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.' "
Jacket, Pants, And Shirt By Marc Jacobs. Sunglasses By Ray Ban.
Born in Dallas, Haze honed his skills primarily through stage work, writing, helming, and acting in shows at venues like L.A.'s Playhouse West, where he studied with Franco. In 2006, he founded and built North Hollywood's Sherry Theater, which he named after his mother and shaped into a home for daring, offbeat productions. The Sherry is where Franco and gay filmmaker Travis Mathews shot their genre-defying Cruising spin-off, Interior. Leather Bar., and it's a place that gives Haze, a rising talent himself, the unique opportunity to foster other rising talents -- of all walks.
"Some people thought Interior. Leather Bar. might be too edgy to shoot at the Sherry," Haze says. "But that's exactly what I'm looking to support: people who have a vision. Whether you're gay, transgender, straight...I'm more concerned that somebody has passion and is responsible and just loves to create. Those are the people who are going to change the world, and those are the people I want to have in my theater."
Meanwhile, Haze's career is action-packed enough to suggest his friend and mentor's indefatigable habits have rubbed off. He's starred in Franco's directorial translations of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, he'll appear in Mud director Jeff Nichols's Midnight Specialopposite Michael Shannon, and, this summer, he trekked through Kenya to complete a documentary on Charles Mulli, a rags-to-riches humanitarian who's helped more than 7,000 street kids, many of whom lost their parents to AIDS.
When we chat, Haze outlines his weekend, which will involve choosing the right helicopter to film the doc, meeting a friend to work on a screenplay he expects will get produced, and rehearsing with Franco for the play The Long Shrift, which runs through August at New York's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. That doesn't sound like it leaves much time for another round of naked dodgeball, but it does sound like the itinerary of a star.
Stylist: Alexandra Mandelkorn. Groomer: Miriam Vukich.