One of the first movie reviews I wrote as scene editor at “The Foghorn” was for a James Franco comedy. It’s only fitting my last be a roundtable interview with him and his brother, Dave Franco to promote their latest film “The Disaster Artist.”
“The Disaster Artist,” which chronicles the tempestuous production of Tommy Wisseau’s cult hit “The Room,” is a triumph of cosmic irony. The film, based on actor Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book about the making of “The Room,” is ultimately a story about brotherhood. It’s perfect for James Franco’s brother, Dave Franco to play Sestero, Wisseau’s best friend and “The Room’s” lead actor. The film follows Wisseau’s well-intentioned, yet toxic desire for approval. As director and protagonist, James Franco gives Wisseau what he always wanted for “The Room:” nearly universal critical acclaim.
Two other student journalists and I sat down to talk to the brothers at the Ritz-Carlton on Dec. 1. Dave Franco joked and laughed, while James Franco easily slipped into Wisseau’s peculiar accent when quoting him all while eating a chocolate croissant. We talked about Wisseau, getting the rights to the book, and filming scenes from “The Room.”
The film was announced so close to “The Disaster Artist’s” publishing date. What was the process of getting the rights to the book like?
JF: It was very early [after the book came out]. I had not seen “The Room,” so somebody pointed out the book to me when it was in the New York Times book review. I got it immediately. I started reading it, and before I was done, I just knew I wanted to be a part of this, and I ran out and saw “The Room.” I actually was working in Vancouver at the time, and I went to a theatrical screening of it with audience participation and everything. Greg Sestero was there, at that screening. I had been in touch with him so he knew I was coming. He was there promoting his book and we met that night. I just said, “I’m sold, I really want to do this story.” So Greg was immediately humbled, I don’t know if anybody else had approached him, but I approached him very early. Then I had to get Tommy’s life rights, which actually wasn’t that hard; it turns out I was his second choice behind Johnny Depp and his main-ask in his contract was that he get a scene in the film. So once we agreed to all that we were ready to go. It happened really quickly.
How did you go about portraying Greg Sestero? Did you draw inspiration from him as a person or from the book?
DF: Greg is not as much of a character as Tommy Wisseau, and so he doesn’t have distinct mannerisms or certain cadences in the way that he talks. I was really just trying to capture his essence. It definitely helped that I had his book to draw from. I had the opportunity to sit down with him a handful of times before we started filming and he was on set during the entirety of our production as well. […] We talked a lot about how when he was a young actor everyone in his life told him that he couldn’t make it, that he was trying to chase an unattainable goal, and then he met Tommy, Tommy encouraged him and believed in him.As a young actor that’s invaluable.
Was your purpose in making this film to be a message to all artists that we’re all a bit of Francis Ford Coppola and Wisseau?
JF: In a sense, we wanted to make Tommy very sympathetic. If you meet Tommy now, he has an impenetrable facade, and he takes credit for it being a comedy, but I don’t think that’s what he intended when he was making it. He had all the passion, and I could relate to him. We have similar heroes — James Dean and Marlon Brando — it’s just that Tommy’s self-awareness was almost nil. So he was trying to be these things and it just didn’t come out that way, and that just made him try harder. The whole town rejected him, and he said, “if you don’t believe me then I’ll show you.” And he did. He got it made.I really respect that. How many millions people have come out to Hollywood to make it into the movie industry and don’t make their own movie, and Tommy did. So he had drive and will, but it just got squeezed through this cheese grater because he didn’t really know how he came off to other people. I also saw that it was a universal story — it’s a story of anybody with a dream, outsiders with a dream trying to break in. That’s the same for me, for Tommy, for Coppola.
I read that you recorded 25-27 minutes of “The Room.” How did you select scenes?
JF: They’re not all in our film, but we always knew we needed to recreate some of [“The Room”] because we had the premiere scene within our movie. That was a really tricky scene to do — if you look at that scene, it’s the climax of our film. You need scenes on the screen that the audience has watched and that Tommy and the other audience members are watching and reacting to. Those scenes need to be of such a nature that they create an arc in the course of that scene, from confusion to being uncomfortable to eventually laughter, we’re building to that laughter and that moment where Tommy is just devastated. We needed to pick the right scenes that were also sort of linear in the course of “The Room.” We had some key ones, like “you’re tearing me apart Lisa,” and, “I did not hit her, I did not.” We found it so fun to recreate the scenes from “The Room,” that we just wanted to make more, so it was kind of our treat at the end of the day. If we got the rest of our work done we could go and shoot extra scenes. So we were like, “oh, which one do we want to recreate now,” and everybody got really into it. From the actors to the cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, everybody loved recreating those things because we treat it. Even though it was really bad stuff that we recreated, we treated it very seriously.
Would you guys be interested in collaborating with Greg and Tommy in the future if they were to write another script?
DF: They did one. So when Greg first saw an early screening of our film, he was really touched by it, and it inspired him to go off and write a new feature-length film for him and Tommy to star in. He said that seeing my brother’s portrayal of Tommy allowed him to view Tommy in a new light and he just decided to kind of tackle another project together. That’s coming out next year, it’s called “Best F(r)iends,” with parentheses around the “r” in “friends,” so it’s “Best Fiends.” It ended up being so long that they gave it the “Kill Bill” treatment, so it’s part one and two. So you have two new movies coming out from that duo. But Tommy talked to my broth-
JF: I heard it’s not bad. Tom Bissell, the cowriter of the book, said it was David Lynch-ian.
DF: Tommy did talk to my brother about starring in another film that he would direct at some point.
JF: Oh, well, Tommy wasn’t around much when we were filming, but he did come to set when he had to do the contractual scene with him. I interviewed him that night as I was dressed as Tommy and I talked like him, and I asked him, “are you ever going to direct another movie?” And he said, “I have this movie ‘American Stud’ and it’s like “American Gigolo,” but with gay sex, very controversial.” Like there’s never been a movie with gay sex before? Like, I guess he hasn’t seen any movies since 1972. Seth [Rogen, who plays script supervisor Sandy Sinclair and produced the film] was on set, and he was really won over by Tommy after meeting him for the first time, because Tommy was so sweet. And Seth said, “‘American Stud,’ well I would do a part in that, that’d be interesting.” So Seth and I went over to Tommy and were like, “hey we want to maybe do a part in ‘American Stud.'” And Tommy had to sort of think about it, and was like, “oh, ok, maybe I’ll give you a part.” Then we were like, “what’s the budget of ‘American Stud,” and he was like, “about 20 million,” and we were like, I guess he’s never going to make that thing, unless he sells a lot more jeans [Wisseau amassed a fortune selling irregular blue jeans in San Francisco.]