James Franco admits he came late to the midnight-movie phenomenon known as The Room — the 2003 low-budget relationship drama that has become a cult favorite among so-bad-it’s-good devotees.
In fact, Franco first was introduced to Tommy Wiseau’s notorious vanity project via a making-of book, rather than the film itself. That book — written by the film’s co-star, Greg Sestero — later became the basis for The Disaster Artist, Franco’s satire about heartfelt effort and artistic vision surpassing amateurish execution.
“There’s a humanity that Greg put into it,” Franco said during the South by Southwest Film Festival. “I love Hollywood stories, and this was a great story about outsiders trying to make it in, that was also incredibly insane in a lot of ways. I knew this was the movie I wanted to make.”
Franco also stars as the enigmatic and cartoonish Wiseau, whose story is told mostly from the perspective of Sestero (Dave Franco), an aspiring actor who agrees to star in Wiseau’s directorial debut about betrayal and revenge, not knowing what he was getting into. Nevertheless, the two eventually develop a sibling-style bond.
Wiseau has almost no skill on either side of the camera. Yet he’s got determination and money — which arguably are more important. At any rate, the shoot turns into a surreal exercise in ineptitude during which actors and crew members remain loyal only as rubberneckers approaching a car wreck.
“I identified with Tommy,” Franco said. “I respected that he came out to Hollywood, like millions of people have done, and that he got this movie made. Some of the behavior sounded a little insane on set, but the more I saw this movie in post and going through my own stuff — I am Tommy Wiseau.”
Franco said he prepared for the role with the same obsessive approach that he used during a 2001 biopic of James Dean. Wiseau also happens to admire Dean. That commitment extended behind the camera, where Franco’s bizarre antics mimicked those of Wiseau during the filming of The Room.
“He directed the movie in character, as Tommy,” said Rogen, who plays a supporting role in The Disaster Artist and also is a producer. “There were scenes where he was playing Tommy directing a movie as Tommy directing a movie as Tommy. It required a disclaimer. The weirdest thing you’ve ever heard about — that’s what we were doing. My grandmother came to the set, and she was there for several hours, and she turned to me and said, ‘Where’s James?’”
It was the first time that the prolific Franco starred on-screen alongside his younger brother, Dave. Previously, they only worked together in a “Funny or Die” sketch. Before either of them put forth the idea, however, Sestero suggested it.
While a lampoon might have been simpler, the screenplay by the tandem of Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (The Fault in Our Stars) wanted instead to sincerely pay tribute to the freewheeling ambition of Wiseau, who even agreed to make a cameo appearance among a cast that also includes Sharon Stone, Zac Efron, Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, and Bryan Cranston.
“We spent so much time talking about how we love The Room. It would have been easy to make a movie that was just making fun of The Room, or clowning it, or objectifying it in some way,” Rogen said. “When we were putting the movie together, we talked about why we loved this movie, not about why we laugh at this movie.
“That was the guiding principle in a lot of ways. How do we make a movie about the making of a movie that we really enjoy watching, not a movie that we want to disturb in any way? In the end, it’s the earnestness of a guy who put himself out there, and that’s a great thing.”