This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
James Franco has been to the Sundance Film Festival many times most recently, a year ago with the film "I Am Michael."
But his return in 2016 is a bit different. He's not here with a film, but with a TV miniseries. And an online TV show at that.
Franco stars in "11.22.63," an eight-part, nine-hour adaptation of Stephen King's novel that will begin streaming on Hulu on Feb. 15. He stars as Jake Epping, a teacher who goes back in time and attempts to rewrite history by preventing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The actor said he quickly signed on to star in the project executive-produced by J.J. Abrams and showrunner Bridget Carpenter because he's a big fan of the book.
"I read it pretty fast. I just loved it so much," Franco said. So much that he emailed King, hoping to option the book.
"And he said, 'Yeah, sorry. J.J. Abrams is doing it,' " Franco said. "And I thought 'Oh, I guess I won't be doing that.'
"And then, not long after that, I got an email from J.J. asking if I wanted to be in it."
Abrams a King fan "since junior high school" said, "This was a book that I loved long before Stephen King reached out and asked if I'd be interested in getting involved to produce it."
Abrams is best known as the director of "Star War: The Force Awakens," "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Super 8," but he has a long list of TV writing, directing and producing credits. A list that includes "Person of Interest," "Almost Human," "Fringe," "Lost," "Alias" and "Felicity" all on network television.
He and the rest of the "11.22.63" team, he said, "feel incredibly lucky to be working with Hulu. They've been remarkable and incredibly collaborative and as excited about this as we were. And that really is why we ended up there."
The series was a major undertaking for Franco, who is not only in almost every scene but also directed an episode.
"For me, acting is fun," he said, "so it doesn't feel like work to me to have to be in every scene. It's just kind of what I do."
He even flew cross-country one weekend; acted in a horror movie; then returned Monday morning to go back to work on "11.22.63."
"I get to do what I want," Franco said.
Carpenter said it did take "an extra hour in makeup scrubbing the [fake] blood off him so we could shoot our scenes. James is an unbelievable ... workhorse."
She said she read the book for pleasure long before Abrams called about the miniseries. And when she was adapting it for the teleplay, "everything that made me feel ... thrilled and romantic and excited ... those things we kept in and then we cut the rest. It's easy."
Not so, Abrams insisted.
"Bridget was very modest," he said. "It wasn't in any way easy, and the work that you did was remarkable, in some cases introducing new characters, in other cases cutting existing ones because it wasn't appropriate for screen telling."
All done with King's approval. And, Carpenter said, "I think the people who have read and love the book will be very satisfied" with the miniseries.
The miniseries was shot mostly in Toronto, but filmed "key scenes" in Dallas, according to Carpenter including Dealey Plaza, where the assassination happened, and the apartment building where assassin Lee Harvey Oswald lived.
"It was incredible," Franco said. "I mean, it was eerie being there."
He was born almost 15 years after JFK was assassinated, but said it was, nonetheless, a "big event" for him.
"It's sort of become, in a weird way, like legend, maybe, for my generation," he said, "It feels sort of like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean or something like that. But, in fact, it was this horrific event. But it kind of has this cast of legend over it now."
And despite the umpteen books, movies and TV shows about JFK, "11.22.63" is "a fresh way in," Franco said. "We're not exactly telling a history lesson. You get to learn everything all over again, but from a completely fresh perspective that we haven't really seen before. ... It's a way to kind of guide a new generation into what happened."
The two-hour premiere episode of the eight-part Hulu series "11.22.63" will be screened Thursday at 5:15 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. A Q&A with the stars and producers will follow.