Two women filed a lawsuit against James Franco on Thursday, accusing the actor of sexually exploiting them while enrolled at a now-defunct acting school that he hosted. Franco intends to “fully defend himself” and will also seek damages, according to a statement from Franco’s lawyer.
The two former students of Franco’s Playhouse West Studio 4 claim that the class was a front in which Franco and his male associates could take advantage of young female performers. They said that Franco asserted his influence as an instructor by offering them parts in movies that never materialized or were never released, even with the expectation that Franco would star in some of the projects.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court Thursday by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal. Franco’s business partners, Vince Jolivette and Jay Davis, were also named in the lawsuit along with their production company, Rabbit Bandini. Davis is Rabbit Bandini’s general manager.
The lawsuit said that Franco and the defendants’ actions “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”
“This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked,” Franco’s lawyer Michael Plonsker said in a statement. “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.”
Representatives for Jolivette did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attempts to locate Davis and Rabbit Bandini for comment were unsuccessful.
Franco and Jolivette opened the acting school in 2014 with chapters in both Los Angeles and New York. The plaintiffs said they each paid a $300 enrollment fee, as well as additional fees for “master classes,” including one on sex scenes. Students were initially suggested to appear topless before the requests escalated into performing sex scenes, “orgies” and “gratuitous full nudity for no other reason than the Defendants could make them do it,” the suit reads.
The lawsuit said that female students would perform on-tape “auditions” for Franco that involved nude scenes and did not include the typical protections of nudity riders and closed sets. It also said that the students were forced to sign over their rights to the explicit nude and sex scene auditions and were specifically told that Franco wanted to personally review each of the auditions.
Tither-Kaplan was one of the five accusers listed in a 2018 report from the Los Angeles Times about Franco regarding what the women said was a pattern of the actor’s inappropriate and abusive sexual behavior. Franco’s attorney denied the accusations at the time.
Franco currently stars on the HBO series “The Deuce.”