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Obsessions: Franco, Franco everywhere

By Mark Marino, Special to CNN
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James Franco does it all
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James Franco is adding musical producer, college lecturer and bar owner to résumé
  • Actor first became known for his role in "Freaks & Geeks" TV series more than a decade ago
  • Franco is nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in "127 Hours"
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(CNN) -- "127 Hours" isn't just the name of James Franco's Oscar-nominated film, it also could describe the length of time he waits before delving into a new career.

Musical producer; college lecturer, bar owner; Walmart greeter -- which of these titles won't Franco be adding to his résumé in the coming months? If you guessed Walmart greeter, you're right -- for now.

"I'm doing it because I love it," the star has said of juggling so many jobs. "Why not do as many things I love as I can? As long as the work is good."

Considering all the occupations he holds, it's tempting to blame Franco for the country's unemployment problem. He's absolutely everywhere these days, and just about the only place you won't see the 32-year-old Oscar nominee/host's squinty, smirking face is on a milk carton.

Yet, as true Franco-philes know, it wasn't always this way.

After gaining attention in the 1999-2000 TV series "Freaks & Geeks," Franco embarked on a career as a "serious actor." He shunned the limelight, nabbed a Golden Globe for the "James Dean" TV movie, appeared with Robert DeNiro in "City by the Sea" and headlined a string of little-seen dramas, including "Tristan & Isolde" and "Annapolis."

"It was death," he has said of his career path at the time. "I didn't want to act anymore. It was death doing the things I was supposed to be doing. I couldn't make those movies anymore. ... I had the conversation with my manager like, 'If this is what it's gonna be, I can't do this anymore.' So, it wasn't like the answer was, 'Hey! Go do a bunch of crazy stuff!' I had to figure out how to change what I was doing. I had to figure out that I had to believe in my own taste. Not believe in what you should do. Believe in what I liked and it's OK."

Apparently, those likes included books, bongs and bedpans: Franco went back to college, made the 2008 stoner comedy, "Pineapple Express," and took a role on "General Hospital" as serial killer Franco.

The soap-opera gig was an unheard move for a successful film actor -- seriously, can you picture Christian Bale doing "All My Children"? -- but by 2010, you'd be hard-pressed to define Franco as a film actor anyway: He was modeling in a wet T-shirt for a Gucci fragrance ad, had made a documentary about "Saturday Night Live," published the short-story collection "Palo Alto" and unveiled the sex-and-violence-themed performance-art piece "The Dangerous Book Four Boys" at a New York gallery.

Then, shortly after unleashing those whoppers, Franco pulled out the really big guns and fired off a new string of head scratchers.

He premiered a "Three's Company" art installation at Sundance -- while wearing a Suzanne Somers wig, no less -- and is now turning the old sitcom into an off-Broadway play and a movie.

He's hosting the Oscars and also hosting the after-party! At his new bar! Where he'll sing!

He's returning to "General Hospital," writing and directing three screenplays, and he'll appear on Broadway in "Sweet Bird of Youth."

And wait ... he's producing a musical at Yale and will be both the subject and instructor of a Columbia College Hollywood course on film editing.

You heard correctly: He. Is. A. College. Course.

While Franco has been criticized -- and even skewered on "Saturday Night Live" -- for his mindboggling multitasking, that may be exactly what he wants. After all, an artist's job is to inspire debate and discussion, and Franco -- much like Lady Gaga, minus the telephone hats, platform boots and meat dresses (for now) -- certainly keeps the public talking as well as guessing with his every move.

"Some people say, 'Yeah, that guy will do anything. What's he going to do next?' But it doesn't mean that I don't believe in the projects that I'm doing," he has said. "You can do the crazy projects. Just be smart about it."

Well said, Franco. Now could you tell me which aisle home goods are on?

 
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