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Dave Franco The Disaster Artist Interview
When Dave Franco first watched The Room in 2013, he just didn’t get it.
“At the time I was working in Boston, so I watched The Room by myself in a hotel room, which is not the way to watch that movie for the first time,” he tells me. “You want to watch it with a group so you can turn to people and say, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I finished that movie feeling very unsettled and not knowing really how to feel.”
And honestly, that’s a kind way to put it. Describing it doesn’t do the movie justice, just as its official label as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” doesn’t really capture The Room’s essence. So, when Franco watched it alone in his Boston hotel room, he didn’t really understand how the film had become such an underground cult hit. Then he decided to go to one of those infamous midnight screenings of The Room, where people hurl plastic spoons at the screen and play with footballs in the audience.
“I immediately understood the cult status of the movie, and since then I’ve seen it probably 25 times, which is more than I’ve seen any other movie in existence,” Franco said. “It was the most fun I’ve had at the movies since Jurassic Park. It’s just such a communal experience and there’s nothing else like it, where you have a group of people screaming at the screen like it’s a rock concert.”
Franco admits he was a latecomer to the whole scene; his brother James encouraged him to watch the movie after he read The Disaster Artist, a recount of the movie’s production written by Tom Bissell and Greg Sestero, who co-starred in The Room as (“Oh hai”) Mark. Soon, their appreciation for the worst movie ever made evolved into a big screen adaptation of The Disaster Artist, with James Franco both directing and starring as The Room director Tommy Wiseau, and Dave as Sestero.
Their movie is one of the most hilariously bizarre projects of the year, with a packed cast that includes Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Alison Brie, Nathan Fielder, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, and Paul Scheer, all playing The Room cast and production staff and other various Hollywood types. It involves meticulously recreated scenes from the original movie, and Franco as the absurd and mysterious director/star. It’s a meta-meta-commentary on the film industry, creatives, and the lust of fame. It also has a lot of heart, too, made with a sincere love of the wacky, one-of-a-kind The Room.
I spoke with Dave Franco about what he learned by meeting Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau in person, how they obsessively recreated scenes from The Room, and what his brother’s method acting was like on set.
They knew right away how they’d adapt such a weird concept to a movie.
I read Greg’s book and I understood how we were going to tackle the movie. We really used the book as a template. In the book, Greg dives into his relationship with Tommy, how they met, and how The Room came about. The tone of the book is very funny and weird as you would expect. But the surprise is that it’s inspiring, as well, and we really wanted to capture that in our film. We made sure to really focus on the theme of people going after their dreams and not taking no for an answer. For audience members who had not even heard of The Room, we wanted to make sure they had something to latch onto and relate to.
Tommy Wiseau had one piece of feedback when he finally saw The Disaster Artist.
Tommy was very excited about my brother portraying him. His first choice was Johnny Depp, but he was happy to settle for my brother. From there, like anyone would be, Tommy was a little skeptical. We really treated his story in a respectful way. From the beginning it was never our intention to make fun of Tommy or The Room or anyone involved in the movie. On the contrary, we wanted to make a movie celebrating Tommy and people who go after their dreams.
When Tommy saw our movie he was really happy. He said it was 99.9 percent accurate. We asked him what the .1 percent that he did not like was, and we expected him to say something like “I didn’t say that” or “I didn’t do that.” Instead, he gave us notes about the lighting at the beginning of the film. We assured him that we would talk to our DP and make sure that he would not make any lighting mistakes in the future.
Tommy wasn’t at all what some of the stories suggest.
We met Tommy face to face about halfway through production when he came to film his cameo. None of us really knew what to expect. When you read Greg’s book, he portrays Tommy as a dictator on set. We didn’t know if he was going to come onto our set and take control. Who knows what he could do. But he couldn’t have been sweeter, and he was actually kind of shy. It was really endearing. And his scene was almost entirely improvised. He really gave himself over to it and just really wanted to help out in any way he could. He was very complimentary and very grateful just because he could see we were honoring his story in a respectful way.
Dave saw some of himself in Greg Sestero.
I met Greg a handful of times when we started filming. I really tried to pick his brain about a few things, one being why he was so drawn to Tommy and why he stuck with Tommy on this journey when everyone else around him was telling him to run. He talked a lot about when he was a young actor, everyone in his life was telling him that he couldn’t make it. Then he met this guy who encouraged him and told him he could be a star. He finally found this teammate who was invaluable to him, and I can absolutely relate to that. As a young actor, you hear “no” every single day for years on end. I probably auditioned for 100 projects before I landed a single role. It’s the most incredible feeling in the world when you finally land a job.
Even if everyone from the outside can see if the project you’re working on is a piece of shit, you have to have this blind optimism while you’re in [the middle of it] that whatever you’re working on could be good. I’ve personally been involved in movies where people on set were talking about awards for the movie, and I bought into the hype. And then the movie would come out and not only was it not good, it was horrible. It’s a weird thing about our business: You give everything you have, and there are moments where you go back and forth in your mind about if what you’re doing is brilliant or a total disaster. And I will have that movie for the rest of my career.
He got used to James on set as Tommy Wiseau much faster than anyone else did.
At this point there’s not much my brother can do that surprises me anymore. I adjusted to the fact that he was staying in character probably faster than most people on set. I think it took Seth Rogen two weeks to become accustomed to James walking around in character. I love working with my brother. We have very similar sensibilities and we are both drawn to projects that are outside the box, and this definitely falls in this category. When I’m working with friends and family, it makes my job easy as an actor. I feel comfortable with these people and I can take risks with them knowing that they’re not going to judge me. And so people ask me what I want to be doing five or ten years from now, and the cheesy answer is: “I want to be working with people that I love.”
Even though he was method acting as Wiseau, Franco wasn’t an on-set dictator like The Room’s director.
My brother he’s the happiest when he’s directing. He’s like a little kid on set. He’s the opposite of how Tommy is, and he’s all about collaboration and he grew in the business learning from people like Judd Apatow and Seth and has really been trying to follow their model of working with a lot of the same people and building that trust where everyone on set’s opinion matters and it’s always best idea wins.
They had to watch a shit-ton of The Room to get the scenes accurate.
We had an iPad on set, and we would watch scenes from The Room over and over and over and over and recreate every single beat down to the angle we tilted our heads and every single breath and the inflection of every single word we’re saying. It took a lot of time, but it was one of the most enjoyable parts of shooting this film. It took a lot of takes—probably more than you would imagine—but we wanted to treat it as seriously as if we were doing an intense drama. We just wanted to pay homage to a movie that we all love.
Dave unfortunately didn’t learn the secrets to Wiseau’s mysterious past.
Trust me: We have a lot of questions. I think that’s one of the more interesting things about him, that he somehow maintains this mystery about himself. I don’t even think I want to know the answers to those questions. It would take away part of his mystique. I hope no one ever finds the answers to any of those questions.