112008milk.jpgJames Franco as real-life gay rights activist Scott Smith, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. Photo: Phil Bray/Focus Features.

Gus Van Sant’s new film Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, who in 1977 became the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office in the United States, only to be assassinated within his first year of serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At turns tragic and exhilarating, the film chronicles the last eight years of Milk’s life (played by Sean Penn), when he worked on campaigns for public office and the protection of gay employees.

Besides Penn, the stellar cast also includes Josh Brolin, James Franco, Alison Pill, and Emile Hirsch. That group joined Gus Van Sant at a press conference yesterday, during which Franco revealed that he wanted to be a part of the film so badly that he would have “played the pool boy” just to be in it. But, thankfully, he plays Milk’s lover, giving the world a steamy Sean Penn and James Franco make out scene! $11 well spent!

2008_11_vansant.jpgAnother tidbit: Van Sant (pictured) said they looked at hours of archival footage for developing the characters and maintaining historical accuracy. (In the film, you'll see snippets of "home movies" from The Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center's archive in San Francisco.) Van Sant also takes pride in using the same Director of Photography (Harris Savides) that Madonna refuses to do any work without: "I thought you know, she must be pretty discerning. I had the Madonna effect. I get to use Madonna’s DP." (And her ex-husband, too.)

Of course, it's impossible to overlook the fact that Milk, which opens Wednesday, is being released on the heels of the Prop 8 passage in California, the same state where Milk helped mobilize the gay community to demand their civil rights. Speaking about Prop 8, Penn said, "It's only an issue because of ignorance in the first place. We don't have any excuse for being ignorant of the law...or ignorant of human history... In fact any support of Prop 8 would be minimally manslaughter. Because human history tells us that teenage boys are going to hang themselves out of a reach for an identity that they can't get.... And if this movie is a part of an engine to help reveal that, that's going to make us all happy and proud."