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Two former students at a Los Angeles acting school that promised students unparalleled access to James Franco are alleging the endeavor was really meant to guarantee him a pipeline of young, attractive aspiring actresses, who were cajoled into exploitative and inappropriate sex scenes.
The actresses, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, filed a lawsuit against Franco, his business partner, and the general manager of their production company Rabbit Bandini in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and misleading advertising, among other things. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal say they paid hundreds of dollars to the school, Playhouse West Studio 4, in exchange for the opportunity to receive acting coaching from Franco and exclusively audition for roles in his independent films.
Those roles never materialized, the women said. And their experience at the school was warped by sexual harassment.
“The school instead created, fostered, and maintained a ‘boy’s club’ culture wherein female students were sent a very clear message that if they refused the advances of ‘instructors’ and ‘producers’ and/or refused to perform while partially nude, they would not be considered for substantial roles,” the lawsuit alleges.
In addition to paying $300 monthly dues, the students could pay up to $2,000 for additional “master classes.” Franco oversaw one of those classes, which focused on performing sex scenes, according to the lawsuit. But to join that class, students had to audition — on camera, the lawsuit alleged. Students were allegedly encouraged to perform and improvise sex acts in the auditions and to perform nude if a scene called for it.
Both Gaal and Tither-Kaplan said that they auditioned for the sex scenes class. But Gaal said that she was rejected after she shared her concerns about how the auditions were being run.
Tither-Kaplan, on the other hand, said she was accepted and started working directly with Franco. She acted nude in Rabbit Bandini productions, she said, and was not paid fairly. And on the set of one production, Tither-Kaplan said, Franco removed the guards that protect actresses’ vaginas.
Studio 4 closed in fall 2017 and, according to the lawsuit, many of the independent films Franco worked on there were never released. The women are now seeking unspecified damages and want recordings of the auditions to be destroyed.
This isn’t the first time that Franco has dealt with controversy over his sexual past. In 2014, he admitted to hitting on a 17-year-old girl through Instagram, after screenshots of their conversations were made public. Franco, then 36, knew how young she was.
Then, in a 2018 Los Angeles Times story, five women, including Tither-Kaplan, said the actor had either been sexually inappropriate or exploitative toward them.
Representatives for Franco and his business partner didn’t immediately return the New York Times’ request for comment on the lawsuit. When a VICE News reporter called a number associated with Rabbit Bandini, it was disconnected.
But in 2018, Franco’s attorney disputed all of the women’s allegations. Franco also told Late Show host Stephen Colbert that he takes pride in taking responsibility for what he’s done.
“I have to do that to maintain my well being,” he said. “The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate. 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.”
“If I have done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to,” he went on.
Cover image: James Franco attends the premiere of HBO's "The Deuce" third and final season at Metrograph on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)