It’s hard to find something James Franco hasn’t done during his career: he’s an actor, artist, producer, professor, PhD student and more. And while it’s easy to brush off his multi-faceted productivity as the part-man-part-myth image that Franco has created for himself, a very different story has been playing out behind the scenes: until recently, Franco was obsessed with his work—and it was ruining his life, he told GQ Australia.
It wasn’t until last year that Franco stopped to reflect on his work addiction, something that came after “a moment of crisis,” he told GQ Australia’s Jake Millar. But the lead up was “a gradual thing,” he explained. “I hadn’t been in a relationship in a long time and was, like, realizing how much I was running from feelings and people,” he said. “And how much of my identity was wrapped up in work.”
Franco has 17 projects in the works this year alone, not to mention studying at Yale and teaching acting at both UCLA and NYU. He told Millar, “As soon as I took a step back and stopped working, it was like, holy shit. All the feelings flooded in and it was like this is what I was running from. This is what I was using work to hide from. This is why I had to occupy myself every minute of the day, 24 hours a day. Because I was running, running from emotions and being vulnerable and being around people. Being myself.”
His work addiction was about “hiding from fear, from pain,” he told Millar—using nonstop activity to make himself feel better. And it doesn’t help that using excessive work as a coping mechanism for a whole host of other problems is tolerated, even celebrated, by society.
“The thing about work addiction is our culture supports it,” Franco said. “We reward hard work and success. But it can really mask addictive, escapist behavior.” He said that in “every interview I gave, people would tell me, ‘You’re known for doing all these things, are you a workaholic?’ And what I would hear was, ‘That means you work really hard. You work harder than anybody.’”
Trying to change your relationship with work while others are enjoying—and consuming—what you create isn’t easy either, and Franco really thought he was living the dream. After hitting a wall, he woke up, only to realize “I was completely isolated, emotionally, from everyone around me.”
Reflecting on that time, he told GQ Australia, “I was nominated for an Oscar, I was working with all my heroes. All the dreams I’d had as a young man had come true. And I still couldn’t enjoy it. It was never going to be enough.”
We can’t all relate to Franco’s veritable rolodex of jobs, but feeling burned out by work and prioritizing your job over self-care is something many of us have experienced.
“I thought that I was making my work better by overworking, but after a while you realize there’s no more oil in the car. You’re running on fumes, and you will burn out if you keep going at this pace,” he told GQ Australia.
But it seems that Franco’s crisis became a valuable lesson for him. “I’m at that point where I realize how valuable time is,” he told GQ Australia. “I think that I’ll be happier if I spent it doings things I really love instead of spreading myself so thinly, doing a lot of things that I kind of care about, but not with my whole heart.”
Read the full interview on GQ Australia.