How to be a Multipotentialite Badass (like James Franco)
Photo courtesy of Bree95.

How to be a Multipotentialite Badass (like James Franco)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Scanners

James Franco was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose. My heart was thumping throughout the entire hour (and not for the reasons one might assume)…

As it turns out, James is one of us! He’s a total multipotentialite.

In addition to scoring an Oscar nomination this year, James is a screenwriter, director and artist. His recent solo exhibit included sculpture, photography, drawing, film and video. He’s currently getting his PhD in English at Yale and he’s taking classes at Rhode Island School of Design, NYU and Columbia.

Talk about living proof that you don’t need to focus on one thing in order to be successful.

Here are 6 Ways that James Franco Rocks the Multipotentialite Lifestyle:

1. He understands the difference between medium and message

James knows that it’s not the media you express yourself through that define you. These are simply tools, embodiments of your creativity.

He also understands that different media is better suited for different subject matter: “If you want to make a political statement, poetry probably isn’t the best way. Maybe make a documentary piece instead.”

Choose the media that best suits your topic. There’s no reason you should be locked into one art form simply because you’ve done it before. Go learn, explore, pick up some new skills that will allow you to express yourself in the most effective way possible.

What matters isn’t the specific medium, but the message of the work.

(For the coms geeks out there, it’s not that Marshall Mcluhan was wrong, it’s just that he forgot a few words… “The medium is the message” should actually read: “according to how mainstream society defines things, the medium is the message.”)

It’s unfortunate that you get pigeonholed as a “poet” when you write poetry or a “musician” when you play music. The skills-based label makes it incredibly difficult for multipotentialites to explain “what they do” because we do so much.

2. He’s found an umbrella title that he’s comfortable with

James identifies as an “artist” rather than “actor”. He finds “actor” to be too restrictive.

Having to identify yourself with a label is an unfortunate reality in modern day society. People are never going to stop asking the question “what do you do?”

Your best bet is to come up with one or more umbrella titles that you’re comfortable with and that encompass many of your talents. Labels tend to be restrictive and they can prevent us from exploring if that exploration entails behaviour that doesn’t gel with our supposed identity.

The problem is that you’re going to have to identify yourself somehow. People aren’t going to stop asking “what you do.”

Also, in truth, I’m not completely against labels. I think labels can do wonderful things to bring minority groups together and foster support, community and empowerment.

I use the label “multipotentialite” here at Puttylike, for example and it’s been incredibly helpful. Without a name for this thing we all have, there’d be no way for us to connect and find each other.

I’ve also heard from many scanners who found Puttylike and had their AHA moment when they realized what was “wrong” with them (i.e. nothing, they’re just a multipotentialite). This couldn’t have happened without the use of labels.

However, the term multipotentialite is a massive umbrella! It means “someone with many interests”, but the interests themselves vary widely from person to person. In this sense, multipotentialite is about as non-restrictive as possible.

3. He’s breaks the presumption of dilettantism associated with being a “jack of all trades”

James was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in 127 Hours while going to school and pursuing many other interests at the same time. Nobody can say that he’s slacking or “dabbling”.

4. He doesn’t try to be the best

I thought this point was especially relevant for multipotentialites. While James does dominate in the acting arena, this is not his goal. In fact, he states plainly that he doesn’t try to be the best actor or writer or director in the world. He knows that you don’t have to be an expert. He’s simply happy to be engaged with the media and wants to be the best he can be:

“I never said I was going to be the best author. I’m just trying to write the best book I can. I never thought it was going to be Ulysses. If I aimed for Ulysses, it would be horrible.”

5. He rejects mainstream notions about what he’s “supposed” to do

“Some bloggers think that I’m this super weird guy. But what’s so weird about going to school?”

The mainstream world doesn’t understand why a Hollywood actor would do everything James is doing. They would prefer that he be “a movie star”- in other words, shut up and do what you’re told.

Even Charlie Rose asked James “what he’s searching for.” But James doesn’t allow his path to be determined by other people. He does his own thing.

James implied that regrets doing films like Tristan and Isolde- films he did plainly because someone told him it was a good career move. Now James only does projects that are important to him, whether they’re mainstream or not.

6. He fails

James Franco isn’t afraid to try new things, even if it means failing in a very public way. As we learned during Failure Celebration Week, the more you embrace failure, the more innovative you tend to become.

You Don’t Have to be Rich/Famous to Make it Work

James is a walking, talking, modern Renaissance man. Nobody can deny that he creates an insane amount of output in many different areas. Just like you, he’s project oriented and has many unrelated pursuits.

Yes, James Franco has a lot of opportunity and access that most of us do not. But don’t use this as an excuse to stay stuck. Create your own opportunities.

Maybe you can’t study English at Yale or put on an art exhibit as effortlessly, but what about forming a writing group or self-publishing? What about crowdsourced funding, digital distribution and building a community around your cause? There’s a lot of backdoor hacking and unconventional methods that can work. Go find them.

So rock on, James Franco. And please, keep being a multipotentialite badass!

Check out the full interview here.

Which of these traits have you embraced as a multipotentialite? Have you found an umbrella title that you’re comfortable with?


  1. Kira says:

    In my opinion, the lines they (?????) gave him were horrible, and he still did great. No one else could have pulled off those terrible lines better than him. I thought he was hilarious.

  2. Kira says:

    p.s. this was about Oscar

  3. liz says:

    I thought he did great too!. I loved his interview. I saw it a few weeks ago its my favorite James interview, he talks to passionately about the things he loves and he knows exactly what he wants, I admire that. I admire that he is not going to let his ppl tell him how to shape his career, I love him for that!…

    Keep it up James, you’re slowly becoming a legend!!!

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Liz,

      All very true! I’ve loved James’ work since Freaks and Geeks. He’s a great role model for people with many different passions too. We’re often told to pick one path and stop exploring. James never stops, no matter what people say. He’s inspiring.

      Thanks for the comment. :)

  4. Holli says:

    Inspiring example. I really appreciate how you pointed out that you don’t have to be rich and famous to embrace your own renaissance self. If anything lack of money or fame can foster more creativity and room to learn.

    • Emilie says:

      Definitely! A lack of opportunity can force you to become more creative because you have to carve out your own path. Those experiences are invaluable.

  5. Janet says:

    wow. thanks for turning me on to him! i saw 127 hours and it was the first time he was in my radar but i didn’t know how amazing he is in real life!! i can only hope he doesn’t get too drowned out by the hardships of fame and let it consume him / bring him down.

  6. As always, you really deliver!

    Now I know what my mission is: find an umbrella term :)


    • Emilie says:

      Heh thanks Brian. Let me know what you come up with. :)

      I just made business cards and had a real hard time choosing a title. I went with “Writer, Coach, Multipotentialite”. Not quite 1 umbrella term, more like 3 smaller umbrellas that work together, but it’s the best I could come up with. I’ll probably continue to tweak ’em though.

  7. Kylie says:

    I’ll admit it: I’m really intrigued by James Franco. I’ll also admit that, when I first learned that he was more than an actor, I had the same mainstream response as lots of other people: “Is he nuts?!” Apparently brainwashing works.

    I’m especially intrigued that he isn’t trying to be the best at everything. We hear lots of stories of super-driven celebrities stopping at nothing to achieve their ONE goal, but this is the first time I’m hearing a lot about someone dabbling in tons of different things. Thanks, Emilie!

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Kylie,

      Yeah I know what you mean. James actually mentions that in the interview- how people are skeptical of celebrities since they have access to things that others don’t. And he acknowledges that that’s true. But I think the quality of James’ work and his demonstrated passion shines through. It’s obvious that he’s just pursuing what he loves.

      And you’re right, it is really inspiring to see someone so driven to have a diverse life.

  8. James Franco is the Midas Touch for any film he does. If he’s in it I’ll watch it.

    It’s great that he’s doing all he can to do all he can. It’s so important to use all your gifts. That’s what truly adds up to a life worth living.

    Great post!

    • Emilie says:

      I agree. I’m even curious about those episodes of General Hospital he did recently… They sound pretty funny.

      Thanks, Peter. I had fun writing it. :)

  9. Morgan says:

    James is truly an amazing guy. I had no that he did all this, though. This is great and inspiring stuff! Most actors are multipotentials if you think about it. Most want to act, sing, model, voice act, write, produce, etc. And look how successful they are! They don’t focus on just one art form, they expand, because if they don’t expand, then they’d be losing out on amazing opportunities.

    Great post as always!

    • Emilie says:

      So true! And here people are telling us that you need to choose one thing. But there are examples that fly in the face of this advice everywhere. The actor/singer/producer/writer/director is a perfect example of this.

      Thanks, Morgan. :)

  10. Who doesn’t love this guy? He is an inspiration to me. Sometimes I think, yeah, I’m gonna do it like Franco would. That’s true, btw. :)

  11. Melayahm says:

    Well, I didn’t know all this about him, but now that I do, I admire him. (Your Highness will simply be put to one side, to be forgotten about). I shall endeavour to find out more about him apart from Harry Osborne in Spider Man!

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