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Friday March 8, 2013 14:02

James Franco lightens up for role in ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actor James Franco, lauded for his serious roles and forays into art, was almost too earnest to land the lead in the big screen 3D adventure film ”Oz the Great and Powerful,” which opens on Friday ahead of the summer blockbuster season.

Filmmaker Sam Raimi, who directed Franco in the ”Spider-Man” trilogy from 2002 to 2007, said he initially considered other heavyweight actors such as Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. for the lead role in Disney’s big-budget unofficial prequel to the 1939 classic ”The Wizard of Oz.”

Both Depp and Downey have already spearheaded two juggernaut Disney blockbuster franchises, with Depp as raucous Captain Jack Sparrow in ”Pirates of the Caribbean” and Downey as the main character in ”Iron Man.”

Franco has not carried a blockbuster film alone, but Raimi told Reuters the 34-year-old actor’s maturation would enable him to do so in ”Oz,” in which he plays the charming, morally dubious circus magician who cons others on and off stage.

When the character lands in Oz he continues his unethical ways, but becomes a reluctant hero after tapping into his inner goodness.

”I started thinking about what I knew about James in real life and realized they were very similar to Oz’s,” Raimi said.

”James started out as a 21-year-old actor, was a little into himself, a little selfish, a womanizer. But he had a good heart.”

When Franco and Raimi worked together on ”Spider-Man,” the actor was a relative newcomer in Hollywood, playing the supporting role of Harry Osborn to Toby Maguire’s Peter Park/Spider-Man.

Franco, who stars alongside actresses Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz In ”Oz,” admitted that he lacked the maturity as a performer to play a character like the wizard when he supported Maguire in the ”Spider-Man” franchise.

”I was still in a stage where I think I took acting too seriously,” Franco told Reuters in a recent interview. ”I couldn’t relax in the roles … there was a kind of strangulation of the performances that was going on.”

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