James Franco owned up Friday to flirting with a teenaged girl. But is the whole thing just a big hoax?
Franco’s Instagram conversation with Lucy Clode, a 17-year-old Scottish tourist visiting New York, triggered a wave of criticism of the “Spring Breakers” star this week, with many finding the 35-year-old's advances creepy, even if they are legal.
His texts also gave rise to speculation that the whole thing is just a big publicity stunt for his upcoming teen movie, “Palo Alto,” based on the story collection of the same name he wrote.
In his new movie, Franco plays a football coach who seduces high school student, played by Emma Roberts. Franco Instagrammed a photo of her wearing an "I [heart] James Franco" shirt Wednesday, and the trailer for the film debuted on the heels of Franco's Instagram mini-scandal.
Canada's CBC News wondered Friday about the "uncanny likeness" of the private conversation and the plot of "Palo Alto," wondering whether the apparent leak were intentional.
Media outlets including Jezebel and The Independent weighed in on that possibility, while the Los Angeles Times called out Franco's "penchant for performance art and general weirdness" as a possible clue the exchange could be a stunt.
The speculation came as Franco fessed up to the suspect flirtation on Friday, soon after the details of his conversation with the 17-year-old Scot emerged.
Franco admitted on an appearance on "Live! With Kelly and Michael" Friday morning that he had used "bad judgment."
"I guess I'm just a model of, you know, how social media is tricky," Franco said. "But what I've learned I guess just because I'm new to it is like, you don't know who's on the other end."
But Franco never addressed the movie promo speculation.
Franco's fans hailed him on Twitter and Instagram for setting a good example. Franco responded "THANK U X" to Instagram user longing2b_mrsfranco, who wrote: "It takes a real man to admit to their mistakes ... Your honesty has made me love and admire you even more ..."
At one point in the Instagram exchange that launched the speculation, Franco had asked Lucy questions such as: "Can I see you? You’re single? What’s the hotel? Should I rent a room?" Lucy responded: “I’ll come back when I’m 18.”
After the conversation leaked, the actor Instagrammed a photo of himself with "Why are you so thirsty for underage ones" written on it (though the post has since been deleted) and tweeted: "I'm not! I hope parents keep their teens away from me. Thank you."
At one point in the Instagram exchange, Franco asked Lucy for her phone number but used the "#" sign, to which she responded: "What do you mean #"?" — possibly giving credence to the fact that she's from a country that doesn't use the symbol the same way Americans do.
Or is Franco just so smart that he thought of everything?
Franco was born in Palo Alto to parents who met as students at Stanford University. His book "Palo Alto" is a collection of short stories about a group of troubled California teenagers.
The movie is scheduled for release May 9.