WOMEN

2 Women Sue James Franco, Claiming Sexual Exploitation At His Acting School

In a class-action lawsuit, the women say the now-closed school “duped” young actors into serving Franco's “financial and exploitative desires.”

Two women say they were sexually exploited and subjected to sexual misconduct while they took classes at James Franco’s acting school in Los Angeles, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

In the class-action complaint, former acting students Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal say that Franco and his associates “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and names Franco and two of his associates.

Studio 4, Franco’s acting school, which had locations in New York and Los Angeles, has since shuttered. He opened the school with his business partner, Vince Jolivette, in 2014.

Franco’s representatives didn’t return HuffPost’s request for comment. The actor’s attorney Michael Plonsker told Variety that Franco denies the allegations and will be seeking damages against the plaintiffs. 

“This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked,” Plonsker told the entertainment magazine. “We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit.”

Students of the school paid $300 a month in tuition to attend classes and train at Studio 4. According to the complaint, the school promised students that they could submit reels of their work that would be used as auditions for Franco’s projects.

However, the lawsuit claims that Franco’s acting school “duped” young, unsuspecting acting students out of their money and served the defendant’s “financial and exploitative desires.”

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal auditioned to be a part of the school’s sex scene “master class.” The workshop cost $750 and required students to have their auditions filmed, according to the suit.

Gaal said in the complaint that she expressed concern over the audition process, which she said rewarded students who were willing to engage in simulated sexual acts that went far beyond industry standards.

Tither-Kaplan said her willingness to “push boundaries” during the sex scene workshop to gain Franco’s approval led to additional acting opportunities for her.

She told National Public Radio that the class didn’t teach how to “maneuver in sex scenes professionally as an actor.”

“In fact, I didn’t know anything about nudity riders, the detail required in them, the right to counsel with the director about nude scenes, the custom to choreograph nude scenes ahead of time to negotiate them with the cast and the director — I knew none of that throughout that class,” she told NPR.

Tither-Kaplan first accused Franco of misconduct in 2018 with four other women after the actor showed up at the Golden Globe Awards with a pin symbolizing the Time’s Up movement, which was launched by women in Hollywood in response to reports of rampant sexual assault in the industry.

She first sent a tweet criticizing the “full nudity” scenes she did for him as exploitative. Days later, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she accused him of violating her and other actors who were performing a nude orgy scene by removing a plastic guard designed to keep actors separated while performing scenes of oral sex.

Franco denied the accusations during an appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that year.

“In my life, I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I’ve done. I have to do that to maintain my well-being,” Franco told Colbert. 

“The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate,” he added. “But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long, so I don’t want to shut them down in any way. I think it’s a good thing, and I support it.”

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