On the most superstitious day of the year, James Franco got lucky.
With his roguish grin and trademark James Dean looks, the actor appeared stunned but happy during his Friday the 13th roast as Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ Man of the Year, rubbing his Pudding Pot and declaring, “Now I’ve made it.”
Franco, in a black silk tie and suit on the New College Theatre stage, read a fabricated list of “things to do before I die,” which included such aspirations as: be a movie star, have a bar mitzvah, and win a Hasty Pudding Pot.
“But, James,” said roaster Charlotte E. Twaalfhoven ’10, “you haven’t had a bar mitzvah!”
And out came Rabbi Spiderman to perform the honors.
Later, Franco declared the ceremony “really touching,” saying, “It brought me into full manhood.”
Earlier that day, Franco, sporting black sunglasses and ankle boots, caused a stir as he strolled through a thawed but windy Harvard Yard, soaking up campus life on a tour with Kathleen Chen ’09 that included a serenade (the Leslie Gore classic “It’s My Party”) by the Radcliffe Pitches.
Franco, whose breakthrough role came in the revered but short-lived series “Freaks and Geeks,” won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of James Dean in 2002, and was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2008 for his role in Judd Apatow’s stoner homage “Pineapple Express.” But for Franco, life does not imitate art: the actor, who graduated from UCLA in 2008 with a B.A. in English, fits right in at Harvard – he is currently enrolled in Columbia’s MFA creative writing program, and studies film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
During the tour, Franco was inquisitive about the cinematic history of Harvard, and proved his chops for both film and literary knowledge. He momentarily forgot the name of the Joe Pesci film, “With Honors,” but knew landmark Sever Hall from the 1970 movie “Love Story.” Franco also mentioned John Jay Osborn Jr.’s novel (and later film), “The Paper Chase.”
Passing Widener Library, Franco inquired where the English building was located, asking, “Does Jamaica Kincaid still teach here?”
The Woman and Man of the Year awards are presented to those who have made a “lasting and impressive contribution to the world of entertainment.” Franco is one in a long list of wily funnymen who have received the coveted Pudding Pot in recent years: Christopher Walken, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., to name but a few. His films include the “Spider-Man” trilogy, “In the Valley of Elah,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Pineapple Express,” and most recently he starred alongside Sean Penn in Gus Van Sant’s “Milk.” Franco is also a regular contributor to the Web site Funny or Die, which is run by comedian Will Ferrell.
Franco’s roast, conducted by Twaalfhoven and Pierce E. Tria ’10, marked the opening night of “Acropolis Now,” the latest production by the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. The show runs through March 15 in Cambridge before moving to New York and then Bermuda for final performances March 26-28.
In typical Hasty Pudding fashion, the outlandish roast included forcing Franco to don a sequined bra, wig, high heels (which didn’t fit), and, in this case, an eye patch to cover a “most symmetrical face,” as his was deemed in a study by The New York Times.
Of the fun cruelty, Franco pleaded, “Why am I the Man of the Year?” And, unlike his Hasty Pudding counterpart Renée Zellweger, who plans on using her Pudding Pot as a doorstop, Franco views his award as “not the most functional.”
“I can’t think of any award show that would equal this,” Franco said. “I used to fly a plane and I would always say, ‘If you die today, it’ll be OK.’ Now, it’s just kinda gravy.”