James Franco at SBIFF

James Franco at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Picture a combo of James Dean, James Bond and Forrest Gump. Add the distinction of an Oscar nominee for 127 Hours, as well as an Oscar co-host to the mix.

This is James Franco, who was awarded the Outstanding Performance of the Year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival during its 10-day run. Movie critic, Leonard Maltin, moderated the evening.

Wearing a black tux, white shirt, traditional black tie and winged tip shoes, Franco did not resemble the eccentric that he appears to be. He was an hour late with no apology. Perhaps after 127 Hours, time stands still. The actor doesn’t seem to quite believe that he’s made it. He slumped into his chair and sat stiffly as if he was going to be cited by the principle.

His first break: a TV show, Pacific Blue, which he calls Baywatch on bicycles!

“I was so nervous I couldn’t even ride. They said it was the bloodiest episode they’ve ever done.” Somehow he landed the role.

In his early career, he was best known for Freaks and Geeks, which turned into a cult favorite. Robert De Niro cast him in City by the Sea after seeing him in the TV movie, James Dean.

“A lot of people advised me not to do the role. They told me I’d be typecast,” Franco says about his portrayal of Dean, which won him a Golden Globe in 2001.

Although he’s anti-cigarettes, he started smoking two packs a day to get into character.

Impressive credits include: Spider Man, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, Milk and Eat Pray Love.

The role he scored in Knocked Up turned out to be an audition for more comedy roles.

“Before then, I played the tortured actor roles. Now, I could have fun with my roles. You don’t have to control everything. You can trust the people you are working with and let go.”

There was a time that he thought he’d give up acting (pre Pineapple) and go back to school to study screenwriting. And he hasn’t stopped.

“I’ve probably been to four colleges after getting my masters at UCLA. Now I’m at Yale. I know — it’s too much.”

Some serious actors are averse to doing daytime dramas. Not him! He was working on a project in which the character was formerly in a soap.

“I thought, ‘Why not do one?’ As it turns out, my manager represents Steve Burton, who is the highest paid soap opera actor.”

General Hospital was thrilled to assist.

“They asked me to design my own character. I didn’t want that; I wanted the full soap opera treatment.”

His character was named after his last name. He plays an artist (his passion). The show even shot at MOCA.

“I’m going back to direct GH,” Franco confides. (He’ll also direct a few films.)

Not only does he make his own rules, he also breaks them.

“I never saw Eat Pray Love. I usually don’t do a movie I’d never see. But I thought it would be cool to play Julia Roberts’s lover. If it doesn’t take months and I like the idea of working with someone, I’ll do it. Tina Fey, Julia Roberts — why not?”

He talked about gory details of 127 Hours. We’ll spare you.

News just broke that Franco will make his Broadway debut with Nicole Kidman in the revival of Sweet Bird of Youth. Is there a Tony Award in his future?

Sue Facter writes about all things A-list with credits in USA Today and publications worldwide. Follow her on Twitter @TheFacter.