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Actor James Franco is at the center of a recently filed lawsuit, with two women who used to be students at his now-defunct acting school alleging that he and other powerful men used their positions to prey on female students.
Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal filed a suit Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court naming Franco, his business partner Vince Jolivette, the pair’s production company, Rabbit Bandini, and Jay Davis, the company’s general manager, according to The New York Times.
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal claimed in their suit that Franco and the others listed “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects,” according to The Times. They went on to claim that the alleged misconduct “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”
Franco and Jolivette launched Studio 4, an acting and film school with branches in both New York and Los Angeles, in 2014, but both locations closed their doors in 2017, the Los Angeles Times reports. In their suit, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal voiced numerous concerns with the way the school was run; the women alleged that, in order for students to be considered for a $750 master class on sex scenes, they had to turn in a video audition, which Franco would review at some point, and sign away all rights to their tapes, the paper reports.
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal were students at Studio 4 during its first year in business and both paid tuition fees of $300 a month to attend the school, according to The New York Times. Master classes could cost up to $2,000, the suit alleged, and while Studio 4 students were told that their status as a student at Franco’s school would afford them exclusive audition opportunities for his projects, in reality, the auditions in question were actually also open to actors who weren’t Studio 4 students, the suit claimed.
The suit also claimed that in classroom settings, young, inexperienced female actresses “were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry,” according to The New York Times.
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal’s suit is seeking unspecified damages, and they are asking that Franco and company be ordered to either return or destroy footage of former Studio 4 students, according to The New York Times. They are also hoping to have their complaint classified as a class-action suit in the hopes of uniting with other women who may have been similarly victimized, the outlet reports.
Franco's attorney, Michael Plonsker, called the suit “ill-informed” and denied the allegations in a statement issued to Fox News on Thursday.
"This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked. 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,” his statement reads. “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.”
A representative for Jolivette did not respond to a request for comment from The New York Times and Fox News. Both outlets report that a phone number linked to Rabbit Bandini has been disconnected, while Fox News reports that Davis did not immediately respond after it reached out.
Franco was the subject of similar allegations last year, when five women, four of whom were former acting students, accused him of abusing his power. Tither-Kaplan was one of the women who told her story to the Los Angeles Times and claimed then that, when filming a nude orgy scene with Franco, he removed the plastic guard meant to cover the actresses’ vaginas while he pretended to perform oral sex on them.
Katie Ryan, another former Studio 4 student, alleged to the paper that Franco “would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts.”
Franco denied the allegations via his lawyer, the Los Angeles Times previously reported. He also defended himself during an appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
“Look, in my life I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done. I have to do that to maintain my well-being,” he said. “The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate. But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long. So I don’t want to shut them down in any way.”
“If I have done something wrong, I will fix it — I have to,” he continued.
When discussing the 2018 allegations, Jolivette previously argued that Studio 4 “was always run professionally,” according to an NPR report. The school’s “instructors were excellent,” he claimed, and the feedback they received from students was “positive.”
Franco was previously criticized in 2014 after screenshots shared online suggested that he tried to arrange a date with a 17-year-old female fan via Instagram, according to E! News. When he later discussed the situation during a visit to “Live! With Kelly and Michael,” he said that he was “embarrassed” and had “learned [his] lesson.”
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