Actors Anonymous

Actors Anonymous

5.0 3
by James Franco

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The actors in James Franco’s brilliant debut novel include a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers and Midwestern transplants; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL; and the ghost of River


The actors in James Franco’s brilliant debut novel include a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers and Midwestern transplants; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL; and the ghost of River Phoenix. Then there’s Franco himself, who prowls backstage, peering out between the lines—before taking the stage with fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”
Told in a dizzying array of styles—from lyric essays and disarming testimonials to hilariously rambling text messages and ghostly footnotes—and loosely modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Actors Anonymous is an intense, wild ride into the dark heart of celebrity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Franco’s debut novel, following his short story collection Palo Alto, is an assemblage of chapters whose organizing factor is a parody of the Alcoholics Anonymous manual Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Each chapter is headed by a step or a tradition, such as step three: “Turned our will and our ‘performances’ over to the Great Director.” Some chapters are first-person narratives, ostensibly by different narrators, though it’s hard not to think of the author as the sole narrator, since the tone and voice of each is identical to the others—flat, Bukowskian recitations of acting classes taken, sex had, and drugs done. Elsewhere, readers encounter uninspired maunderings about the nature of acting: “Kazan said actors acquire the look of waxed fruit.” The chapter headed “Step 4: Made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our ‘character’” is composed of sophomoric poems about River Phoenix. At one point, a narrator named James receives a note from a professor that says, “Stop writing.” Another chapter includes the pronouncement, “Writing sells mass produced objects.” This mass-produced object will likely appeal only to Franco’s most devoted fans, but you can’t fault a guy for trying. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Subversively funny and provocatively honest, Actors Anonymous is ostensibly about acting but it's really about a society where everyone's reduced to the roles they play. The novel's many narrators fight back against these roles in truly original, often hilarious, and deeply affecting ways. So should we all." –Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“Electrifying to see a writer hold nothing back!  This shape-shifting narrative extends a reader's sense of what a novel can be, can do. Franco plays with persona in ways that implicate a reader. The defiant humor is hard-won (including the best worst job interview ever), his take on irresponsible people is both eloquent and suitably scorching, the language is enviable:  the seduction of a virgin is ‘like a bullet through a birthday cake.’ Franco's novel lures you in with indelible images, provocative mind games, and characters laid bare, then successfully strands you in a frightening place." –Amy Hempel
“James Franco puts on a James Franco mask and borrows formats from AA to create a fiction about the fiction of identity—especially as it pertains to actors and, by logical extension, writers. Is fame (the longing for it, the actuality of it) as entangled in the creative act as alcohol? Is acting (writing) an escape from reality or the only thing that’s real for an actor (writer)? The illusion of reality and the reality of fiction hold hands in this novel in much the way that actors (and writers) steal from their lives to enliven their characters. The novel does not merely explore acting, it enacts it. This is a lively, strange, engaging, often funny, sometimes brilliant, and utterly fearless novel.” –Robert Boswell, author of Tumbledown, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, and The Half-Known World

Library Journal
Multidirected movie star Franco got his debut novel published the way many fledgling writers do: one of his MFA professors at Columbia liked it and bought it when he moved to New Harvest, Amazon's literary imprint. Not surprisingly, the novel is about acting—and since acting is an obsession, the 12-step program framework seems right. With a 75,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
Actor Franco's experimental first novel (Palo Alto: Stories, 2010) focuses on the field he knows best--acting. Part aphorism, part instruction manual, part reflection, part short story and, seemingly, part memoir, the narrative is a pastiche of forms and moods. We find a narrator who's occasionally called "James Franco" and a reminder (in a footnote) that this work is a fictional creation. We also find an order of sorts, for he breaks the narrative into two major sections: "The Twelve Steps of Actors Anonymous" and "The Twelve Traditions of Actors Anonymous." The first part is casually based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and includes steps such as "[We] turned our will and our ‘performances' over to the Great Director" and "[We] made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our ‘character.' " The "Twelve Traditions" include "Every film ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside financing" and "We should remain forever artists, but we can employ technical workers." As is clear from these rubrics, some of this advice is either overly obvious or to be taken with a grain of salt. Gnomic statements abound: "Your characters need to love something, otherwise they will be unlovable" and "The grammar of film is more complex than the grammar of text." In the interstices, Franco (or his alter ego) presents his ideas through anecdotes and semiplausible fictional incidents, with plenty of inside references to Hollywood actors. Loosely structured in the extreme, the novel seems to have been written in odd moments while Franco was taking a break from his acting career--and it was probably more fun for him to write than it is for the reader to read.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


We of Actors Anonymous are more than fifty men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.
   In this volume, we relate our experiences in dealing with existence, modern society, and identity, in order to find suitable ways of acting and being in the world.
   Sometimes it is painful to be oneself; at other times it seems impossible to escape oneself. The actor’s life has provided escape for many that find their lives too dull, painful, and insular. But the actor–escape artist can go too far as well.
   If one puts on too many different personas or goes too far into character, one is liable to lose oneself. Some have believed that this loss is a positive, and perhaps it is for those that enjoy a rootless swirl of personality in the void, but others, like those who have come to comprise Actors Anonymous, believe that there is a balance to be struck between life and art, between self-creation and the veridic self.
   We have put down our experiences in these pages in order to guide others—professional actors, amateurs, and nonactors alike—to a way of life that both defies psychological determinism on the one hand, and freewheeling insanity on the other.
   We are people who work in the world as professionals, whether we make our money from acting or not, and it is important for us to maintain our anonymity. There are centuries of prejudice piled on the actor and thus it is important that no one of us is thrust into the spotlight. (God knows that some of us get enough of the spotlight as it is.) So much money is made off the aggrandizement and defamation of actors already that we ask the press, especially the tabloid press, to hold their pens, video cameras, paparazzi flash blasts, and blogs, and respect our organization’s anonymity.
   This is a serious text that is intended for actors: “actors” in the most essential sense, not necessarily actors of stage and screen, but actors in the sound and fury of life. Anyone who wants this message is encouraged to glean what she will.
   We are not an exclusive club; the only requirement for membership is a desire to change oneself, to be able to act decently in a controlled manner. Everyone can act, but not everyone can act well, and not everyone knows how he actually presents himself to others.
   We have no spokesperson, and there is no hierarchy. We have no dues or fees, and we are open to all regardless of race, religion, nationality, or acting style.
   We do not oppose anyone—even those actors trained by I_____ C______ or L_____ M____ or any of the other charlatan acting teachers sucking actor blood in dark classrooms across the Los Angeles sprawl.
   Our simple desire is to help. Not to train, but to save individuals from training, whether that training was given in a classroom, by a parent, or by what can only be called contemporary life.
We of Actors Anonymous subscribe to the following twelve steps and twelve traditions, not because they were handed down from on high by a bully studio, nor from a dictatorial director; we have no concern for deskbound screenwriters proclaiming Napoleonic ambitions of control, and we are certainly not adherents of the steps and traditions because we are beholden to the hordes of critics, both high and low, who proclaim to know something of which they write and speak but hardly do, these sideline vipers who sting and snare and then duck into their holes when the real animals of acting turn on them in anger.
   We salute and live by these principles because they were generated by the blood experience of those who have lived through the profession, its trials both on and offscreen, on and offstage, for surely the pitfalls of everyday life are increased in proportion to the heights one reaches in the realms of performance. One cannot live solely in the airy realms of the imagination.
   Let these steps and traditions guide you to a balanced life of creativity and truth in a world of surfaces and untruths, through realms of materialism and jealousy, past the vortices of public humiliation, and the private, tooth-ringed maws of self-doubt. We are here for you. Let us love you and guide you.
   We speak of what we do.

The Actor’s Opinion

We of Actors Anonymous believe that the reader will be interested in a professional opinion regarding our situation. There are so many hucksters in the world of performance training that it is important to receive some corroboration from a professional with experience on all levels of the acting strata.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been a professional actor since I was eighteen. I trained for eight years, and I have been working as a professional actor for fourteen years. I have met many actors from all over the world. It is hard to find a common denominator, but there are many similarities in most of the actors I meet. There is usually an ingredient of self-hatred that underlies actors. This hatred manifests in different ways; sometimes it is so buried that it is virtually unnoticeable, but don’t be fooled, it’s there. Anyone that is driven to play dress-up for a living is trying to hide something either from himself or from others. Or the self-hatred may be manifested in the drive for success and fame, the algorithm being: “If many people love me, then I must be important.” This can be written a different way: “I hate myself, but I am going to transform myself into something charismatic so that everyone loves me, and if people love me, then I won’t hate myself anymore.”
   Most actors are doomed, because the self-hatred never goes away—even for the few that achieve the kind of success that is recognizable by the greater population. I speak about fame. Roughly one tenth of SAG is made up of actors able to support themselves by their acting alone, and only 2 percent approach what might be called famous. So even for those fortunate few, the demons of self-doubt inevitably whisper songs of unworthiness, or else the subject is so insulated in fantasies of grandeur that he lives a life of hermetic madness: He might function in the world, but his eyes see hardly beyond his own pumpkin head. Nothing lasts, not even the films themselves: Look at Edwin S. Porter’s Jack and the Beanstalk, Life of an American Fireman, and The Great Train Robbery and George Cukor’s A Star Is Born—works of art, ripped and deformed. This speaks of the destruction of film classics, the ostensibly most durable vehicle and storage facility for actors’ souls, nonchalantly defaced—and these are the respected films of their day, goodness forbid the contemplation of the fates of the lesser known films, ships of fool actor souls adrift and lost in the tides of eternity. So, the actor is someone with the need for immortality who will never find it, often a locus of intensely driven ambition that can only flare out or burn up in a quick bright moment. This situation has left generations of actors broken on either side of the divide of success, and until now there has been little consolation outside of SAG-funded actors’ homes for the elderly.
   I can honestly say that until this volume I thought actors were fucked, but here hope has miraculously touched down on earth, one hundred years after the advent of the moving picture, six hundred years since Everyman and the religious morality plays, four hundred years since Shakespeare played Hamlet’s father’s ghost, and thousands upon thousands of years since the Lascaux population did ritualized dances for campfire roasted venison. Here is a collection of experiences that can give the actor not a way to act better, but a way to live better. For so long actors have carried the conscience of the world across screen and stage and in their personal lives, but they have received little consideration for their pain. They are considered arrogant and self-centered by their fellows, at the same time that they are being applauded for their brave explorations of the darkest places of human experience. Now, with the advent of computer-generated images, actors glance timidly at the future in which their luminosity will be dimmed to the dullness of the poet, novelist, and painter. But all is not lost; there are others who understand, and that understanding in conjunction with a spiritual connection is already guiding dozens if not hundreds out of the wasteland of Hollywood into Elysian Fields.

James Franco

Meet the Author

JAMES FRANCO  is the talented, ubiquitous, popular, and provocative actor, director, author, and visual artist. His first book, the story collection Palo Alto, was published in 2010.

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Actors Anonymous 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
BeckaMarsch More than 1 year ago
Author: James Franco  I will admit. I purchased this book because I used to be a stage actress when I was younger. And I miss it…a lot! I admire most those actors/actresses that are true to themselves, don’t lose themselves in the money they make/fame they receive and are real, genuine human beings who are not afraid to tell it like it is. James Franco is one of those people. In the beginning of the book is listed the 12 Steps Of Actors Anonymous. In essence, 12 steps to being a true to yourself actor/entertainer/person. James tells a lot of his history, from childhood until he reached Los Angeles in 1996. In between the biography is all look inward. Who are you? Where do you want to be? And where are you going? Even if you are not, or never have been, an actor, these all can apply to something in your life. They make amazingly perfect sense. If they don’t, you may be doing something wrong. Throughout the book are short stories that tell of success, failure, of hard work and much more. You’ll have to read it to truly understand everything. Each person has an amazing story to tell and a great message behind each one. At least one of them I am sure you, as the reader, will relate to. If not all. In essence, this book is about honesty, what Hollywood is really like, not how it is portrayed on television, with a lot of amazing humor sprinkled heavily throughout the book. It is a book that essentially brings of to the realization that we create our own roles in life and that we can change them, for better or for worse, at any stage in our lives. That what you are doing now is not all their is left to life. There is a whole other world out there. And that we need to give ourselves over to and improve your conscious contact with “The Great Director.” The second half of the book is about The Twelve Traditions of Actors Anonymous. Unity, leadership, reality, autonomy, communication and more, making sure that there is a sense of oneness within the acting community which also helps to protect privacy where privacy should be protected and keep a sense of reality throughout their lives. And masks: what masks do you wear? Why? And for what purposes. James talks about reasoning. Why are you doing what you are doing? From what I got out of this, if you are only doing what you are doing for the money and not because you love your job, whatever that may be, then perhaps you should reevaluate and start doing something you love, even if it is just a back up plan. There is a quote in there that is very true to life: “You’re on set, there’s a script, but there are no lines; you have a character, but that character can change if you want, you can change your character…” If there is anything you take away from this, it should be that, no matter where you come from or what you are currently doing, YOU have the ability to change, if that is what you want to do. And don’t be afraid of change. Your conscious audience is watching. There is nothing boring about this book. It will make you laugh, cry, think and even reminissce about your life and perhaps even make you want to be a better person. No matter what you may be doing at this point in time. As the Great Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” Now go, read this very well thought out and extremely well written book and find your true role in the great production of life!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'll admit that the only reason that I read this was because my sister invited me to James Franco's book signing. That being said, on the flight back home, I completely devoured the book. It left me thinking about it for weeks afterwards (I wish Mr. Franco would hold a follow up reading so discuss the novel that we have all read it!). Super great book full of honesty. I highly recommend it. 
Nicole_Woolent More than 1 year ago
I loved every minute of this! I decided to purchase this because of "Palo Alto" and "Directing Herbert White" (which are both good, by the way). James really has a way with words: each "actor" narrates his or her own personal experiences.  I chose the audio book I wanted to hear James narrate each story.  I love how raw the stories and characters are.  James really doesn't hold anything back. I highly recommend this book.  The paperback is available, but I would have to suggest the audio book. You have to listen to James read it to fully appreciate it. .