James Franco, the erstwhile Oscar-host, Best Actor nominee, and all around cultural renaissance man is now in talks to direct two of the most celebrated novels of the twentieth century: Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. It's hard to think of anyone who has devoured, appropriated, and engaged all forms of culture, high and low, with such a Caliguean appetite.
You've got to hand it to Franco, he's the rare actor who seems relatively unencumbered by self-doubt or its first cousin, pretension. How else could he even approach a pair of projects like these -- one by Faulkner himself and another by the modern novelist most often called Faulkneresque. According to a report at Showbiz411, Franco has spent months in negotiations with Faulkner's estate to adapt the stream-of-consciousness tale of a Southern matriarch reflecting back on her flawed family from the grave. Franco has set a high bar for himself here. It will be interesting to see how he translates the novel's multiple points-of-view and baroque sentence structure into a cinematic narrative.
At the same time, he's treading into equally tricky (and sacred) literary territory by taking on the enormous responsibility of bringing McCarthy's Blood Meridian to the big screen. Producer Scott Rudin has long owned the rights to McCarthy's Wild West allegory about a teenage runaway who takes up with a gang of renegade scalp hunters and then develops the skills (and fluid morality) to survive the onslaught of confrontations with dangerous and unsavory characters, including an enormous and vicious albino. The latter is such a juicy role, it'll be interesting to see whether Franco will be able to resist the temptation to play it himself. Let's hope so.
Apparently Franco has recently been working with Rudin to hammer out a plan to direct Blood Meridian sometime in 2012, after he finishes his first year of his PhD program in English at Yale. And after he makes his Broadway debut in Rudin's production of "Sweet Bird of Youth" opposite Nicole Kidman.
Still, we're not worried. Though relatively untested as a filmmaker, Franco has proven his ardor for the written word, which makes him as good a custodian as we can hope to ensure these adaptations arrive on screen with the spirit of the originals. Just thinking about the casting possibilities on both projects sets the mind reeling. Weigh in with your fantasy casting on each novel and we'll compile the the best and most popular suggestions and vote on the the winners.
Image: James Franco (c) Samir Hussein/Getty Images