What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen? For many, the obvious answer is The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s self-financed masterpiece mistake. (If you haven’t seen it already, rectify that as soon as possible.) The Room’s slow path to becoming a midnight cult classic earned it a lot of famous fans along the way—none more famous and devoted than James Franco, whose film The Disaster Artist follows the production of what has been widely subtitled “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Franco directed the film and stars as Wiseau; he enlisted his brother, Dave, to play the part of Wiseau’s real-life friend and collaborator, Greg Sestero.
It’s the first time the two Francos have officially worked together. There’s no more fitting way for the two to break the professional ice than this, a story about unconditional friendship and the act of creating art. Dave, for so long terrified of being placed in his brother’s shadow, has carved out an impressive career in naturalistic comedy. He spoke to GQ about finally working with family, the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau, and what, in his mind, makes a movie good.
GQ: Okay, Dave, tell me about the first time you ever watched The Room.
Dave Franco: I was in a hotel room in Boston and I watched it by myself, which is not the way to watch that film for the first time. You want to watch it with a group so you can turn to people and say, “What the hell is going on?” Soon after that, I went to one of the midnight screenings where people go crazy, and are throwing things at the screen, and I immediately understood why The Room had become this cult hit.
[My brother] James was the one who told me to watch it, about four years ago. So we were pretty late to the game. But since then, we’ve both seen The Room more than 25 times, which is more than I’ve seen any other movie in existence.
And this is the first time that you collaborated with your brother, James. Why was this the time to work together?
When I was first starting out, I made a conscious decision to distance myself from him, work-wise, just because I wanted to pave my own path and I didn’t want to be referred to as James Franco’s little brother for the rest of my life. There were projects that he would ask me to be a part of, and it was hard for me to turn them town, but I really just wanted to try to stand on my own two feet. And after a while, I just decided that it felt like the right time. I love him, I respect him, we have very similar sensibilities.
How did you go about playing Greg Sestero? Did the two of you speak a lot? Or did you want to bring your own interpretation of who this guy is?
I sat down with him a couple times before we started filming, and, obviously, Greg is not as much of a character as Tommy. He doesn’t have distinguishable quirks or mannerisms like Tommy does. And so rather than trying to mimic Greg’s voice or mannerisms, I just tried to capture his essence.
I would say the most difficult part of playing Greg was that he’s making a lot of bad decisions throughout this movie, and I had to try to find a way to justify those decisions and make the audience understand why he stayed on this journey with this very eccentric, sometimes crazy guy. One thing that he said that I gravitated to was, as a young actor, most people in your life are telling you that you can’t make it. And then when you find someone who is encouraging, and is a teammate throughout the process, it’s invaluable.
And how does Greg’s experience in the early stages of the movie speak to you? Is that an accurate representation of starting out in Hollywood do you think?
Absolutely. I think 99 percent of actors have gone through severe rejection before they ever landed a single role. I probably auditioned for 100 projects before I was cast in even the smallest role. And I was lucky enough to have been surrounded by a very supportive family and friend group, and so I didn’t experience the same level anxiety that Greg did.
I guess I had a unique set of obstacles. My brother was in the business and was well-respected. People almost expected me to make it as well. There was a spotlight on me, and if I didn’t make it, it was a huge failure.
Throughout The Disaster Artist, we see shot for shot remakes of scenes from The Room. How much of it did you actually shoot?
We probably recreated about half of The Room, shot for shot, beat for beat.
Damn. And, in addition to working with your brother, your wife, Alison Brie, also plays Greg’s girlfriend in the film. This must have been a really close-knit set.
It was. I love working with family and friends because, as an actor, it makes my job easy. I feel comfortable with all of these people, and I feel more willing to take risks. When I’m acting opposite my wife or my brother, I almost can’t be fake. With The Disaster Artist, if I did something that felt false, either they would call me out on it, or I’d just feel it in my bones and ask for another take.
Zac Efron has a perfect cameo as the actor who plays Chris R., the drug dealer from The Room. Was that your doing?
Actually I think it was Seth [Rogen] who reached out to him. But you’re right–I think Chris R. is the role Zac was born to play, and even though he doesn’t have much screen time, he’s one of my favorite characters in my movie.
I love how in awe James, as Tommy, is of Chris R.
And in reality, the actor who played Chris R. in The Room was by far the best actor in that movie.
We have to talk to Tommy Wiseau. He’s been really participatory and flattering about The Disaster Artist. Did you get to spend time with him? I’m sure it’s tempting to try to figure this guy out, even with the small moments you get with him.
I mean, he’s been answering the same questions for 15 years now, so he knows how to talk around anything that he doesn’t really want to give a straight answer to. To be honest, I almost don’t even want to know the answers to those questions. I think it would take away from his mystique. To me, the fact that he’s been able to maintain this mystery about himself in 2017 is pretty impressive in and of itself.
I was surprised at how kind the film is about The Room, and also about Tommy and Greg’s friendship, which is never really laughed at when it easily could have been.
It would’ve been very easy for us to make a film where we were making fun of Tommy, and The Room, and everyone involved, but that’s not interesting. On the contrary, we wanted our movie to be a celebration of Tommy and of people who are going after their dreams, and not taking no for an answer. I don’t know I think no matter what profession you’re in, everyone can relate to that idea. And as much as people may not want to admit it, we all have a little bit of Tommy in us.
You come out of The Disaster Artist thinking, it’s kind of a miracle that any film ever gets made, and that’s cool.
One hundred percent. No one ever sets out to make a bad movie. There’s almost always incredible amount of passion and work put behind any given project. You just have to give it everything you got, and sometimes it works out, and a lot of the times it doesn’t. And it really is a miracle when something actually does work. I can’t stress it enough that we genuinely love The Room. Like I said, I’ve seen it more than any other movie that’s ever been made, and it gets to a point where if a movie is that watchable, when can we just call it a good movie?