news

In 2019, James Franco was sued by his ex students for sexual misconduct. Now a deal has been reached.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

When aspiring actor Sarah Tither-Kaplan signed up for a sex scenes ‘master class’ at James Franco‘s acting school, Studio 4, she assumed she’d learn how to manoeuvre professionally with a co-star.

She was thrilled to pass a filmed audition for the class; Franco was an actor she admired, and the fact he’d chosen her suggested he valued her talent.

But Tither-Kaplan claims that, as the program progressed, she discovered it was far from the education she’d hoped for.

Watch: James Franco responds to previous sexual misconduct allegations.


Video via CBS.

“I didn’t know anything about nudity riders, the detail required in them, the right to counsel with the director about nude scenes, the custom to choreograph nude scenes ahead of time to negotiate them with the cast and the director — I knew none of that throughout that class,” she told NPR.

“I did what seemed to be the thing that they wanted in this class, and that was get naked and do sex scenes and not complain and, you know, push the envelope.”

Tither-Kaplan and fellow former Studio 4 student, Toni Gaal, went on to sue the 42-year-old Hollywood star and two other men who ran the now-defunct business, alleging that the school “served no other legitimate purposes other than to dupe unsuspecting and often very young ‘students’ out of their money and talent to serve Defendants’ financial and exploitative desires”.

In their complaint, which was filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2019, the women alleged that Franco and his partners subjected them to sexually exploitative auditions and film shoots, while promising them roles in movies that never eventuated or were never released.

They claim those alleged actions “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class”.

Two years later, a settlement deal has now been reached.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to a joint status report filed on February 11, both Tither-Kaplan and Gaal have agreed to drop their individual claims under the agreement. 

According to Variety, the sexual exploitation claims have been dismissed without prejudice, meaning they are open to being re-filed. 

The document does not include how much money may be involved in the deal and at this stage, and there is no more information about the nature of the agreement. 

The ‘Sex Scenes’ class.

According to Tither-Kaplan and Gaal's complaint, the ‘Sex Scenes’ course, which reportedly cost students an additional US$750 on top of their $300/month fee, saw participants pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond industry standard.

Tither-Kaplan claims she also received special treatment after completing her audition for the class and performing a nude scene: “I started working with them very regularly,” she told NPR. “And not a lot of other students got that chance.”

The auditions were recorded, allegedly so that Franco could review the footage at a later time, and students were reportedly asked to sign away rights to the recordings.

Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team explain what the Time’s Up movement is actually about. Post continues below.

But it went further still, Gaal alleged.

“We were consistently auditioning for projects that had nudity, and we had to upload our self-tapes at home, so they were consistently getting footage of this sensitive nature of work,” she said.

The claims stated in the women’s complaint include sex discrimination, sexual harassment, fraud and false advertising.

A history of sexual misconduct allegations: from “hitting on” a teenager, to orgy scenes.

The complaint was not the first sexual misconduct accusation to be levelled at The Disaster Artist star.

In 2014, Instagram messages between the then-36-year-old and a 17-year-old girl were released online, in which he asked her if he should hire a hotel room so they could “meet up”. During an interview on The Howard Stern Show the following month, Franco admitted he had been “hitting on” the teenager.

“Seventeen is legal in New York, but that being said, it’s still pretty damn young,” he said. “They make it out like I’m pursuing young women. I’m not going to high schools looking for dates.”

Franco's accusers criticised him for wearing a Time's Up pin to the 2018 Golden Globes. Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

In 2018, Tither-Kaplan was among five women to come forward via a 2018 Los Angeles Times article alleging Franco had conducted inappropriate and sexually abusive behaviour during auditions and on the set of his independent films.

Tither-Kaplan told the publication that she was part of a nude orgy scene with Franco and other women in 2015, during which he "removed protective plastic guards covering other actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex on them".

Two of the women also alleged that Franco became angry when none of the women on set agreed to perform topless.

Franco addressed the claims during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in January 2018, and said that they were "not accurate".

“Look, in my life I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done,” he told Colbert. “I have to do that to maintain my wellbeing..."

"But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long. So I don’t want to shut them down in any way.”

He added, “If I have done something wrong, I will fix it — I have to.”

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

This article was originally published on October 4, 2019, and was updated on February 22, 2021.

Want more Mamamia? You can subscribe to a range of our newsletters here.