A prosthetic penis helped launch James Franco's career as an actor and ally of the LGBT community.
The King Cobra star was honored Saturday by the Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival with its first annual James Schamus Ally Award. After being introduced by gay director and former collaborator Gus Van Sant, Franco told a humorous anecdote at the ceremony about filming a poolside scene nearly naked in Milk, the biopic of assassinated gay politician Harvey Milk, in which Franco portrayed Milk's lover. His only covering during this particular shoot was a prosthetic penis.
“I was the only one naked,” Franco said. “Everybody else was talking politics and there I was swimming naked. I didn’t know, but Gus got, or somebody got us these fake penises that would make the actors feel more comfortable. So you just slide em over. There was no fitting or anything. They just gave it to me and I put it on.”
Franco later learned from filmmaker Judd Apatow that his near nudity was mistaken for actual nudity by a few notable folks that day. Among them was Sean Penn, who would go on to win an Oscar for portraying Milk.
"Sean was looking over at me," Franco said. "I would just sort of sit there. Between some of the takes, I wouldn’t put on a towel or anything, because I had the fake penis on. It got wet, obviously, because I was swimming, and so I guess it was sort of hanging off a little bit so it looked even longer."
According to Apatow, Penn had said of Franco, "He’s younger, good-looking, and he’s gotta have like the biggest schlong."
In a video introducing Franco for his award, James Schamus joked that he knew Franco would win an award for his allyship after watching footage of that day's shoot.
"Gus Van Sant had a vision, and it was so crucial to the narrative to have you continuously naked coming in and out of the pool. I thought, Wow, that is what an ally should look like," said Schamus, an ally who has produced films like Brokeback Mountain and The Kids Are All Right.
Schamus added that the ally award should "put to rest" rumors about Franco's sexuality. The actor, who recently identified as gay in everything but sex, has been long been dogged by whispers of relationships with other men, which were frequently reported on by Gawker.
Standing at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, Franco thanked all of the LGBT people who have inspired him in his life and work as an actor and filmmaker. By name, he recognized "past heroes" like Hart Crane and Allen Ginsberg as well as living contemporaries like Van Sant and filmmaker Justin Kelly. Kelly directed King Cobra, a new film about murder in the gay porn industry that Franco produced that screened later that evening. Costars Alicia Silverstone, Keegan Allen, and Garrett Clayton, as well as producers Jordan Yale Levine and Scott Levenson, were also in attendance.
“So many of my heroes have been in this community, are a part of this community, and I’m just honored to be awarded something back," Franco said. "I love so many of these stories and so many people that come out of here and so many artists in particular. So I’m honored to tell their stories.”
Watch Franco's speech below.