Like everyone else these days, late-night hosts (and their bookers) are constantly on the alert for the next high-profile entertainment figure accused of sexual abuse, harassment, or general creepiness. For example, Stephen Colbert and his Late Show staff had time back in November to ax a scheduled appearance by Louis CK on the day of the show. However, the late-breaking story that several women have come forward with stories of inappropriate sexual behavior by Tuesday guest and The Disaster Artist auteur and Golden Globe winner James Franco saw Colbert’s interview go forward as planned. After Franco wore the Time’s Up campaign pin—symbolizing support for a legal defense fund for women harassed in the workplace—at Sunday’s Golden Globes, lingering rumors (even beyond that time Franco admitted to sexting an underage girl) turned into social media accusations from actresses he’s worked with, including Ally Sheedy. With Franco in the building, the question for viewers became how the outspoken Colbert would approach the subject, if at all.
And at first, it looked very much like the Late Show host would take the easy route, joshing around with Franco about his unlikely friendship with fellow auteur Tommy Wiseau, whose cult not-classic The Room forms the subject matter for Franco’s award-winning film. Colbert even brought out Franco’s co-star (and younger brother) Dave for some good-natured goofing about, suggesting that Colbert was going to let the issue—which saw The New York Times cancel a scheduled Wednesday speaking appearance by the actor-director earlier in the day—slide, for the moment, anyway. But, much to Franco’s obvious discomfort, Colbert devoted the latter half of their sit-down to the subject of these recent allegations.
Explaining that he’d talked with Franco backstage about the topic, Colbert segued delicately into the question at hand, asking Franco if he understood why he was criticized for wearing the Time’s Up pin. Franco started by asserting his support for the fight for both reform in workplace culture and greater representation of “women, people of color, people in the LGBT community” in the industry, which earned him some tentative audience applause. But, pressing the issue, Colbert brought the conversation back to the complaints against him, leaving the Ed Sullivan Theater in uncomfortable silence as the fidgeting Franco alternated between stating that Tuesday’s allegations were “not accurate” and making vague allusions to needing to “change [his] perspective where it’s off.” “The way I live my life, I can’t live if there’s restitution to be made,” Franco said before concluding, “I will make it.” He did claim that he’s not sure what Sheedy’s since-deleted tweets are referring to. (Franco directed Sheedy onstage in 2014.)
Concluding the interview, Colbert asked what Franco—who also stated his support for a culture in which people will be believed, even though he disputes these particular allegations—felt was the appropriate way for this issue to move forward “outside of social media.” Franco restated his willingness to listen, saying, “If I’ve done something wrong, I will fix it.” However, Colbert’s questions indicated how, in the changing culture surrounding sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry that Franco claims to support, hazy, equivocal answers aren’t going to cut it anymore.