By R. Kurt Osenlund
Photography by Randall Slavin | Jacket By Tommy Hilfiger
At this point, inquiring about the motives behind James Franco’s queer fixation is as played out as a 50 Shades pun. But something feels different when posing the question to actor, writer, and director Scott Haze, Franco’s serial collaborator and friend of 15 years, who knows firsthand what it’s like to be close to Hollywood’s busiest bromance champion. “Some of the most prolific people in the artistic community have been gay,” Haze offers. Which is to say that, from Haze’s perspective, Franco’s artistic predilections don’t necessarily stem from queer desire so much as a need to emulate his tireless heroes, who “happened to be homosexual.” That’s another thing Haze and Franco share: identification with LGBT artists known for compulsive creation. “Arthur Rimbaud had sex with men,” Haze says of his favorite poet, “and he’s one of the guys who shaped me hugely when I was young.”
Haze’s wide-open mind and apparent lack of inhibitions are helping him gain a buzzworthy, down-for-anything reputation, particularly when it comes to his exploits with Franco. During one of the pair’s recent encounters, for Franco’s experimental art project The Animals, Haze, Franco, and a crew of models stripped naked and played dodgeball while slathered in paint. This month, Haze plays the lead role of necrophiliac Lester Ballard in Child of God, Franco’s film adaptation of the 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Haze’s performance astonishing. Wholly adopting the persona of a ferocious, feral pariah in rural Tennessee, he’s been garnering praise since Child of God played last year’s Venice, Toronto, and New York film festivals. But while most media coverage has focused on Haze’s method approach (he lived, as Lester does, in forests and caves for months before shooting), less has been devoted to how he dug up the sympathetic soul within a guy who beds the dead.
“He never had any friends, and nobody ever shows him any love,” Haze says of Lester, who’s forever traumatized by the loss of his parents and his home. “In a very weird way, it was easy for me to say, ‘This guy’s never been shown love — I wonder what his life would’ve been like if one person in his community offered support.’ ”