Is James Franco a creep, or a brilliant movie marketer?

That’s what fans of the Hollywood heartthrob are wondering, after a Scottish teen leaked messages she says she exchanged earlier this week with the star of “Freaks and Geeks,” “127 Hours” and a very ill-advised turn as host of an Oscars.

According to the story, the girl named Lucy took a video of Franco outside the stage door of the Broadway theatre where he’s starring in “Of Mice and Men.” He noticed, told her to tag him, and then tracked her down on Instagram.

The two then started direct-messaging one another. The messages appear to begin innocently enough, with Franco asking her where she’s from and how long she’s in New York.

It then got weird when he asked her, “You’re 18?”

She was not, she revealed; she was merely “nearly 18.” But the flirting continued, with the 35-year-old Franco asking her whether she had a boyfriend, where she was staying and whether he should rent them a room.

When she appeared incredulous that she was messaging the real James Franco, he sent her selfies to show her it was him.

She didn’t take the actor up on the offer but instead ignored his request of “Don’t tell,” and posted images of the whole exchange on Imgur. (All the images have since been removed.)

As news of the exchange travelled through Twitter and the rest of the Internet, many opined that Franco had gone from a charming, interesting actor to a creep and a pervert overnight.

The actor appeared to respond to the blowback on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, tweeting, "I’M NOT! I HOPE PARENTS KEEP THEIR TEENS AWAY FROM ME. Thank you."

But is the whole thing a hoax?

It just so happens that Franco has a movie coming out shortly called “Palo Alto” in which he plays an adult soccer coach having an affair with a teenager, played by Emma Roberts. So could the whole Instagram scandal be an elaborate ruse to drum up attention for the film?

Some think so.

Franco is known as a fan of performance art and has written long think-pieces for The New York Times about modern life. He’s mused on the meaning of the selfie, and offered his endorsement of Shia LaBeouf’s decision to wear a paper bag on his head to apologize for a plagiarism scandal.

Of that he wrote: “Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d’être.”

Hillary Busis, a writer with Entertainment Weekly, wrote Thursday that the Instagram incident-that-may or-not-be-a-scandal “is just the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from Hollywood’s most irrepressible meta-artist.

“Plus, someone as plugged-in as Franco is couldn’t possibly think he’d get away with propositioning a teenage stranger, right?” she wrote.

Katy Waldman over at Slate says she sincerely hopes it’s not a hoax, because she’s frankly tired of these stunts.

“If Franco’s Instagram flirtation is performance, it is deeply, deeply tired. Can celebrities ever really achieve authenticity? Is all the world a stage?” she wondered.

On Friday, Franco obliquely discussed the incident during an appearance on “Live With Kelly and Michael,” saying he’d been feeling awkward about finding himself in the news this week.

"I'm guess, you know, I’m embarrassed, and I guess I'm just a model of how social media is tricky. It’s a way people meet each other today," the actor said.

He said he used "bad judgment" and had learned his lesson.

"Unfortunately, in my position… not only do I have to go through the embarrassing rituals of meeting someone, but sometimes if I do that, it gets published for the world. So then it’s doubly embarrassing."

So was that an admission the whole thing was real? Or was it more of the performance and simply Chapter 2 of the great ruse?