A Golden State Killer movie with Vincent Gallo and James Franco? Yes, of course there’s controversy

A Golden State Killer movie with Vincent Gallo and James Franco? Yes, of course there’s controversy

Before Joseph DeAngelo was sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison for his crimes as the Golden State Killer, a number of women who survived his attacks spoke in court about their enduring trauma.

The one-time Auburn police officer committed at least 13 murders and 51 rapes across Northern and Southern California between 1974 and 1986. In assaults in and around Visalia, Sacramento, Stockton and the East Bay, De Angelo was known for breaking into homes in the middle of the night and tying up and sexually abusing the female occupants, often repeatedly. He also threatened to kill them and any family members in the house, including their young children.

“I survived those repeated attacks. The hours of terror,” said Gay Hardwick, who was attacked in her Stockton home in March 1978. At DeAngelo’s August 2020 sentencing hearing, she said: “However our lives were never the same.”

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 06: Actor Vincent Gallo attends the Anna Sui Fall 2008 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2008 at The Tent at Bryant Park on February 6, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for IMG) 

More than three years later, some of DeAngelo’s victims may be learning that he is the subject of a new feature film, called “The Policeman.” People can also puzzle over this film’s casting of two controversial actors: Vincent Gallo and James Franco.

Gallo plays DeAngelo, while the Palo Alto-reared Franco plays a character called Babcock, according to a Rolling Stone report. Both actors have faced accusations of mistreating or exploiting women they worked with, including while performing in sex scenes. These accusations raise questions about the filmmakers’ intentions — Jordan Gertner is listed as the director and screenwriter — and why they thought that these two male stars should help tell a story about a criminal who devastated the lives of scores of women.

Even more unsettling, the world learned about this film earlier this month when Rolling Stone revealed that two actresses accused Gallo of saying disturbing, sexually lurid things to them, including about his “torture porn fantasies,” as they auditioned for roles as DeAngelo’s victims. These women reported Gallo to SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, which is investigating their complaints.

DeAngelo also was known for saying threatening and sexually lurid things to his victims as he sought to assert control and torment them. Perhaps Gallo, a polarizing cult figure in edgy, independent films, thought he was employing an extreme form of Method acting by making certain alleged demands during the auditions, which took place in November.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 23: Actor James Franco does a reading onstage during ‘An Evening with the Cast of HBO’s The Deuce’ to benefit Housing Works at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe on June 23, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works) 

According to the complaints, documented by Rolling Stone, Gallo appeared to revel in the opportunity to play DeAngelo, especially when it came to re-enacting his attacks. Indeed, Gallo told an actress called Emily: “We don’t want to see any acting. If DeAngelo says don’t scream or I’ll kill you, you do not scream, because if you do, you die. DeAngelo hates screaming. He hates fighters.”

Such statements suggest the possibility that “The Policeman” will sensationalize DeAngelo’s crimes and focus on a male point of view and on Gallo’s performance, rather than on the trauma inflicted on his female victims. One of the women who spoke about this trauma was Mary Berwert, who was 13 in June 1979 and enjoying the summer before eighth grade, when DeAngelo, then known as the East Area Rapist, broke into her family’s Walnut Creek home and raped her in her bedroom.

“He stole my innocence, my security, threatened my life, threatened the lives of my family,” Berwert said in court. “I had to break the ties on my legs. I had to open my bedroom door with my hands tied behind my back.” She said she ran to her father’s room, telling him, “Daddy, I’ve been raped.”

In this April 27, 2018, file photo, Joseph James DeAngelo, accompanied by Sacramento County Public Defender Diane Howard, right, makes his first appearance to face charges that include homicide and rape, in Sacramento County Superior Court in Sacramento, Calif. Prosecutors have filed four additional murder charges against the former police officer who authorities suspect is the Golden State Killer. Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced the charges Thursday, May 10, 2018, against DeAngelo. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) 

Jordan Gertner, the film’s writer and director, was a producer for Gallo’s 1998 directorial debut, “Buffalo 66,” and Franco’s 2012 film, “Spring Breakers.” According to an email from a third actress who auditioned for “The Policeman,” the film is set in the 1970s, and the filmmakers were “envisioning a … gritty tone” akin to films and TV series about the Zodiac Killer and Jeffrey Dahmer, Rolling Stone reported. The email said shooting in the Portland area was scheduled to begin on Dec. 15 and wrap around Dec. 19.

During an audition, Gallo told another actress, known as Emily, that he could demand that she perform oral sex on him, saying, “I want you, you the person, not you the character, not you the actor, but you, to truly believe you will die if you don’t do as I say,” Rolling Stone reported.

In her her SAG complaint, Jane said she accepted that the role involved full nudity. But when she met Gallo during the audition, he talked about his “torture porn fantasies” and told her the script “would bear very little resemblance to what was going to be filmed,” Rolling Stone reported.

In order to truly tell the story in an “accurate way,” Gallo told Jane he needed actresses who were willing to have their “minds and bodies be 100 percent dominated by him,” Rolling Stone reported. Gallo also listed possible acts that could be improvised during filming, which included pulling her hair, tying her up and leaving her in a corner, hog-tying her with shoelaces and “simulating rape, murder, or physical assault without prior coordination.”

Since DeAngelo was “turned on by his victim’s fear,” Gallo told Jane they had to create “an environment of terror and vulnerability to inspire his character’s actions on and off set.”

Jane also said Gallo never mentioned that an intimacy coordinator would be present. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, intimacy coordinators have become increasingly common on film sets, in order to ensure the safety of performers required to be nude or to simulate sex scenes.

Gallo did not respond to multiple requests for comment, Rolling Stone said. A spokesperson for SAG confirmed that an investigation is underway and that the union is committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment on film sets. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Gertner and Pacific Media Productions provided a statement, telling Rolling Stone that a union intimacy coordinator was hired for the production, which was “carried out in a safe, protective, and respectful environment.”

The casting director also told the actors that a SAG-AFTRA intimacy coordinator was being hired for the film, and she “would be involved with all scenes in which any nudity or sexuality was to occur,” the statement said. This coordinator “worked closely with the director, Vincent, and other cast, and the cast involved felt that the environment was positive and respectful.”

“The producers, director, cast, and crew are proud of the movie we have made,” the statement also said.

But the actresses who filed complaints said that Gertner and a casting director were present during their callbacks but didn’t speak up to counter Gallo’s statements, Rolling Stone reported. Emily said it appeared that Gallo was “running the show.” Jane, moreover, said that Gallo insisted that she give “blanket consent,” or else she wouldn’t be hired. Once she agreed to take the role, there would be “zero negotiations” about what was happening on the set.

This alleged statement by Gallo appears to defy a primary purpose of intimacy coordinators: to give voice to performers who might feel they are being pressured into more nudity or a different sex simulation than what they originally agreed to.

This is just the latest controversy involving Gallo, an actor, director, writer, model and musician, who has variously been described as a “genius,” a “nightmare,” “narcissistic” and as having a reputation as “one of the most paranoid, controlling men in movies.” Among the many questionable aspects about having Gallo play DeAngelo is that he is 62, while DeAngelo was in his late 20s and early 30s during the 1970s.

Gallo may be best known for his 2003 experimental film, “The Brown Bunny.” This road drama, which Gallo also wrote and directed, was met with criticism following its Cannes Film Festival debut because of an non-simulated sex scene between him and Chloë Sevigny, in which she performed oral sex on Gallo. Many viewers and critics questioned whether Sevigny was pressured into the sex scene by Gallo.

In an Associated Press interview at the time, Gallo admitted that he expected Sevigny to isolate herself from her boyfriend, her agent and others while making the film. He told her she should “really detach from her life and find a way to be on my side in more ways than she’s ever been in other films.”

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21: Actors Chloe Sevigny and Vincent Gallo attend the screening of the film “Brown Bunny” at the Palais Des Festival during the 56th International Cannes Film Festival May 21, 2003 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images) 

Seven years later, Sevigny told Playboy that filming the sex scene with Gallo “is all very complicated” and that she would probably have “to go to therapy at some point.” But she said, “I love Vincent. The film is tragic and beautiful, and I’m proud of it and my performance.”

Christina Ricci didn’t have such positive things to say about Gallo after she, at age 17, co-starred in “Buffalo ‘66.”  In a 2008 interview, Ricci called him “a crazy lunatic man” and described how he later mocked her about her weight and said other “horrible things” about her. “I’d never encountered such insanity.”

It’s not known how Franco figures into “The Policeman.” Perhaps his Babcock character is a detective on the hunt for the Golden State Killer in the 1970s, or one of the cold case investigators who helped link DeAngelo to the serial rapes and murders in 2018 through the use of DNA and genealogy technology.

Related Articles

Entertainment |

Princess of Wales Kate Middleton in hospital after undergoing abdominal surgery

Entertainment |

49ers’ Juszczyk is the NFL playoffs’ breakout star … fashion designer Kristin Juszczyk, that is

Entertainment |

Awkwafina named grand marshal of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade

Entertainment |

Red carpet fashion: 19 of Ayo Edebiri’s best looks

Entertainment |

Rebecca Romijn ‘incredibly shocked’ by John Stamos’ memoir, his claims she cheated, treated him poorly

As Rolling Stone pointed out, “The Policeman” marks one of Franco’s first film projects since his once, high-flying Hollywood career crashed amid #MeToo-era allegations that he engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with five women. Four of the women were students at a Los Angeles acting school he founded, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A 2018 Times report described how Franco allegedly pushed his female students to act in sex scenes with him. One said she relied on Franco, for the star of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and the comedies, “Pineapple Express” and “This is the End,” to help her with her career. In 2021, Franco settled a $2.2 million lawsuit. In in an interview that year, Franco admitted that he slept with his students, “and that was wrong.”

Franco isn’t accused of any impropriety on “The Policeman” set, but his association with a film, mired in allegations of its male star exploiting female cast members, probably won’t help his redemption efforts. The Rolling Stone report also didn’t dwell on the film’s prospects for being released or whether anyone would distribute it. Fans of Gallo may lament that the world has lost a potential cinematic masterpiece about humanity’s dark side, but others can ask if the world needed this movie.

The actresses told Rolling Stone that Gallo’s alleged comments were upsetting for any actress to hear in a professional environment, not to mention that no one else in the room came to their defense. They came forward because they are concerned for other women working with him in the future. Emily told Rolling Stone: “I never felt truly protected from all of this, from what frankly was looking to me like a recipe for sexual misconduct on set.”