There was a lot of young flesh on stage at TIFF's Spring Breakers press conference on Friday with stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and their fellow play mates dressed to impress. And then there was James Franco, looking either hungover or jet-lagged in a ragged blue T-shirt, while guzzling water and coffee intermittently. He really did look like he could have been recovering from spring break.
Looks can be deceiving, though. Franco was game, fielding journalists' questions, sometimes intently, sometimes with a smirk and at one point (when the press inquiry was most puzzling) a baffled whisper, "What the fuck??"
There's no doubt Franco was serious about discussing the project alongside director Harmony Korine. In the film, Franco plays Alien, a Florida-based rapping drug dealer who sports cornrows and a grill. Looking like Lil Wayne's albino sibling, Alien takes four ripe out-of-towners (Gomez, Hudgens, Ashley Benson & the writer/director's daughter Rachel Korine) under his wing for a crime spree during Spring Break.
The film grew out of an image director Korine concocted of bikini-clad girls sporting ski masks and guns. From there Korine and Franco explored the locations, the local rappers and inspirations like Three 6 Mafia that would eventually shape the script.
"I didn't want to make an exposé on spring break," says Korine, which makes sense since that's what we have Girls Gone Wild for. Korine elaborates that his film was meant to just capture the feeling of spring break.
His female cast agrees. All admitted to never attending spring break in the past. Gomez and Hudgens in particular were too busy making Disney programs. So Korine's film gave them the opportunity to have an experience similar to what they missed.
"Harmony would put us into rooms with all these extras who were really on spring break," recalls Hudgens. "It was insane. It definitely felt like I was on spring break for a good month."
"(There was) all these redneck, jock dudes trying to rub up on them," recalls Korine. "Thank god that was Selena's day off," he makes sure to add, God forbid the Biebs gets upset.
The risks Gomez took with the film was a recurring topic since Spring Breakers is a long ways away from Waverly Place.
Korine himself admitted to hiding all his "spooky" artwork at his house before meeting Gomez for the first time, believing her to be too Christian to handle it. For her part, Gomez expressed a deep sense of trust in Korine and a willingness to go where he wanted her to go.
"You could probably get me to do anything bad," Gomez said to her director. "I didn't think I'd ever be able to smoke a bong."
"It is hard for people to take me serious because of the brand that I've been given," adds Gomez, who doesn't want to be restricted by her popular public image but is also naturally concerned about how a film like Spring Breakers will affect her young fan base.
She only has this piece of advice for them: "Don't see it."
Spring Breakers premieres tonight (Friday, September 7) at 6 pm, Ryerson Theatre; and also screens Sunday (September 9), 3 pm, and September 14, 9 pm, both at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.