Franco plays Oscar Diggs, a small-time magician who takes his magic act on the road as part of a traveling circus in the American Midwest. A man with dubious ethics, Oz is a handsome, charming charlatan who is skilled at smooth-talking his way out of problems. When he is hurled into the magical Land of Oz, Oscar faces a fight-or-flight dilemma that holds the fate of a kingdom in the balance, forcing him to decide what kind of man he truly is before it is too late.
“James is a very sensitive guy and we really needed that for this character,” says Sam Raimi. “We needed somebody who’s in touch with his emotions because he plays a character with a good heart. I really needed an actor who had that quality within him. James, while funny and loving, has got real heart that he shares with the audience.
“Any actor can effectively portray the selfish qualities of their character, something that exists inside Oz,” Raimi adds in explaining why Franco was the best choice for the role. “Strip that away and you can find who they really are inside. For this role, I don’t think it would have worked as well with an actor who is selfish inside. When the camera gets in close, you can’t fake it. And James, despite his great humor and good looks and great acting ability, really has a good heart and soul.”
Franco enjoyed taking on the part of Oscar Diggs and exploring the origins of the wizard. He describes Oscar by saying, “He starts off a little bit rakish. He’s a magician in a traveling circus. When he ends up in Oz, all of the issues that he wrestled with in the real world are now, in some ways, made more extreme but also transformative.
“The character was written in a certain way—part goofball, part con man, part seducer, part vaudeville guy, all of which appealed to me,” adds Franco. “In some ways he touches on many aspects of Americana, while being a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. A goofball and a dashing kind of guy, but a guy maybe not equipped in traditional ways to be a hero. He has unconventional ways of tackling his problems and fumbling through them. I love the character because of all that.”
Franco also enjoyed another aspect of playing the magician character: he had to learn to perform some magic tricks. He explains, “I actually came out here two weeks early to work with the great Las Vegas magician Lance Burton. We worked every day. I learned dove tricks and fire tricks as well as pulling things out of hats and making things levitate. And I think I got pretty good!”
Franco offers his take on the film, saying, “In some ways, the story in our film is a metaphor and an analogy to what we all do as filmmakers. Oz is a magician. He puts on shows. In the Land of Oz, he creates illusions for different reasons. And that’s basically what a movie is; it’s creating an illusion. It’s creating an imaginary world for an audience.”
“Sam, as most people that know his work would agree, has a great imagination,” the actor describes his director. “I’ve worked with Sam more than any other director, and I’d say one of the main things that Sam really brings to the table is his fantastic talent with effects and pacing and telling an exciting movie story through cutting-edge imagery and technology.”
“But, he also cares just as much about the characters and the story,” Franco goes on to say. “He’s the perfect person to bring this world alive with all the new technology that’s out there. And, knowing Sam, he’ll bring ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ to life in all its fantastical splendor, while making it a great character piece.”
Opening across the Philippines on Thursday, March 7 in IMAX 3D, Digital 3D and regular theaters, “Oz The Great and Powerful” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.