James Franco Is The Best Option For 'The Deuce'

by Katherine Cusumano

On Thursday afternoon, an amazing bit of casting news broke: According to Variety, James Franco has joined David Simon's upcoming HBO pilot The Deuce in the lead role. Simon, best known for The Wire, Treme, and the upcoming Show Me a Hero, is also at work on a still-unnamed pilot focused on Capitol Hill — but The Deuce is definitely the edgier, more salacious offering. As Variety details, it centers on the lives of twin brothers within the heyday of the New York City porn industry, and their ties to the mob and the active world of sex work around Times Square.

Simon noted that the series does not aim to pass judgment on the social environment it recreates — "It’s about a product, and those human beings who created, sold, profited from and suffered with that product," he told Variety. Many of Simon's teammates from The Wire and Treme will join him once more on these two HBO pilots, including George Pelecanos and Ed Burns.

James Franco has not collaborated with Simon before, but he is really the ideal actor to take on the role. He's proved himself in numerous period pieces, from starring roles to behind-the-scenes production, writing, and directing. Though the ’70s were just 40 years ago, from all reports the New York City of The Deuce is just as foreign as the Dark Ages or the South in the ’20s — all periods Franco has worked intimately with. Here are eight of his best dramatic period roles that prove he's ready to tackle such a hotly anticipated film and work with one of the best television auteurs around today.

1. Howl

Franco plays the lead role as Allen Ginsberg in this 2010 biopic about the famed beat poet. The film hones in on the period around the creation of Howl, the poem for which Ginsberg is arguably best remembered.

2. The Sound And The Fury

Acting and directing simultaneously, James Franco finally does justice to William Faulkner's novel of the same name — the second film adaptation to be made of Faulkner's confounding stream-of-consciousness family history. He plays the mentally disabled Benjy Compson, who narrates much of the novel.

3. Tristan + Isolde

Not an opera — this 2006 film adaptation of Tristan & Isolde finds Franco in the titular male lead. Tristan & Isolde is a myth dating back to the 12th century, and popularized by Wagner's opera of the same title. But Franco as Tristan turns the Dark Ages into a romance with contemporary resonance akin to Romeo & Juliet.

4. Queen Of The Desert

Gertrude Bell earned the moniker as the female Lawrence of Arabia for her diplomacy in border disputes between Iraq and Jordan in the early 20th century. She's also the subject of the new Werner Herzog film Queen of the Desert, which stars Nicole Kidman as Bell, Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence and Franco as Henry Cadogan, a British army officer Kidman's character finds herself drawn to. Having premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, it will be released in the U.S. in September.

5. Milk

Milk is one of those rare films that lives up to all the hype. It's about the political ascent and sudden death of the first openly gay man elected to office in California, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). In the film, Franco plays Penn's much younger lover who leaves him quite early on, but while it's a supporting role, it is definitely a memorable one.

6. Lovelace

In case there was any doubt that Franco could tackle a period piece about the porn industry, there's Lovelace. It stars Amanda Seyfried as the titular Linda Lovelace, a porn actress whose film Deep Throat in 1972 actually gained mainstream recognition. Franco plays Hugh Hefner, so he's likely already familiar with how the industry can be presented in film and TV.

The Wire fans can rejoice that not one but three new shows from David Simon are upon us — but The Deuce is definitely the most exciting, because it gives James Franco two more chances to show us what he's got in a historical role. They're twins!Images: Oscilloscope Laboratories; Rabbit Bandini Films; 20th Century Fox; Atlas; Focus Features; Millennium