James Franco was left bemused by his latest director's reasons for hiring him to star in 'Oz The Great And Powerful', with Sam Raimi revealing it was because "I knew him to be a selfish person".
The good news is... he's changed, apparently. Which is just as well, judging by Raimi's lyrical description of his young star's evolution, hence his suitability to take the lead in his 3D 'Wizard of Oz' pre-quel...
"When I met James, he was a little selfish, into himself," said Raimi, who worked with Franco on three 'Spiderman' films.
James Franco - a changed man, according to his 'Oz' director, Sam Raimi
"He was an actor who didn't want to hear anything about anyone, he was like James Dean, selfish is the best word I can say, and I like to work a different way, so I didn't like that, and I didn't like him so much."
Okay, then. Don't hold back, Mr Raimi. Oh, but it got better apparently...
"By the second picture, I started to see him grow a bit more, I saw him listening and trading ideas and taking in others' ideas and considering them if they were better than his own. By the third picture, he had developed a soul, and was a very generous person.
"So when it came time for Oz, I thought, he was a selfish person and I know it, and if he can just recognise those ugly parts that I see, and the good parts, then he's gone through this movie already, he's already played the role."
If that all seems a little harsh, Franco seemed able to take his director's frank comments on the chin...
"Sam's known me for ten years," he reflected. "When I was younger, like a lot of actors, you have a great drive, great ambition, you want to be a big success. What can happen is if you focus on that too much, you become a little self-centred, and I'm sure I was that way.
Franco is ballooned into a strange land in 'Oz', where he must learn to be less selfish
"I thought I knew the best way to play my characters in the movies I was doing, and I was not open to the full collaboration potential around me, and then as I got older, I learned that I'd be a happier person, that I would be a better person to work with, that I would give better performances, but generally just live a happier life if I stopped thinking about myself so much."
Franco takes the title role in Raimi's big-budget romp through Oz, where he is transported via hot air balloon to a land peopled by glamorous witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams) and must make the choice between being a good man and a great one. For a companion, he has a monkey (Zach Braff), Franco's third screen outing with such a friend... "It's my speciality," he agrees.
It may be just as well that Franco has learnt to collaborate because he has a lot on the go. As well as a roster of films, the former Oscar host now teaches English and drama - "it's the only place I can stop thinking about my own work, and help other people along their paths" - and has a couple of books about to be published - one, "A California Childhood" reflecting on his upbringing with a combination of souvenirs - his own photographs, report cards - and six fictional short stories.
Franco co-stars with Zach Braff, who plays his steadfast companion in Oz
How does he fit it all in? "Crystal meth," he deadpans, while his co-star Braff explains how he captures naps in five-minute intervals between things. Franco does look unusually tired, but he emphasises that he doesn't like to take a holiday.
"I don't need a break from it, when people say, 'Do you ever just do nothing?' That sounds horrible to me, that would bore me to death.
"If I have free time, I like to re-engage with what I love, I don't need breaks in the same way, of course I need to take in material if I'm producing, I see plays, I read, but I don't need to put it all aside, that is my life. But we filmed this two years ago, the book was last year, so it's not like I'm dashing everything off."
'Oz The Great And Powerful' is in UK cinemas from today 8 March. Watch the trailer below...