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James Franco: Off to be the wizard in ‘Oz’

'OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL'  Oz (James Franco) tells ChinGirl (voiced by Joey King) thshe has go back Emerald

"OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL" Oz (James Franco) tells China Girl (voiced by Joey King) that she has to go back to the Emerald City.

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Updated: April 4, 2013 6:20AM

LOS ANGELES — James Franco remembers the day he found a magical land called Oz.

“I was a kid and wanted to read something that wasn’t assigned in school,” he says. “When I was younger, I grabbed the L. Frank Baum novel ‘The [Wonderful] Wizard of Oz.’ You couldn’t beat a book where you had a magic man and a winged monkey.”

Now Franco isn’t just off to see the wizard. He is the wizard of Oz in director Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful.”

The big-budget Disney epic (opening Friday) goes back to the Emerald City to show what happened before Dorothy landed there and found magic and some interesting ruby red footwear.

Franco is Oscar Diggs, a Kansas magician who must find his power with help from Finley, a talking, winged money (helped by the voice of Zach Braff).

“It really is the story of a selfish man who is a bit of a cad. He takes a journey and finds Oz to be a land of second chances,” Raimi says. “He’s shown the right way to live his life and becomes a little more of a selfless man.”

This wizard wannabe isn’t in touch with people. “He thinks the way to greatness is through fame and fortune,” says Raimi. “He’s a limited character as we begin. He’s forced out of Kansas, and he takes a balloon up and gets swept up in a tornado.”

He lands in Oz and is surrounded by several interesting witches played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams.

Don’t look for ruby slippers.

“The film is based on the book, and we don’t use images that belong to the 1939 film,” says Raimi.

Williams says that she did the role for her young daughter Matilda, a big “Wizard of Oz” fan.

“What mother doesn’t want their daughter to be able to say, ‘Here is my mom and she’s a witch, but the good witch’?” she jokes. “I wanted to reinvent this delight for all little girls.

“Glinda is the embodiment of good and pure, but with a slightly human quality,” she says. “She sees the best in Oz even when his selfish nature takes over.”

Weisz plays bad witch Evanora. “It was just so much fun,” she says. “Playing the Wicked Witch was absolutely delicious because I could torment James and Michelle especially, who is so good.

There was some trepidation for Franco in taking the role. “You have a film that’s so beloved. You can’t make a movie like this without a lot of people weighing in and comparing it to the original.”

He says the film is a throwback to vintage Hollywood.

“The film takes you to this amazing place where the characters are very funny in an old Hollywood way,” Franco says.

Kunis, who plays Theodora, says, “I play the first witch Oz encounters. She’s incredibly sweet and naive and believes he is the wizard.”

She marvels that the entire film wasn’t done on green screen.

“Everything was built. The Emerald City was there. It was magical going to work. We didn’t just film in front of green screens,” she says. “The green of the Emerald City is breathtaking.”

On the set, she says, “you felt like a little kid again.”

Big Picture News Inc.

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