James Franco accused of sexual exploitation in new lawsuit

The star is alleged to have used his acting school to promote "widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour"

James Franco has been accused of sexually exploiting two women in a new lawsuit.

Two former students of the star’s acting school Studio 4 have alleged he and his male collaborators used the institution to engage in inappropriate conduct.

Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal claim Franco and his partner Vince Jolivette “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour towards female students by sexualising their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects”, according to the Guardian.

The two women were enrolled at the LA school and paid a $300 (£243) monthly tuition. Students could also pay for additional masterclasses, including a $750 (£608) class on sex scenes. According to the lawsuit, students had to audition for the class by filming a tape that Franco would then review.

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal allege that classes and auditions saw “often young and inexperienced females […] routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.” Gaal claimed that she was not allowed to join the class on sex scenes after expressing her discomfort after an audition for it, while Tither-Kaplan said her taking the class led to a role in a film by Franco that has yet to be released. She alleges that she was cast for an orgy scene where the actor removed plastic guards used to cover the women involved’s vaginas while he simulated oral sex.

James Franco

James Franco in 2017

Gaal and Tither-Kaplan are seeking damages and the return of any recordings. They also hope to file a class-action suit against Franco so other women who studied at Studio 4 can be involved.

In a statement given to USA Today, Franco’s lawyer Michael Plonsker said the actor would fight the lawsuit. “This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked,” he said. “We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in-depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity-seeking lawsuit.”

NME contacted Jolivette for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

Tither-Kaplan was one of five women who accused Franco of sexual misconduct in 2018. Franco denied the claims at the time but said during an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers: “I believe in these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out, enough that I will hold back things that I could say, just because I believe in it that much.” Franco has yet to comment on the new allegations.

Since the 2018 allegations were made against Franco, he has continued to work in Hollywood, appearing in the HBO series The Deuce. His latest movie Zeroville was released last week, but made only $8,897 (£7,209) in its opening weekend in the US.