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Yet Raimi believes Franco was the perfect actor to portray the wizard: “He was born to play the part.”

Franco and Raimi are personal friends, and the director said he’s seen the actor’s growth as a performer and an individual since they first worked together on 2002’s “Spider-Man.”

“I knew James was a moody dreamer, and that’s who Oz is,” Raimi said. “He dreams of being this great man, even if he doesn’t know what greatness is.”

The director knew Franco could embody both the selfishness _ which Raimi had seen in the actor when he was younger _ and the heart of the wizard.

“Because James had, in his life, been all of these things, I knew that if he could grab a hold of them and recognize them and hold up a mirror to himself _ however actors do that _ he could channel everything he was through this character and really bring him to life like no one else,” Raimi said.

Franco said playing the role “was really like I was stepping into the imaginative world of my childhood.”

And coming into Oz through the wily wizard, whose origins were never fully explored in the Baum books, is an inspired way to revisit the world, he said.

“It’s a great way to return to Oz through a character that you sort of know but not really,” the actor said. “Because of that, it’s a great entry that feels familiar and new.”

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AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy.

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Online:

http://disney.go.com/thewizard/