James Franco Breaks Silence 4 Years After Sexual Misconduct Allegations: 'Been Doing a Lot of Work'

"I didn't want to hurt people," said James Franco, who opens up about sex addiction and admits he slept with students at his former acting school

James Franco is breaking his silence about sexual misconduct allegations made about him nearly four years ago.

The Pineapple Express actor, 43, was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by five women, four of whom were his acting students, in an article published by The Los Angeles Times in January 2018. That same month, one of the alleged victims, Sarah Tither-Kaplan, told Good Morning America that Franco "abused his power by exploiting the non-celebrity women that he worked with under the guise of giving them opportunities."

At the time, an attorney for Franco denied each of the allegations and cited the actor's 2018 comments on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as his formal denial: "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, you know, shut them down in any way."

For more on James Franco's interview with Jess Cagle, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

Over the summer, Franco reached a deal with Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal — two of his former acting students who filed a sexual misconduct lawsuit against him in 2019. Records obtained by PEOPLE from the Los Angeles Superior Court at the time, stated that he agreed to pay $2,235,000 in the settlement.

Franco sat down for a wide-ranging interview on SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Podcast this week to discuss why he's speaking out about the accusations now.

"In 2018, there were some complaints about me and an article about me and, at that moment I just thought 'I'm gonna be quiet. I'm gonna be, I'm gonna pause.' Did not seem like the right time to say anything," he recalled. "There were people that were upset with me and I needed to listen. There's a writer Damon Young and he talked about when something like this happens, the natural human instinct is to just make it stop. You just want to get out in front of it and whatever you have to do apologize, you know, get it done. But what that doesn't do is allow you to do the work to, and to look at what was underneath."

"Whatever you did, even if it was a gaff or you said something wrong or whatever, there's probably an iceberg underneath that behavior, of patterning, of just being blind to yourself that isn't gonna just be solved overnight," continued Franco.

James Franco
James Franco. Kevin Winter/Getty

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"So I've just been doing a lot of work," he told Cagle, "and I guess I'm pretty confident in saying like, four years, you know? I was in recovery before for substance abuse. There were some issues that I had to deal with that were also related to addiction. And so I've really used my recovery background to kind of start examining this and changing who I was."

Franco revealed he has struggled with sex addiction for years after becoming sober from alcohol at a young age.

"It's such a powerful drug," he explained. "I got hooked on it for 20 more years. The insidious part of that is that I stayed sober from alcohol all that time. And I went to meetings all that time. I even tried to sponsor other people. So in my head, it was like, 'Oh, I'm sober. I'm living a spiritual life.' Where on the side, I'm acting out now in all these other ways, and I couldn't see it."

He admitted that he "cheated on everyone" before his current relationship with girlfriend Isabel Pakzad and he could "never be faithful to anybody." Franco said he became "completely blind to power dynamics or anything like that, but also completely blind to people's feelings."

"I didn't want to hurt people. In fact, I wasn't really a one-night-stand guy. People that I got together with or dated, I'd see them for a long time, years. It's just that I couldn't be present for any of them. And the behavior spun out to a point where it was like I was hurting everybody."

The Oscar nominee opened his acting school Playhouse West Studio 4 in 2014 before it closed in 2017.

In a 2019 lawsuit, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal claimed Franco and his business partners "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 court documents previously obtained by PEOPLE.

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal also alleged that the circumstances "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class." As part of the deal reached this year, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal agreed to drop their individual claims.

Franco admitted to Cagle: "I did sleep with students."

"Over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students, and that was wrong. But like I said, it's not why I started the school and I wasn't the person that selected the people to be in the class. So it wasn't a 'master plan' on my part. But yes, there were certain instances where, you know what, I was in a consensual thing with a student and I shouldn't have been."

He later added of his past thinking, "At the time I was not clearheaded, as I've said. So I guess it just comes down to my criteria was like, 'If this is consensual, like, I think it's cool. We're all adults so….' "

Jess Cagle's full interview with James Franco, as part of the latest episode of SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Podcast, will be available on Thursday, Dec. 23. The interview will also air on SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Show on SiriusXM Stars (ch. 109) on Thursday, Dec. 23 at 2:00 p.m. ET.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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