James Franco turns 40 today, after what’s been a tumultuous year for the actor.
He began the year on a high note, earning critical praise for his performance as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, a film he also directed. As award season approached, Franco was thought to be a frontrunner for a best actor Oscar nomination.
But in January, the actor became embroiled in the national discussion of sexual harassment when he wore a Time’s Up pin at the Golden Globe Awards. While he won an award for his performance in The Disaster Artist, just days later the Los Angeles Times published an article in which five women accused him of abusing his power as an acting teacher and mentor in a sexually exploitative manner.
In the piece, two of Franco’s acting students claimed he would often become angry on set when they would refuse to film topless. Another former acting student at the film school Franco founded also said he once removed safety guards while filming an oral sex scene on the set of the 2015 film The Long Home.
Additionally, actress Violet Paley recounted her previous social media claims that Franco exposed himself and tried to pressure her into oral sex. Though she said they had a consensual relationship, Paley said, “that time wasn’t consensual.” She also alleged that he told her friend to meet him in a hotel when the friend was 17.
Franco addressed the allegations during an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers later that month.
“There are people that need to be heard,” the actor told Meyers. “I have my own side of this story, but I believe in these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will hold back things that I could say, just because I believe in it that much,” he said. “So if I have to take a knock because I’m not going to try and actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much.”
The actor’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, previously denied each of the women’s allegations to the Times and cited Franco’s comments during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as his formal denial.
“Look, in my life I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done,” Franco told Colbert. “I have to do that to maintain my well being. 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 shut them down in any way.”
After the women came forward, Franco started maintaining a lower profile. He skipped the Critics’ Choice Awards, where he won the award for best actor in a comedy for his role in The Disaster’s Artist — though he did make an appearance at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Sources said the actor was shaken by the allegations: “He’s in a really bad place,” a source close to the situation previously told PEOPLE. “His close friends are trying to be there for him.”
Echoed a second source, “This whole process has been very hard on him. He’s been shaken up.”
“I’m appalled by this thing about him that is happening” she said. “Now all of a sudden he’s a bad guy? I worked with him, I know him. … He’s a kind friend, lovely professional. I’m absolutely appalled by this.” Stone, who has had a nearly four decade career in Hollywood, went on to say that she’s “seen it all” when it comes to men and that she supports the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. She just thinks those accused should be subject to fair treatment through the normal judicial system.
Franco also leaned on his girlfriend Isabel Pakzad for support. The duo were spotted surfing and locking lips in Venice, California around the same time this past year’s Oscars nominees were gathering for their annual class photo.
Franco opened up about his relationship with Pakzad to Variety in November, admitting that he’s working harder on being there for her than he was with an ex.
“There was one instance, this old girlfriend was visiting me in New York,” Franco said. “I had come out here for school. My cat had scratched her in the eye. I had so much work to get done for the next day, I didn’t take her to the hospital. I had my assistant take her. That moment haunted me so much. What kind of selfish, self-centered boyfriend are you?”
Franco said he’s already doing better in the boyfriend departing, adding that he accompanied Pakzad to the hospital in September when she developed a serious throat infection.
Meanwhile, despite the turmoil, Franco has several upcoming projects in the works. He’s currently shooting the second season of his HBO series The Deuce, and he also has a number of movies coming out soon, including The Mad Whale with Camilla Belle and Summer Phoenix, Zeroville with Megan Fox and Seth Rogen and a remake of Future World with Milla Jovovich and Luicy Liu.