We spoke with James and Dave Franco about The Disaster Artist – a film based on the making of Tommy Wiseau’s inept, late night cult favourite The Room.
Fifteen years ago, a deluded and strangely accented man named Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, financed and starred in a film called The Room. Spending US$6 million on what was to be his grand entrée into Hollywood, it opened in just two Los Angeles cinemas, grossing about US$1,200.
However, this isn’t where this particular story ends – the film would go on to become a notorious cult classic, earning dubious praise as “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”, while Wiseau was dubbed a new millennium Ed Wood.
“Tommy [Wiseau] is a character unlike any human being on the planet”
Inspiring live stage readings, a video game and a book, today it receives new appreciation in James Franco’s hilarious satire, The Disaster Artist.
Prior to his disastrous debut, Wiseau met fellow wannabe Greg Sestero at a San Francisco acting class, travelling together to Hollywood to make their dreams come true. Thus there is something almost meta about the fact that Franco should choose to direct and star in this satire opposite his brother Dave – both coming to Hollywood with similar dreams, albeit with considerably more success.
He also has a lot more famous friends than Wiseau did – filling his film with cameos from Melanie Griffith, Zac Efron and Bryan Cranston, while Seth Rogen came onboard as a co-producer.
Based on Sistero’s award-winning book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, Franco admits he was largely attracted to the bizarre aspects of this Hollywood story.
“Tommy is a character unlike any other human being on the planet but I also knew that underneath it was a very universal story; that it was about dreamers, and I thought if we can get both those elements in this movie then we would have something interesting,” he says when STACK meets with him and Dave in Los Angeles.
In many regards, Wiseau’s story is not unlike the other millions of aspiring actors who land in Hollywood only to meet with rejection. “I respect Tommy so much. When he came here, he faced a mountain of no’s but then he did it anyway. He willed this movie into being.”
The Disaster Artist is Franco’s finest film as a director to date, and unlike Wiseau, he learned early on that the best results come from collaboration.
“There’s no doubt about it, films work best when there is a collaboration, but Tommy had been burned so many times in his life that he just felt like he could only depend on himself, and maybe his friend Greg, and that was it. So, he didn’t listen to anyone because he had learned that nobody was going to help him – but taking that attitude onto a set only led him to make a lot of bad decisions,” says Franco, who cast Wiseau in a small scene, despite the fact Wiseau made no secret of his preference for Johnny Depp to play the lead.
“At the end of the day Tommy Wiseau and I are alike,” admits Franco, trying hard to keep a straight face. “I do identify, we both had the same heroes: James Dean and Marlon Brando; we both went through all the acting classes – so many aspects of our story are similar but it’s just that he has weird self-perception.”
The notion of rejection is shared by everyone who’s ever tried to make it in Hollywood, to which end both Francos admit this is a somewhat personal film. “I heard ‘no’ a hundred times before I landed a single role,” says Dave, who plays Greg Sestero to his brother’s Wiseau. “I think the reason Greg was so drawn to Tommy is when you’re an actor most people in your life are telling you that you can’t make it so when you find an ally; someone who’s encouraging and telling you that you can make it, it’s invaluable.”
Admittedly, he stumbled along the way. “When I first started getting cast, I knew that some of those projects were not good, but I wanted the experience of being on set. But after a while I just wasn’t proud of anything I was working on, and would literally tell my friends and family ‘Don’t go see it’.”
Big brother cannot help himself: “I don’t know Davy – I saw Bad Neighbours, Bad Neighbours 2 and 21 Jump Street. . .”
The Disaster Artist is in cinemas on December 7. Read our review.
DID YOU KNOW:
- In The Room, Tommy Wiseau named the character Mark after Matt Damon, having misheard the actor’s name.
- Cinemas around the world still screen the 2003 film regularly. Audience participation includes throwing spoons at the screen and passing around footballs when the corresponding scenes are shown.
- “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” is a direct nod to the James Dean film Rebel Without A Cause; Wiseau was a big Dean fan.
- The Disaster Artist is based on the novel of the same name by Greg Sestero, which tells the story behind the making of the famous film.
- Sestero and Wiseau have a new film on the way called Best F(r)iends.