Franco to star as 'Oz the Great and Powerful'

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The Independent Culture

After co-hosting the Oscars on February 27, James Franco has signed on to portray Oz the Great and Powerful in the upcoming film to be directed by Sam Raimi ( Spider-Man films) and co-starring Mila Kunis ( Black Swan).

The prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz from 1939, which starred Judy Garland, will be shot in 3D starting in July, to be released in 2013, as reported first in Hollywood blog Deadline.

Originally, Robert Downey Jr. was considered for the role and Johnny Depp was also on tap for the title character. In this version the story is told from the Wizard's point of view. The film follows the origin story of Oz, an illusionist forced to flee a traveling circus when his hot air balloon is swept up by a tornado to the land of Oz, which is run by two witches.

The busy Oscar nominee for Best Actor in 127 Hours also starred in Milk with Sean Penn. He will be seen this year in the period comedy Your Highness with Natalie Portman, out on April 8, and in Rise of the Apes, costarring Frieda Pinto ( Slumdog Millionaire).

This year Franco will also shoot While We're Young with Ben Stiller and Cate Blanchett, and in the late fall production begins on a redo of Sweet Bird of Youth with Nicole Kidman. He plays her gigolo Chance Wayne in the revival of the Tennessee Williams play, a role played by Paul Newman in the 1962 film.

Meanwhile, Franco is also pursuing a PhD in creative writing at Yale University.