Abaca; Invision/AP; Inset: Splash News Online
February 20, 2014 11:40 AM

Let’s hope it’s performance art, and not a psychological problem.

That is James Franco‘s view of Shia LaBeouf’s recent behavior, as put forth in a thoughtful, empathetic op-ed piece Franco published Thursday in The New York Times.

The article, titled “Why Actors Act Out,” recaps LaBeouf’s odd antics lately, including his appearance with a paper bag over his head – bearing the line “I am not famous anymore” – at the German premiere of Nymphomaniac.

Franco, 35, is not close with LaBeouf, 27, but is clearly concerned for him. And as someone who has also to deal with the sometimes unwelcome spotlight of fame, he feels his pain.

“Though the wisdom of some of his actions may seem questionable, as an actor and artist I’m inclined to take an empathetic view of his conduct,” Franco writes.

“This behavior could be a sign of many things, from a nervous breakdown to mere youthful recklessness. For Mr. LaBeouf’s sake I hope it is nothing serious. Indeed I hope – and, yes, I know that this idea has pretentious or just plain ridiculous overtones – that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art, one in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona.”

Franco points to Marlon Brando and Joaquin Phoenix (in the movie I’m Still Here) as examples of other actors who have wrestled with the pressure of living up to a public image of themselves.

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Franco has struggled with it, too. “Because film actors typically experience fame in greater measure [than other artists], our personas can feel at the mercy of forces far beyond our control,” he writes.

At this point, Franco simply hopes LaBeouf does have control over himself, and is not showing signs of cracking under pressure.

“Mr. LaBeouf has been acting since he was a child, and often an actor’s need to tear down the public creation that constrains him occurs during the transition from young man to adult,” Franco writes. “I think Mr. LaBeouf’s project, if it is a project, is a worthy one. I just hope that he is careful not to use up all the good will he has gained as an actor in order to show us that he is an artist.”

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