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Dedicated star becomes pilot.

James Franco is flying high, thanks to new film Flyboys. Eileen Condon meets Hollywood's new heart throb.

HE is emerging as one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors, but James Franco is already flying high, having qualified as a pilot to star in First World War epic Flyboys.

And although he'd never even been in a cockpit before, it's clear he still hasn't come back down to earth after his "thrilling" experience.

"The director, Tony Bill, who is a pilot himself, had some of his friends take me up in a Stearman, which had an open cockpit," he explains.

"We did all the loops and it was such a blast. Afterwards I thought, 'I've got four months before filming. I might as well get my licence'. So I went every day and did my time and I got it ( it was brilliant."

He says he was inspired to take to the skies after watching Steve McQueen in the 1962 movie, The War Lover.

"In that movie he plays a pilot and just looks so natural and detailed in and around the plane because he was a real pilot," he says. "I wanted to try and come close to something like that and I felt the only way to do it was to get my licence."

Flyboys, which also stars French actor Jean Reno, tells the true story of the young men of the Lafayette Escadrille, the first American fighter pilot squadron to see action in the First World War. Though the 29-year-old admits he wasn't familiar with their actions, he was inspired by his character, Blaine Rawlings, and the Layfayette Escadrille.

"Rawlings and the people around him all volunteered to be there, to put their lives on the line," James says. "I can't say I've ever done anything like that in my life and because they did that I had such great respect for them and considered them heroes. They volunteered for something they believed in and were willing to risk everything for that. At the time when these men formed The Lafayette Escadrille America hadn't even entered the war."

Flyboys is James's second military movie after last year's Annapolis. But he is probably best known for his Golden Globe-winning portrayal of James Dean in the TV biopic of the same name, along with his acclaimed TV breakthrough in Freaks And Geeks and, more recently, his role as Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3.

"I don't want to be typecast," Franco says. "My criteria for a good part are only ever a good director and the people I'm working with. I never really think about the role. I've had very different films come out in the past few years, so I just don't know what to pick any more."

He insists he was a loner as a youngster and went into acting to escape reality.

"It was a kind of relief. It was a voice that I didn't have," he admits, "but I think there are a lot of actors like that. I think it was Robert Duvall who said he wasn't used to talking to a lot of people but he became an actor anyway and De Niro seemed very much the same way. For me it was acting and inhabiting a different part and pretending to be in a different world that frees up whatever isn't free in the real world."

Now the former loner has become one of the biggest heart throbs in Hollywood.

But he keeps his private life private and shuns the red carpet for writing and painting. "At one time I wasn't sure if I wanted to be an actor or a painter or a writer. Now I do all three, which is great.

"Acting takes precedence at the moment, but ultimately I'd like to do a movie every two years so I can concentrate on the other things." Yet despite this down-to-earth outlook, the star concedes his head is still in the clouds with his sudden success.

"I am very, very fortunate," he says. "I got to go up into the sky and do acrobatic manoeuvres in a plane and I got to play a fantastic character. Frankly, nowadays a lot of the roles I see around are these weak, scummy young guys, and that is not as appealing to me. Flyboys was a big, romantic, dynamic film. I wanted to be a part of it."

* Flyboys opens on June 1. Read our review next Friday.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 25, 2007
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