James Franco scaling heights of acting, directing, studying

Take a lead role in a movie or finish a semester at Columbia University. What would you do?

For most people, that decision takes a nanosecond. For James Franco, it was excruciating.

"I've turned down a lot of movies just to be in school," says the actor, who began his academic career with a bachelor's degree in English at UCLA. "And it felt like, 'All right, (acting) is still my job. I still need to do this.' "

He was just three credits shy of earning his MFA when a two-week overlap between his final semester's finish line and adventure film 127 Hours' start date forced his hand. "I can't support myself on an academic career, or directing, yet," he says. "So I took it."

He sounds pained.

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