James Franco will play a U.S. Navy sailor stationed in post-World War II Naples, where he fathers a child, in gritty Italian drama “Hey Joe.” Directed by Claudio Giovannesi (“Gomorrah” TV series, “Piranhas”), the film is now shooting in the southern port city.
Franco, who has recently been taking roles outside the U.S. following a now-settled 2019 lawsuit alleging that he sexually exploited young women who took his acting class, will be speaking both English and Italian to play the lead in “Hey Joe,” said producer Carlo Degli Esposti, head of Italy’s prominent Palomar shingle. Degli Esposti added that Palomar got a waiver from SAG-AFTRA for Franco to work on the film “since we are an indie production.”
In “Hey Joe,” Franco plays Dean Barry, an American sailor who in 1944, at age 23, disembarks in Naples which has been destroyed by bombing. He falls in love with a young, very poor, local woman named Lucia. A couple of years later, Dean is forced to leave Lucia, alone and pregnant, to go back to New Jersey. He eventually returns to Naples to find the woman and her son, Enzo, but the city has changed a lot and Dean must navigate these challenges leading up to a surprise finale.
The “Hey Joe” screenplay is written by Giovannesi and ace Neapolitan writer Maurizio Braucci, who previously worked with Giovannesi on “Piranhas,” the drama about a gang of Neapolitan teens who roam the streets with AK-47s that won the Berlin Film Festival’s 2019 Silver Bear for best screenplay.
The director is shooting “Hey Joe” with his “customary gritty, naturalistic style,” said Degli Esposti, who added that Franco is “an amazing actor who has really bonded with Giovannesi and with Italy.”
The film’s cast also comprises Francesco Di Napoli (“Piranhas”), Giulia Ercolini, Aniello Arena (“Reality,” “Fiore”) and Francesca Montuori (“My Brilliant Friend”).
“Hey Joe” is being produced by Palomar in tandem with RAI Cinema and Vision Distribution, which will release the film in Italy. Vision Distribution International is handling international sales.
Franco is also starring as a Beirut-based American crime boss in the upcoming crime series “Karantina,” which will play on Middle East broadcaster MBC. He is set to appear as Fidel Castro in Spanish director Miguel Bardem’s “Castro’s Daughter” (aka “Alina of Cuba”), now in post, and will play the villain in French action-thriller “The Price of Money – A Largo Winch Adventure,” to be directed by Olivier Masset-Depasse.
See first look images from “Hey Joe” above.