Busy Philipps has a book coming out later this month called This Will Only Hurt a Little. In a leaked excerpt she details a Freaks and Geeks on-set confrontation with James Franco in which he shoved her so forcefully she fell and had the wind knocked out of her. As Philipps herself says, it’s “well documented” that they didn’t really get along back then, and the shoving incident stemmed from a script direction in which she was supposed to “gently nudge” Franco in the chest and he was to get “upset” in retaliation. I would be curious to see that script page, not because I doubt Philipps—I don’t—but because of the disparity between her directions and his. By Philipps’ account, she had a specific action requested, “gently nudge”, but Franco had only the amorphous “get upset”. That’s a lot of leeway but even still shoving someone to the ground seems like an overreaction, or over-acting, however you want to put it, but it also points to something I’ve seen in scripts before: women often have specific stage directions because they are there to perform certain maneuvers, but male characters get only vague prompts and all the room they want to create and perform and do whatever the f*ck they want.
According to Philipps, Franco was made to apologize, but was never punished for “[throwing Philipps] to the ground”. In a follow-up interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she takes pains to say that she and Franco have come to terms and are friends now. Everything is fine, it’s fine. It was a scary moment early in her career that reinforced that a man’s creative impulse is more important than her well-being, but it’s fine. Don’t be mad at James Franco, they’ve worked it out. It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.
You know what this reminds me of? Dustin Hoffman slapping Meryl Streep on Kramer vs. Kramer. In an interview earlier this year she recalled that incident: “This is tricky because when you’re an actor, you’re in a scene, you have to feel free. I’m sure that I have inadvertently hurt people in physical scenes. But there’s a certain amount of forgiveness in that. But this was my first movie, and it was my first take in my first movie, and he just slapped me. And you see it in the movie. It was overstepping.” Overstepping, that’s a nice way to put it. How many times have we heard about women in film being overstepped upon? Dustin Hoffman slapping Meryl Streep. Marlon Brando surprising Maria Schneider with the butter in Last Tango in Paris. James Franco pushing Busy Philipps. Just acting! Except you can discuss a scene, the blocking, the movements, the expectations of what will happen, and still give a good performance. You SHOULD have the option of deciding whether or not to participate in a physical scene.
But actresses are often expected to go along with whatever her director and/or co-stars—who are mostly male—cook up for her. As an actress, that’s all you’ve got. You have to go along with it or else you’re not professional, you’re not capable, you’re not good at your job. You have to make light of it, regardless of how it affected you, or you’re not being a team player. If you don’t smile and play along you’re a buzzkill, a spoilsport, a humorless bitch. So here’s my soundbite about my terrible co-star spun to sound like a cute anecdote. It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.
Busy Philipps nails it: “I was always acutely aware of my expendability, and so I felt I needed to never complain, always show up on time and not be difficult. If someone else was being difficult, it was my job to be the easy one or figure out a way to soothe the situation.”
How many of us have been “acutely aware” of our expendability? How many of us have laughed off a tasteless comment in a meeting, or stifled a grimace after a handsy hug, or swallowed our anger—our RAGE—after outright insults or even actual harm done to us by men in our work spaces we’re expected to tolerate no matter how inappropriate or bad their behavior? Being thrown to the ground, that’s an assault. Busy Philipps was assaulted in her workplace, by a co-worker who gave a forced apology she HAD to accept lest she be replaced. Because she was expendable. She was right about that. As long as the comfort and reputation of men is placed above the well-being of women, we’re ALL expendable.
Undoubtedly some people will say it’s not that big of a deal. It was a scene, it got heated, artists are impulsive. They’re actors and they were acting, even if he hurt her it wasn’t “real”. If it was such a big deal she should have pressed charges, why didn’t she talk to the cops, innocent until proven guilty, take it back you might hurt his job prospects. Anyway, she said they talked it out and they’re friends now, so it’s fine. It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.
Attached - Busy at an event in LA on the weekend.