By Bill Cantwell
---- — Hollywood star James Franco has backed out of directing and starring in a movie based on a book by local writer Andre Dubus III.
Franco was slated to start working this summer on a movie based on the best-selling novel “The Garden of Last Days’’ by Dubus, who grew up in Haverhill and now lives in Newbury.
But yesterday, it was announced that Franco was pulling out of the project.
Dubus said Franco’s decision had to do with “artistic differences.’’ Dubus said he is hopeful the company looking to make the movie will find a replacement for Franco, allowing the film to eventually happen.
“These things happen when you’re trying to make a feature film,’’ Dubus said. “But I hold out hope that the producer, Gerard Butler, and his partners will still get this made. The script by Hanna Weg is really strong, which is what essentially gives me faith this movie will make it to the big screen.’’
Franco has starred in several major motion pictures, most recently as the title character in “Oz the Great and Powerful,” with Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis.
“The Garden of Last Days’’ was to be the second of Dubus’ books to be made into a movie. In 2003, Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly starred in the movie version of Dubus’ best-selling novel “House of Sand and Fog.’’
There has also been talk in literary and Hollywood circles that his best-selling memoir “Townie’’ — the story of him growing up on the tough streets of Haverhill — will also be made into a movie.
“The Garden of Last Days’’ is based on the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001. In it, Dubus tells the tale of a man who plans to hijack a plane. Dubus spins in the hijacker’s personal relationships, including with an exotic dancer, before the terrorist plot unfolds.
Dubus said he began writing “The Garden of Last Days’’ in 2005, after reading a story about the terrorist hijackers — and how one of them was rumored to have visited a strip club in the days before the attacks.
Dubus wanted to give the hijacker a voice and tell his side of the story. Dubus spent months researching the events of Sept. 11. He read the Koran twice for an understanding of Islam, and he read other sources including the history of Egypt and of Saudi Arabia, even books about strip clubs — 33 books in all, he said.
“The tough part was how to write from his (the hijacker’s) point of view without judgement,” Dubus said. “As Ernest Hemingway said, ‘The job of the writer is not to judge, but to seek and understand.’
“When the book came out in 2008, I don’t think the reading public was ready to step into the point of view of one of these terrorists,” Dubus said of “The Garden of Last Days.’’ “I think now that we’re more curious about what causes this kind of madness.’’
Dubus said he is working on a new novel and that his latest book — a collection of short stories titled “Dirty Love’’ — will be released in October.