James Franco has been sued by two women who claim they were sexually exploited at his acting school. Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, former students, allege in their lawsuit that Franco and his partners "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour" towards female students at the now-closed Studio 4. A lawyer for the 41-year-old actor denied their accusations calling it a "publicity-seeking lawsuit."
The lawsuit caps off a tumultuous few years for the Spring Breakers star, who slowly began to reemerge after sexual misconduct allegations were raised against him in 2018. Here is a timeline of the accusations:
Franco, then 35, admitted to hitting on a 17-year-old girl on Instagram. The actor's exchange with a Scottish teenager visiting New York went viral after she shared screenshots of their private conversation, in which she revealed her age. ("You're single? What's the hotel? Should I rent a room?" he wrote.)
Franco admitted to using "bad judgment," exclaiming, "I'm guess I'm, you know, embarrassed, and I guess I'm just a model of how social media is tricky." He added, "In my position, not only do I have to go through the embarrassing rituals of meeting someone, but sometimes it gets published for the world."
January 8, 2018
Franco's awards season kick-off turned into the beginning of the actor's #MeToo moment. As The Disaster Artist star accepted his Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, actress Ally Sheedy called him out in a series of since-deleted tweets.
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"James Franco just won. Please never ever ask me why I left the film/tv business," she wrote, later adding, "Why is a man hosting? Why is James Franco allowed in? Said too much. Nite love ya @goldenglobes." The Breakfast Club star, who worked with Franco on the off-Broadway play The Long Shrift in 2014, never expanded on her comments.
During the awards show, Tither-Kaplan made her first public accusations against Franco.
And actress Violet Paley accused Franco of sexual misconduct against her and her 17-year-old friend.
Paley admitted to having a consensual relationship with the actor, which she said made it harder "to come forward with this."
January 9, 2018
Franco addressed the accusations on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
"OK, first of all, I have no idea what I did to Ally Sheedy," he began. "I directed her in a play off-Broadway. I had nothing but a great time with her — total respect for her. I have no idea why she was upset. She took the tweet down. I don’t know."
As for the other tweets, Franco said he hadn't read them, but had heard what they said.
"The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate," he said. "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 — I don’t want to, you know, shut them down in any way. It’s, I think, a good thing and I support it."
January 10, 2018
The actor continued his awards season campaign, but it quickly turned into an apology tour. On Late Night With Seth Meyers, he stuck to a similar script.
"One of the things that I’ve learned is that this is a conversation that needs to be had," Franco said. "There are people and women and others that have not been a part of this conversation, and I truly believe — and [it is] why I was wearing the pin — is that they need to be a part of this conversation. So I support them."
He was asked by Meyers if the #TimesUp movement made him question his past behaviour.
"I think what I really learned, like I said, there are stories that need to get out, people that need to be heard," Franco responded. "I have my own side of this story, but I believe in these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will hold back things that I could say just because I believe in it that much. If I have to take a knock because I am not going to try and actively refute things then I will, because I believe in it that much."
January 11, 2018
Five women accused Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behaviour in a Los Angeles Times exposé. Four women were his students and another claimed he was her mentor. Tither-Kaplan and Paley were two of the women who participated in the article.
"I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable," Tither-Kaplan said. She claimed that during a nude orgy scene she filmed with Franco in 2015, he had the women remove protective plastic guards covering the actresses' vaginas while simulating oral sex on them. (The actress made the same claim in the lawsuit filed Thursday.)
The Los Angeles Times detailed multiple inappropriate allegations against Franco and his Studio 4 school. Two of his former students, Natalie Chmiel and Hilary Dusome, claimed he put females in uncomfortable situations beyond what's considered normal in acting class.
Through an attorney, Franco denied all allegations.
David Simon, the executive producer of HBO's The Deuce in which Franco currently stars, spoke out in defence of the actor.
"Personally I can only speak knowledgeably to The Deuce," he said in a statement. "I’ve checked with all my fellow producers and other personnel. We have no complainant or complaint or any awareness of any incident of concern involving Mr. Franco. Nor has HBO been approached with any complaint. In our experience, he was entirely professional as an actor, director and producer."
In the weeks and months that followed, Seth Rogen, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Alison Brie also voiced support for the actor.
October 3, 2019
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal sued Franco and his business partner, Vince Jolivette, their Rabbit Bandini production company and its general manager, Jay Davis. The women claim Franco and his partners "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviuor towards female students by sexualising their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects."
These actions, they say, "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class."
Franco’s lawyer released the following statement to Yahoo Entertainment Thursday night:
"This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked. We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed complaint in depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit."