Artistic multi-hyphenate adventurer James Franco has reimagined the Tori Spelling 1996 cult classic, “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” as a lesbian-vampire love story for, of all places, the cable channel Lifetime. In the original television movie-of-the-week, Spelling played a naïve young woman shadowed by a creepy, obsessed boyfriend (Ivan Sergei, who also has a cameo in the remake).
In the revamp – Franco’s expression – Tori Spelling is back on board, but this time she plays the titular character, a caring but homophobic single mother, who tries to protect her college-student drama major daughter, Leah (Leila George), from her new lover, Pearl (Emily Meade), who she senses is dangerous. Later she discovers Pearl is a blood-sucking vampire.
But this is a story of true love as rooted in emotion as the Twilight films, which are referenced in the film and which Franco said was an inspiration. Wearing a cool leather jacket but not so flattering mustache, Franco turned up at the Crosby Street Hotel Tuesday evening for a first-look screening for New York Magazine Vulture Insiders.
Other cast members attending the panel included Tori Spelling, George, screenwriter Amber Coney – who also plays one of the lesbian vampires – and director Melanie Aitkenhead.
(Law and Order star Vincent D’Onofrio was in the audience to support his daughter Leila George, whose mother is actress Greta Scacchi.)
Franco, who is an executive producer of “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” also appears in the film as the bemused director of a student production of Macbeth, with Leah playing Macbeth.
There’s plenty of girl-on-girl vampire sex and blood and gore – everything you’d hope for in a James Franco Lifetime thriller revamp – but Franco also tackles deeper issues.
“Vampires would be a great metaphor or filter to talk about a lot of issues having to do with growing up and identity, all those things.” Franco said during the panel, adding that he wasn’t sure how Lifetime would react to his take so he didn’t tell them until they got the script.
“I wrote out an outline and gave it to Amber and she wrote the first draft really quickly,” he said, adding that Lifetime was “awesome and said we want to do this and were totally onboard and were from the beginning.”
Franco said he liked the original movie but he wanted his version to be different from what you’d expect on Lifetime, in the way that “A Deadly Adoption,” starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig surprised and impressed critics and viewers.
“Not only my involvement, but subject matter and the way that we’re going to do it and the frame that Lifetime sort of puts around it,” Franco said. “How ironic is it? How earnest is it? And the actors didn’t have to play it ironically at all. They could play it very straight, but there would always be that frame around it that would give it that extra weirdness or inability to really place it, and so I kind of thought about that from the beginning.” At the same time, he wanted the love affair between the women to be rooted in emotion and feel like a real relationship.
While the film manages to be campy fun, it also addresses important issues like homophobia, identity and sexual assault on college campuses.
“That’s one of the tricks I found with comedy,” Franco said. “Like when I do a movie with Seth Rogen, you can actually say so much more and almost get away with certain things – We didn’t quite get away with it on ‘The Interview,’” he conceded.
“Some really important things are much more palatable because of the comedy,” Franco said. “It’s got pretty dark and intense subjects, but if put in the monster genre, we could access those things and still sort of be entertaining, and because of that people would be able to engage with that in an easier way, and I think, reflect on all those issues that are very important to me.”
On the flip side, there must have been fun moments on set, an audience member noted, fishing for anecdotes.
Leila George mentioned her big sex scene with Emily Meade in the graveyard. “I didn’t know how far you can go with Lifetime, so we didn’t have a clear idea at first. James came over and said, ‘so … and I had watched ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ about a week before … thinking nothing to worry about… this is the worst case scenario, and I remember sitting and James set us down and he took out his phone and he opens his photo app and stills from ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ are all over the place and I’m like, so that was scary, but it ended up being fine.”
Tori Spelling had a more stomach-turning experience that you won’t see on screen.
“My kids had the stomach flu, all four of them,” she said, “so the scene, which I think is the closest scene to the original, when the mommy, the first introduction scene in the kitchen and we did rehearsal and then all of the sudden it hit me, and I was like, ‘Oh my God! I feel like I’m going to puke… No, don’t let this happen, not now!’”
Spelling said she walked out of the kitchen to try to find a bathroom, quick. “I looked up and behind the camera were James and Melanie and they’re all sitting there and I just bent down and started to puke.”
“We were surprised,” said Franco, “but I’d known about the virus, it was going around and it was a 24-hour thing.” Franco said he tried to tell Spelling to go home but she said, “No, we’re good in that scene … so we finished the kitchen scene and you can’t tell.”
Spelling turned to Franco, “I puked and you were really nice. Then I tried to make a joke and I’m like, ‘Remember that time I got to do a movie with James Franco and projectile vomited all over the place?” Spelling told Franco, “You laughed, right?”
“Yeah, I laughed,” agreed Franco.
“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” premieres on Lifetime Saturday, June 18. The 1996 original will air on June 17.