A Shady Lane
James Franco's collection of short stories Actors Anonymous takes you inside his dark, twisted world: Hollywood.

In another episode of “art imitates life imitates art,” James Franco continues to makes his literary presence known with Actors Anonymous, which is about—you guessed it!—actors in Hollywood. You might ask, is the book about James Franco writing about himself as an actor? No, not really. But just like the actor that he is, Franco wholeheartedly embodies the personalities of twelve different types of actors and scribes a personalized story for each of them. Some of his actors in the book are working, some are struggling, some are in acting classes, and one is even long dead (and that would be the one about River Phoenix).

The book is billed as a novel but I think of Actors Anonymous as a collection of short stories. Using A.A.’s trademark 12-Step Program as a model, Franco creates his own set of rules for troubled actor-types. He guides us through each of his Steps by way of stories told from a diverse cast of Hollywood’s darkest players. “Peace” (Step 2) is about a young protagonist in an acting class with a beautiful, more successful actress and for a brief moment, he engages in a romantic but borderline-fantasy tryst with her. In “McDonald’s I” (Step 7), the narrator is a former heroin addict whose good looks have long disappeared with drug use; he works at the fast-food joint where he spends his shifts practicing different accents and impressions. “River Poems” (Step 4) is a series of four short verses dedicated to the late River Phoenix, an actor who seems to have left an indelible mark on Franco’s career (in fact, James Franco inserts himself into the fourth poem “James, it’s River”).

My favorite Step actually happens to be the first one in “I Am the Actor,” where an unrevealed famous veteran dishes the dirty details on what actually goes down during a film production; for instance, “Lots of actors like to screw the extras. It’s pretty easy.” As a person who has worked on sets before, my ongoing response to all that was confessed was simply, “HA! Yep.” Truth be told. Sure, some of the stories are better than others but Franco here writes as an expert, about what he knows best. At the same time he gets to act out his own characters while flexing his writerly ambitions with experimenting with various prose and voices.

These micro-tales of Hollywood are heavy but the spirits of the actors in James Franco’s camp remain optimistic and hopeful. It makes you think, maybe it’ll work out for them, who knows.  It’s Los Angeles, after all, and dreams have to be strong in order to survive. Luckily for these tragic figures, at least it’s always sunny in southern California.