The filmmaker was still in the early phases of securing the cast for the religious drama when he asked Franco whether he'd be interested in portraying Freddie Quell, an alcoholic World War II veteran recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
But after discussing the project with the 127 Hours star, Anderson had doubts Franco could bring the complicated character to life and instead handed the part to Phoenix.
Speaking to reporters at the Austin Film Festival in Texas, Franco said, "Paul Thomas Anderson was getting ready to make The Master and he called me and we met... When he started talking about the role he said 'Do you feel like you can do this?' And I said 'Yeah, totally. Look, I think you're like the best American director. I feel confident. I know I can do this.'
"And he said to me 'But I want this to scare you. I want this role, going on this journey, to scare you.' And I was like 'Scare?! I know I can do it. And so... needless to say I didn't get the part. I guess I wasn't scared enough or something, or (for) whatever reason I didn't get it."