and suffering he put his victims through with this sham of an acting school,’ said a spokesman for two law firms, Valli Kane & Vagnini and Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai.

Confession: James Franco has revealed how he slept with students at his acting school and felt ‘blind to power dynamics’ because they were ‘consenting adults’

Sarah Tither-Kaplan (left) and Toni Gaal (right) sued Franco for sexual misconduct and received $2.2 million in a settlement

The spokesman told TMZ: ‘It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement he continues to downplay the survivors’ experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place.’ 

Tither-Kaplan tweeted: ‘Please follow @hiresurvivors.

‘Apologies are meaningless until active steps towards harm reduction are taken and directed towards survivors specifically. 

‘General statements of “sorry” or “I was wrong” or “I love women” etc. do nothing to actually help those who have been harmed.

‘Platforming abusers while excluding survivors causes even further harm. Survivor blacklisting is still a very real problem.’ 

Franco said he thought sleeping with students was ‘cool’ because it was ‘consensual.’

He admitted he was was ‘completely blind to power dynamics, but also completely blind to people’s feelings.’ 

Franco said he ‘did sleep with students, and that was wrong.’

He also admitted he could ‘never be faithful to anybody’ before meeting 28-year-old actress Isabel Pakzad who he has been dating since November 2017.

Actress Charlyne Yi who accused Franco of being a ‘sexual predator’ earlier this year reposted tweets criticizing the actor on her Instagram feed.

One said: ‘Took 4 years [for a response to the allegations] and still seems lacking and performative. 

‘He didn’t know teachers sleeping with students crossed a boundary due to power imbalance? Yikes.’ 

Actress Charlyne Yi who accused Franco of being a ‘sexual predator’ earlier this year reposted tweets criticizing the actor on her Instagram feed

Yi has accused James Franco of being a ‘sexual predator’. She is seen at a premiere for a different movie in 2019 

Franco blamed his infidelities and inappropriate behavior on a sex addiction he has suffered from since giving up alcohol as a teenager. 

‘It’s such a powerful drug,’ he explained. ‘I got hooked on it for 20 more years. The insidious part of that is that I stayed sober from alcohol all that time.

‘And I went to meetings all that time. I even tried to sponsor other people. So in my head, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m sober. I’m living a spiritual life.’ Where on the side, I’m acting out now in all these other ways, and I couldn’t see it.’  

Franco said he has been in recovery from sex addiction since 2016 and has ‘been doing a lot of work’ after the allegations against him ‘and changing who I was.’

‘I didn’t want to hurt people,’ he said.

Franco confirmed that while he did sleep with students at his acting school he thought it was ‘cool’ because it was ‘consensual’ and they were all adults.’ 

He admitted that he also didn’t think about the power dynamics at play when he pursued people he worked with, or those who attended his acting school. 

‘I [was] completely blind to power dynamics or anything like that, but also completely blind to people’s feelings. I didn’t wanna hurt people,’ he said.

‘I’ll admit, I did sleep with students,’ he said. ‘Over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students. And that was wrong. 

‘But, like I said, it’s not why I started the school. And I wasn’t the person who selected the people to be in the class. So it wasn’t a master plan on my part, but yes, there were certain instances where, you know what, I was in a consensual thing with a student and I shouldn’t have been.

‘I suppose at the time my thing was, if it’s consensual, OK. Of course I knew, I talked to other people, other teachers, yeah, it’s probably not a cool thing. [But] at the time, I was not as clear-headed as I’ve said. So I guess it just comes down to my criteria: If this is consensual, it’s cool. We’re all adults,’ he said.

During the discussion, Franco opened up about how he struggled to stay faithful to anyone and cheated on all of his past girlfriends. 

He said:  ‘I had girlfriends. I could never be faithful to anybody. I cheated on everyone before Isabel.’

Franco cited his 20-year battle with sex addiction as the main reason for his rampant adultery, an issue he’s been successfully battling for the past five years. 

‘I was in recovery before, for substance abuse. And there were some issues that I had to deal with that were also related to addiction.

‘And so I’ve really used my recovery background to kind of start examining this and changing who I was,’ explained Franco.  

‘Wrong’: Speaking on the SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Podcast about his experience, James said that while teaching, he ‘did sleep with students, and that was wrong’ 

When Franco was a teenager he said he was ‘addicted to alcohol’ and ‘got sober when [he] was 17,’ but his addictive behaviors would, eventually, flood into other elements of his life.

‘Once I couldn’t use alcohol to fill that hole, it was like, ‘Oh, success, attention, this is great.’ I got addicted to validation or success or whatever that is. 

‘Along the road of trying to get success and climb the top of that mountain, attention from women, success with women also became a huge source of validation for me. The problem with that is, as I’m sure you can guess, is that there’s never enough.

‘I’m just trying to fill that hole and it never gets filled,’ he explained.  

He described sex as ‘such a powerful drug’ and he, unfortunately, ‘got hooked on it for 20 more years.’

Franco continued: ‘And the insidious part of that is that I stayed sober from alcohol all that time. So, and I went to meetings all that time. I even tried to sponsor other people.

‘And so in my head, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m sober. I’m living a spiritual life.’ Where on the side, I’m acting out now in all these other ways. And I couldn’t see it.’ 

He recalled his sponsor chastising him for cheating, but telling him that if he’s single, there’s nothing wrong with sleeping around — which Franco said he ‘ran’ with.

‘[My sponsor was] like, ‘Look, the cheating is dishonest. I don’t think that’s good for your sobriety, but if you’re not dating someone and you wanna go and hook up, like whatever happens between two consenting adults is fine,” Franco said.

‘The problem was, I took that and I ran with it and used it as an excuse to just hook up all over the place. And it was like, well, we’re being honest here. Right?’ he said.

Though he’s since made the effort to tackle his demons, the Spider-Man star recalled often feeling detached from people while addicted to sex and how that detachment caused a mountain of hurt.

Committed: James has been dating Isabel since November 2017; Isabel and James pictured in 2019

‘People that I got together with or dated, I’d see them for a long time, years. It’s just that I couldn’t be present for any of them. And the behavior spun out to a point where it was like I was hurting everybody.’    

While also being candid about his struggles with addiction, Franco spent a large portion of his podcast appearance speaking on the sexual misconduct accusations made against him in 2018 — allegations that led him to settle with two accusers for $2.2 million this summer.

He told the host that he’s been ‘examining’ his past behavior and ‘changing who I was’ since the women came forward with their stories.

The Freaks And Geeks star remained quiet all this time because he knew he ‘needed to listen’ and examine the ‘behavior’ and ‘patterning’ that he has been blind to.

‘I’ve just been doing a lot of work. And I guess I’m pretty confident in saying like, four years, you know?’ he said. 

In January of 2018, five women told the Los Angeles Times that Franco had been sexually inappropriate or exploitative with them. One detailed how Franco removed plastic guards from actress’ vulvas during a sex scene while simulating oral sex.

Two of the women, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, sued Franco in 2019, claimed that he tried to ‘create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education’ while they attended his Studio 4 acting school. 

Being honest: He confirmed that he did sleep with students at his acting school, but thought it was ‘cool’ because it was ‘consensual’ and they were all adults’

Franco also admitted that it was ‘hurtful’ when his longtime collaborator and costar Seth Rogen said that he had no plans to work with him in the future

The many girlfriends and dates of James Franco who has ‘cheated on everyone’ 

MARLA SOKOLOFF (1999 – 2004) 

Franco dated co-star Marla Sokoloff from 1999 to 2004 after they met on the movie Whatever It Takes.

The Spider Man star revealed that he once made a sex tape with Sokoloff during an interview with Howard Stern.

He told the US radio host: ‘It was with my girlfriend… She’s an actress. She’s married now… I’ll say (her name) because it wasn’t anything bad, it was an innocent thing we made for ourselves… And everybody knows. I dated an actress named Marla Sokoloff for like four years, she was on that show The Practice. She played the secretary. We did a movie together. A really bad movie called Whatever It Takes.’

Franco dated co-star Marla Sokoloff from 1999 to 2004

AHNA O’REILLY (2006 – 2011) 

From 2006 to 2011, James Franco dated actress Ahna O’Reilly.

They split because he was spending too much time on the East Coast while studying for a PhD in English at Yale University.

O’Reilly said she was fed up of staying in Los Angeles alone while he studied away.

Franco told Playboy magazine at the time: ‘That [relationship] lasted about four or five years.

‘We’d been living together in LA then I came to New York to go to school for two years.

‘Then I signed up for more school at Yale. I think that was it for her.’

Franco and O’Reilly at the premier of Pineapple Express in July 2008


Franco was later linked with British model Agyness Deyn in 2011.

For the July 2011 issue of Elle, Franco photographed Deyn in a Rebel Without a Cause-inspired spread.  

He was linked with British model Agyness Deyn (pictured in New York in 2019) in 2011


A year later, there were reports he was seeing Lovelace co-star Amanda Seyfried.

He was spotted trying to make a quiet exit from her home but sources close to Franco later said the relationship was ‘not serious.’

James Franco and Amanda Seyfried starred in Lovelace together (pictured on the red carpet in Berlin in 2013)


In 2013, he was linked with Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke and they were even rumoured to be engaged.

However, the pair were never seen together apart from at two official engagements.

Clarke laughed off rumours on the red carpet, saying they had only met twice briefly.

She said: ‘He is, of course, beautiful.

‘But I feel there’s only a handful of women who could form an engagement after two meetings, and I’m not one of them.’

In 2013, he was linked with Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke (pictured in LA in January 2018)


Franco was rumoured to be dating model Erin Johnson in 2014.

They first met in January of that year during what looked like an opportune night, with Johnson sharing a cosy Instagram of the two and another pal.

‘So yeah… #jamesfranco #interiorleatherbar,’ Erin wrote in the caption with a nod to the actor’s 2013 docudrama that he co-directed.

Erin also gushed over the star when she instagrammed another photo of the Spring Breakers hunk taken on the same evening. 

They were photographed that August at LAX airport together. 

Franco and Johnson first met in January of that year during what looked like an opportune night, with Johnson sharing a cosy Instagram of the two and another pal


Around the same time rumours started that he was dating Lana del Rey after the pair both shared pictures of each other on their Instagram pages.

But Franco later denied they were romantically involved, saying that the relationship was purely platonic.

‘No, she’s a friend of mine…We’re friends. No. On my life,’ he told The Howard Stern Show in 2014.

‘I’ll tell you why, maybe it’s a boring answer. There’s a weird thing with creative types. Sometimes I love a person’s work and, like, I’m just so enamored with that and their persona in their work.

‘But outside of that, it’s like, our dynamic is we’re just kind of friends, we get along so well. But all this sexual attraction is for the person and the work. We go to Coney Island and hang out. I would have sex with her music.’

Rumours swirled about Franco and singer Lana del Rey in 2014


Franco is also rumoured to have had an intimate relationship with Johnny Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard.

The nature of their relationship became the subject of intense scrutiny during Depp and Heard sensational libel trial in London last year.

CCTV footage was played at the trial showing Heard and Franco taking a lift up to Depp’s apartment.

Depp said he this made him ‘jealous’ and that he was surprised to see them together because Heard had once described Franco as ‘creepy and rapey.’

Depp told the court: ”It provoked me to become jealous because of what Ms Heard had previously told me about her experience of working with Mr Franco on a film called Pineapple Express, so it shocked me that she was suddenly so friendly and happy with him.’ 

Franco is pictured at The Adderall Diaries premiere in Hollywood in 2016 with Heard


Franco started dating 28-year-old actress Isabel Pakzad in November, 2017.

He told Variety about their relationship that month, admitting he was working hard to commit to her more than he was with a previous love.  

‘There was one instance, this old girlfriend was visiting me in New York,’ Franco said. ‘I had come out here for school. My cat had scratched her in the eye. I had so much work to get done for the next day, I didn’t take her to the hospital. I had my assistant take her. That moment haunted me so much. What kind of selfish, self-centered boyfriend are you?’ 

Pakzad has stuck by Franco despite the allegations of sexual misconduct.  

He told The Jess Cagle Podcast on Tuesday that Pakzad was the only girlfriend he had been faithful to.

He said:  ‘I had girlfriends. I could never be faithful to anybody. I cheated on everyone before Isabel.’  

Pazkad and Franco are pictured in 2019

At the time of the initial allegations, Franco made brief comments about ‘taking responsibility’ but insisted that what was being said about him was not ‘accurate.’

In April, actress Charlyne Yi accused Franco of being a ‘sexual predator’ and claimed she was ‘bribed’ not to quit The Disaster Artist over sexual assault claims.  

The 35-year-old said she tried to ‘break legal contract’ but the filmmakers instead promised her a bigger role, which Yi saw as an attempted bribe.

‘I cried and told them that that was the exact opposite of what I wanted, that I didn’t feel safe working with a f*****g sexual predator,’ Yi wrote on Instagram.

‘They minimized and said Franco being a predator was so last year and that he changed… when I literally heard of him abusing new women that week.’

Franco has limited his public appearances since the initial allegations surfaced before deciding to sit down with The Jess Cagle Podcast for an interview. 

He told Cagle how he chose to ‘pause’ after the allegations came out.  

‘In 2018 there were some complaints about me and an article about me and at that moment I just thought I’m gonna be quiet,’ he said. 

‘I’m gonna be, I’m gonna pause. 

‘Did not seem like the right time to say anything. 

‘There were people that were upset with me and I needed to listen.

‘There’s a writer, Damon Young, and he talked about, you know, when something like this happens, the natural human instinct is to just make it stop. 

‘You just want to get out in front of it and whatever you have to do apologize, you know, get it done,’ he went on. 

‘But what that doesn’t do is allow you to do the work, and to look at what was underneath. 

‘Like, whatever you did, even if it was a gaff or you said something wrong or whatever, there’s probably an iceberg underneath that — of behavior, of patterning, of just being blind to yourself, that isn’t gonna just be solved overnight. 

‘So I’ve just been doing a lot of work. 

‘And I guess I’m pretty confident in saying like, four years, you know?’ he said.  

In the new interview, Franco also admitted that it was ‘hurtful’ when his longtime collaborator and costar Seth Rogen said that he had no plans to work with him in the future.

Initially, when the allegations came out in 2018, Rogen told Vulture that he would continue to work with Franco.

But in May, he publicly revised his position, telling Britain’s Sunday Times that he would not.

‘I also look back to that interview in 2018 where I comment that I would keep working with James, and the truth is that I have not and I do not plan to right now,’ he said. 

Rogen told the Times: ‘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.’  

Speaking on the podcast this week, Franco said he ‘absolutely loves’ Rogen, whom he worked with for 20 years — but ‘what he said is true, you know, we aren’t working together right now and we don’t have any plans to work together.’ 

‘Of course it was hurtful, you know, in context, but I get it, you know, he had to answer for me cause I was silent,’ he went on. 

‘He had to answer for me and I don’t want that. 

‘And so that’s why, it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you today is I just, I don’t want Seth or my brother or anyone to have to answer for me anymore.’ 

The allegations against Franco came in January of 2018, when five women described misconduct to the Los Angeles Times. 

One of the women, Violet Paley, said she had a consensual relationship with the actor, but claimed that he once forced her into performing oral sex on her while they sat in his car.

The other four women were students at Studio 4, Franco’s now-closed acting school, and claimed he asked women both on set and in class to perform topless or even completely nude.

One of those students, Tither-Kaplan, claimed that while at Studio 4, she had enrolled in Franco’s Sex Scenes master class. 

In one short video for the class, she appeared topless. 

That video was then uploaded to Vimeo without her knowledge, she claimed.

And a still from the video ended up on at least one adult website, according to Tither-Kaplan.

‘Now, if you Google me, you can see me naked. 

‘Before I’ve ever been on TV or before I’ve ever had any real credits or before any of this — of course I regret that. I don’t want that,’ she said.

But landing a role in Franco’s film The Long Home was a huge break for her — that proved uncomfortable.

While on set, Tither-Kaplan was asked if she would be willing to appear in a nude orgy scene, which she admittedly agreed to do because she saw her appearance in the film as a big break in her career.

Tither-Kaplan appeared with several other women in the scene, and they each wore nothing but a piece of plastic known as a genital guard.

She claimed that when it came time for Franco to simulate oral sex on the actresses, he removed the guard and continued to act out the scene with no barrier between his mouth and the women’s vaginas. 

Her willingness to appear in the nude orgy shoot got Tither-Kaplan asked back to film another scene. 

This time, it was an unscripted bit that required her to be topless while wearing an animal skull and dancing around in a circle with other women.

One of the actresses declined to appear topless in the scene and was not asked back on set by Franco, according to Tither-Kaplan. 

‘I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don’t say ‘no’ to this guy,’ she said of Franco.

An actress who appeared alongside her in those two scenes confirmed Tither-Kaplan’s account, while Franco’s lawyer said: ‘The allegations about the protective guards are not accurate.’

The casting director on the film, Cynthia Huffman, also commented on the claims by saying she ‘personally checked on all the actresses’ during the shoot.’

‘James is all about giving up and comers, actors and actresses and young filmmakers a break in this business,’ said Huffman. 

‘I feel horrible that anyone was made to feel uncomfortable but we went to great lengths to make sure all the actresses in the nude scenes felt comfortable and safe.’

Meanwhile, Paley said that Franco was a mentor who was helping her on a script she was working on back in 2016, which eventually led to a relationship between the two.

It was at the start of that relationship when she claims Franco forced her into performing a sex act.

‘I was talking to him, all of a sudden his penis was out,’ said Paley. 

‘I got really nervous, and I said, ‘Can we do this later?’ 

‘He was kind of nudging my head down, and I just didn’t want him to hate me, so I did it.’

She said that she was able to stop only when she claimed to see people approaching the car. 

Hilary Dusome and Natalie Chmiel said they became disenfranchised with Franco and his acting classes back in 2012 when they were selected to appear in what they were led to believe was a short art film.

It was midway through the shoot, which took place at a strip club, when they claim Franco asked them if they would be willing to go topless. 

When none of the women volunteered, he allegedly stormed off the set. 

‘I felt like I was selected for something based on my hard work and my merit, and when I realized it was because I have nice [breasts], it was pretty clear that was not the case,’ said Dusome. 

‘I don’t think he started teaching with bad intentions, but he went down a bad path and damaged a lot of people in the process.’

Chmiel echoed this, stating: ‘He just took advantage of our eagerness to work and be a part of something bigger. 

‘We were all these up-and-coming actors who were so hopeful.’

Franco’s lawyer again denied these allegations. 

Franco later spoke on TV to Seth Meyers, stating: ‘There are stories that need to get out. 

‘There are people that need to be heard.

‘I have my own side of this story, but I believe in, you know, these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will, you know, hold back things that I could say just because I believe in it that much. 

‘And if I have to take a knock because I’m not going to, you know, try and, you know, actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much.’

Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal went on to sue Franco, as well as his partners in the school, Vince Jolivette and Jay Davis. 

They reached a settlement in July. 

Franco, Jolivette, and Davis said they ‘continue to deny the allegations in the complaint’ but ‘they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues,’ according to a ‘public statement’ section in the settlement.

‘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 sex, race, religion, disability, ethnicity, background, gender or sexual orientation — faces discrimination, harassment or prejudice of any kind.’ 

The Jess Cagle Podcast aired on Thursday, December 23. 

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