Toni Gaal, an actress who attended James Franco’s acting school, said that the Zeroville actor and his partners lured her and other actresses into “sexually exploitative situations” in exchange for acting roles that never materialized, The New York Times reports.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles, Gaal says that she joined Franco’s Studio 4, an acting academy with branches in L.A. and New York, with the hopes of learning from the actor and possibly even working with him someday. However, Gaal and her co-plaintiff, identified as Sarah Tither-Kaplan, allege that Franco and his partner, Vince Jolivette, ran the school merely as a ruse to develop a pool of young, eager, and vulnerable actresses that they could sexually exploit. Jolivette is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.
Gaal claims that she joined the L.A. branch of the school in 2014, for which she paid a monthly tuition of $300. Additionally, she and the other students were offered the opportunity to sign up for so-called “master classes,” which could cost upward of $2,000. For $750, they allege, students could sign up for a master class in sex scenes. Franco would require that students wanting to take the sex-scenes master classes first submit an audition on videotape for Franco to “review,” and they were required to sign away their rights to the recordings.
She claims that she recorded an “audition” reel for a master class in sex scenes and participated in a “callback,” but she declined to attend the class because she was uneasy about how the class was being run.
Gaal alleges that she and other students were “routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.”
These and other actions “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class,” the lawsuit says.
This is not the first time that Franco, 41, has been accused of sexual impropriety with women. In 2014, as Gawker reported at the time, it was reported that Franco had exchanged messages with a 17-year-old girl over Instagram and had even attempted to meet her. Franco obliquely denied the accusations on his own Instagram account.
“I HOPE PARENTS KEEP THEIR TEENS AWAY FROM ME. Thank you,” he wrote.
As for Toni Gaal, she’s had limited work in TV and film roles in a career spanning back to 2014. Most of her roles have been bit parts in TV shows or obscure movies. Her most recent project, the short A City In Chaos, was in 2017.