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James Franco brings movie star magic to 'General Hospital'

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Actor James Franco will be guest starring on several episodes of the daytime drama "General Hopsital."
Actor James Franco will be guest starring on several episodes of the daytime drama "General Hopsital."
  • James Franco is taking the unusual step of guest starring on "General Hospital"
  • Details about the movie actor's character are being kept under wraps
  • Executive producer says he took the role very seriously and was up to the demands of filming
  • Role is generating buzz in an industry struggling to maintain viewers and advertisers

(CNN) -- Daytime dramas have helped launched the careers of many a star: David Hasselhoff, John Stamos, Julianne Moore and Meg Ryan, to name just a few.

But at least one actor is taking the reverse route.

Beginning Friday, James Franco will be appearing on "General Hospital," the long-running ABC soap opera.

Producers are trying to keep his story line under wraps, but here's what is known: The actor, best recognized for roles in "Pineapple Express" and "Spider-Man 3," will play a character known as Franco who has a connection to the art world and is pivotal to a story line involving "GH's" lead character, Jason Morgan.

"General Hospital" executive producer Jill Farren Phelps said Franco and Steve Burton, who portrays Morgan, are both clients of manager Miles Levy.

"[Franco] told his manager that he'd heard that [performing on a soap] was hard and that he thought it would be fun," Phelps said. "When Miles asked would we be interested, needless to say, we were very interested."

Phelps acknowledges that Franco's decision to tackle the small screen is an unusual career trajectory for most movie stars.

But she says Franco, who also recently filmed a guest spot on the hit NBC comedy "30 Rock," is showing that he refuses to be labeled or restricted as an actor.

"On some level, it just says much about who James Franco is," she said. "He goes to school, he does a soap opera, he does '30 Rock,' he's a movie star."

Franco is also one who apparently enjoys toying with his image. He re-creates some of his roles in a film titled "Erased James Franco."

His collaborator in the project, a multimedia artist and director who goes by the name of Carter, told Movieline that he was the inspiration for Franco's "General Hospital" stint.

"It was an idea that I posed to him, and it's tied to another film that he and I are working on now," Carter said. "It's not specifically for another project, because I know that he's really enjoying the challenge of working on a soap -- it's a very taxing job, and an interesting thing for him to be doing -- but it does have to do with another film that he and I are working on."

I think what he'll find is that there are some incredible actors on daytime.
--Lynn Leahey, editorial director of Soap Opera Digest

In an interview with New York magazine, the actor seemed to confirm that the soap gig is part of a greater plan.

"Well ... I've got other ideas for my participation in this soap opera beyond just being in this soap opera," Franco said. "But it's been a blast so far."

"GH" producer Phelps said producers talked with the actor and decided that Franco was not appearing on the show as a lark. He was respectful of the hard work and intensity that go into putting together the soap, she said.

Daytime actors put in long hours, and Franco was extremely professional and accomplished, memorizing dozens of pages of dialogue for a day's shoot, Phelps said.

"Everybody was so impressed," she said. "There was an enormous amount of respect and a lot of pleasure that the crew and the cast had in seeing this guy come and take it so seriously, do it so well and do such justice to it."

Phelps said the very handsome Franco also fit in quite well as a daytime hunk.

"He's a movie star," she said. "That's not to say I don't have any number of actors on this show who could qualify as movie stars, but there was something about what he brought that was just so much fun."

Lynn Leahey, editorial director of Soap Opera Digest, said Franco's appearance is generating buzz for "General Hospital" at a time when many soap operas are struggling with diminished advertising dollars and low ratings.

"The fact that someone like him wants to come on and wants to see what it's like I think is amazing," Leahey said. "I think what he'll find is that there are some incredible actors on daytime."

"People think of it as people who can't make it any place else go on daytime, and that's simply not true."

Leahey said the trend of prime-time actors coming to daytime is well established. Franco's appearance could spark interest in soap operas from other established movie actors, she said.

That would be just fine as far as "General Hospital's" executive producer is concerned.

"I do joke occasionally with Miles and say, 'Now get me Johnny Depp,' " Phelps said. "We invite anyone who would to like to try this -- because it's not easy -- to come and play."