James Franco, one of our hottest and most interesting young actors, joins ABC soap “General Hospital” in November for a short run.

Why? What? Franco won raves for his performance in “Milk,” awards for playing James Dean, made big bucks from “Spider-Man,” and has several big films on his release schedule.

The world is puzzling over this odd choice. One thing: he and one of the “GH” actors share a manager. But that’s not enough to push Franco onto a show that oddly mixes doctors and nurses with a low-rent “Godfather” storyline. So what gives?

Franco gives minimal explanation. He tells me, only: “It’s performance art.”

That’s it. He can’t even say why he’s chosen this soap over another. But Franco marches to a different drummer. He’s spent the last few years as a part-time academic and would be writer. He’s got a contract with Scribner’s for a book of stories. He’s in a graduate creative writing program at NYU and Columbia University. Prior to that, while he was making “Spider-Man,” he was also getting his B.A. from UCLA.

The message: he can do anything he wants. In this last year he’s also made experimental films shown at the Museum of Modern Art. James Franco, whose mother is a children’s book author and family operates a prestigious art gallery, is not going to be pigeonholed.

And, anyway, he follows in the footsteps of Elizabeth Taylor, who once appeared on “General Hospital.” Rosie O’Donnell and Carol Burnett each have made cameros on “All My Children.” Maybe Franco’s shot will inspire other name stars to drop in on soaps.

If more of the famous soap alumnus returned to their shows for a week–how about Julianne Moore to “As the World Turns” or Josh Duhamel to “All My Children”– it might save the genre from extinction.

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