The story of the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies’, The Disaster Artist, has been brought to the screen by writer-director James Franco, who takes the lead role in the film. And Dave Franco, who is the co-lead. The two brothers tell the tale of The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s infamous bad movie that’s become a cult hit. And on the promotional tour for the movie, they spared us some time for a natter…
[The interview begins with just Dave at the table, as James is chatting with a group of publicists the other side of the room.]
You’ve spent the last day or so bouncing from interview to interview, haven’t you?
DF: We spent the last month and a half or so bouncing from interview to interview.
That must be exhausting.
DF: It is, it is, but it could be worse. At least we like the movie. The alternative is not fun.
No, I can imagine. Have you talked it to death?
DF: Yes and no. Again, compared to other movies, at least there’s some fun stuff to dive into, people are genuinely curious about Tommy, for obvious reasons, but yes, I’m fucking tired man, to tell you the truth. But we’re going home tomorrow, and we’ve got few days off. Finally.
How’d the screening go last night?
DF: The Prince Charles?
DF: So fun. I’d never been to that theatre. What a cool spot.
Because in the UK that’s the theatre that pushed The Room.
DF: That’s, in the world, the theatre that’s the best The Room screenings ever. Have you seen it there?
I haven’t. I’ve only ever watched it with friends, and put it off for a long time, in spite of nagging from people, because I’ve watched a lot of crappy films. It’s kind of a part of the job. I’m guessing you’ve seen it quite a few times.
DF: About twenty-five to thirty times, yeah.
Apart from Tommy, and the enjoyment you can get from how bad it is, is there anything more to it?
DF: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I feel like we should wait for the real interview to dive in, but it’s a very personal story to Tommy.
Oh yes. We’ll wait until James joins us to talk about that.
[Not wanting to get too deep into the interview without James present, Dave pauses the interview for a few moments until James joins us.]
The last time I interviewed you was for Oz The Great And Powerful, and you had a film crew with you.
James Franco: Oh God. That wasn’t really a crew, that was my students.
Are you still teaching?
JF: No, I took a year off, it was too much. I’ve sort of cut back on everything. I was teaching at three schools.
I’m not surprised.
JF: I’m the only one that was surprised, everyone else told me I needed it.
Did you ever do anything with the footage of all those interviews?
JF: No, I did not. It was a good experience, I think, for the students, I took them all over the world. Two went on each leg of that crazy press tour, to Tokyo, and Russia…
DF: They came on the press tour? All over the world? Wow.
You should watch the videos.
JF: I think I kind of had a… I just got really exhausted on that press tour. Fortunately this is a movie that I love talking about, I could talk about it forever.
We were just talking about – you guys have clearly seen The Room a lot.
JF: At least 30 – 40 times, yeah.
How did your re-staging of it work?
JF: The recreation scenes? For the actors we had an iPad on set where we would pay scenes from The Room, and we would study them so carefully, because we wanted to mimic every single beat exactly how it was in The Room, down to the way we tilted our head, or every breath that the original actors took. Every department was trying to mimic these scenes as closely as possible, so for example, our DP was trying to match the awful lighting in The Room.
DF: And spent just as much time capturing the awfulness that he would on his good lighting.
JF: Where there were bizarre shadows coming from places that he couldn’t even wrap his head around.
DF: He spent more time trying to figure that out.
JF: Did I tell you how we were going to do it beforehand?
DF: I don’t think so. I don’t think we really talked through it very much.
JF: It’s funny, Seth Rogen and I had inadvertently practiced this kind of thing because we recreated Kanye West’s Bound 2 video shot for shot. When we were making that – the video had just come out, and [Seth said] “we’ll just recreate part of that on our lunch break tomorrow”, when we were doing The Interview. And when we got into that we realised, “Oh no, we can go all the way. Match the lighting, we can just perfect every movement”. People then obviously did a side-by-side comparison and really enjoyed that, and so we thought, OK, we do The Room that way and people will really get off on that.
Although we do the side-by-side comparison during the credits of our film, we didn’t originally know we were going to do that, it was only after we shot it. It was originally just going to go on the screen in our premiere scene within our film, and then we realised we were really proud of how close we got, and we were like, “we should do this side-by-side”.
There were a couple of moments, I think particularly Ari Graynor, managed to get the timing so spot on the audio was in stereo.
DF: She was incredible.
JF: Oh yeah.
I thought Dave, actually, timing-wise, was kind of the best. ‘He’s my best friend’, know what I mean. You were good.
DF: That whole scene, in particular, Greg is just reacting to what the other actor is doing, so it really is just a lot of looks and reactions as opposed to trying to mimic the cadence in which he was talking, so that was almost even more difficult, because that was really trying to time out exactly when he looked down, and when he looked up, and when he tilted his head, and when he grabbed her arm. So that presented its own unique challenges.
How much did you reshoot?
JF: I think we have – there’s more than what’s presented in the film or in the side-by-side. We could have about as much as twenty-to-twenty-five minutes worth of recreated scenes. Maybe that’ll come out at some point.
That sort of gets to the point I was going to ask about before you arrived. Does that change the way you feel about the original film?
JF: recreating the scenes?
DF: I don’t know if that necessarily our perspective, but I think this whole journey definitely has. There’s obviously been many bad movies made over the years, but there’s a reason why this one is still playing in theatres fourteen and a half years after it originally came out. When you look at other good-bad movies like Sharknado and Birdemic, those movies know that they’re B movies, know that they’re silly and over the top, as opposed to The Room, where Tommy Wiseau, the guy at the centre of it all, he attempted to make a very earnest drama. It was a very personal story, and he put his heart and soul into it, and when audiences watch it, whether or not they’re aware of it, I think they feel that passion underneath it all.
So there’s something beyond just Tommy’s performance, would you say?
JF: Oh yeah. For sure. I think – just think about the thousands upon thousands of bad movies that we’ll never watch again, and people have been watching this one for fourteen and a half years. I think it also is helped by the fact that Tommy then embraced the laughter, capitalised on that, and rewrote history, and said, “That’s how I intended it.” I think that is granting permission for people to laugh. They were laughing before, but now you can go to these Room screenings, and if you go to these live things, it’s not cruel. It’s not a cruel laughter, it’s a very communal thing, and when Tommy shows up to these screenings, people are so excited to see him. And I think that partly comes from his taking credit for the laughter. It’s a kind of arrogance, but it’s a loveable arrogance, and it liberates people to laugh.
It’s interesting you bring that up, because you treat Tommy and Greg very well in the film. Greg wrote the book, so he’s going to get a fair showing, but Tommy could easily have been an object of ridicule. Very easily. And you leave it where he’s not. But you portray how he behaves on the set, and that’s not the way people should treat other people.
JF and DF in unison: No.
JF: And I think the scene maybe you’re really touching on, or the one that really embodies what you’re saying the most, is where Tommy is directing a sex scene, and I as Tommy am almost completely naked. Which we did because that was how we were told that he did it. But also, we added this whole other extenuating circumstance where Tommy is actually acting out because he’s completely distraught because he’s afraid he’s going to lose his best friend. He’s acting out on set, he’s so full of fear and self-hatred at this moment, but he’s taking it out on everyone in the movie.
It might be my favourite scene in our film, because it’s on one level so horrible, but on another level, hilarious. It’s the low point for the character, and it is a kind of, in our film, a dramatic turn, but at the same times very funny and ridiculous. And I think that tonally it was where everything culminates, and where we walk the line the most, and it sort of revealed itself to us about how tricky this scene was when we were working on the music. It was the hardest scene to score, and we went back and forth so many times because if we made it too comedic we diminished the scene, and if we made it too dark, it made Tommy sort of irredeemable. It was almost like you couldn’t pull back from it because it was such a tricky tonal thing to walk.
I suppose the entire movie then is hanging on getting that scene right.
JF: In a way, yeah. In a way. I mean, it’s where the relationship between the characters – which is what the whole movie is hanging on – it’s where that relationship starts to break apart, so it can come together.
DF: What the movie does well, I think, is that the relationship between these two guys really does inform how Tommy is on the set of The Room. So as opposed to it being a bunch of silly anecdotes that would be funny at first, but ultimately would end up feeling empty, the way we approached it, there really was something to grab onto. What am I trying to say here?
JF: I know what you’re trying to say. What he’s trying to say, and what you were talking about before too, is Tommy went into this movie with wilfulness and arrogance, and a total inability to listen to anybody. But you can’t really blame him, and what we show is he has been rejected by the word. The only two people he thinks he can depend on are himself and his best friend, and they decide ‘no one in the world is going to help us, so we have to make this movie for ourselves’. Great. I totally respect him for that. Then what happened though, is he didn’t know to turn off that wilfulness when he got on set. If he had just listened to some other people with a little bit more experience, he might have avoided a lot of mistakes.
Now on the other hand, if he had done that, maybe The Room wouldn’t be what it was, and it would just be mediocre, not so-bad-its-great. So who knows. But he didn’t do that, he didn’t know how to collaborate while working in a collaborative medium.
What we do in that scene, I think, and what we had to figure out, and fortunately had these incredible writer, Neustadter and Webber, and great producers, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, and James Weaver, and we sort of figured out, ‘Oh yeah, the making of The Room scenes work best when we tie that to Tommy and Greg’s personal life. Because Tommy now is kind of inscrutable, especially because he’s rewritten history. So he’s never going to tell you “I was hurting there”, or “My character commits suicide in the movie because I actually was channelling my own deep depression and exorcising it”. He’s not going to tell you that, so we had to show that by tying it to his personal life. I couldn’t then – here’s another great thing about preparing for the movie – I couldn’t very well go to Tommy and ask him about who he was when he was making the movie, because he has rewritten history. He takes credit for it being a comedy, so he wouldn’t give me a clear answer. But what I have is all these – he used to drive around and record himself on these mini-tapes, talking to himself. Twenty years ago, five years before The Room – and Greg stole some of these tapes years ago, and gave them to me.
Tommy knows I have them, he calls them his secret tapes [Franco breaks into his Tommy Wiseau impersonation], “I know you have them, whatever”, but it’s everything I could have wanted. It’s him talking about acting classes and the teachers misunderstanding him, as an example of that, in some of them he’s talking about the acting teacher, [as Tommy] “yeah, he treats me different from all of the other students, he doesn’t understand me” And then it’s like this little perfect, just a little encapsulated moment of him being rejected and then pumping himself up, which essentially is what the whole Room is, right? He’s like, “Yeah, he don’t understand me, but you know what? I think he senses my power, and he’s intimidated”. That’s exactly what happens in our movie. Judd Apatow, as the producer, rejects him. The casting directors reject him, then he says, “You know what, they don’t understand me. I will make a movie that will blow them all away.” The Room, you know what I mean?
And so that’s how I got to Tommy, and that’s what we tried to put into our film. Behind the ridiculousness that happened on set, that actually, there are very personal things that are causing him to make these decisions.
James and Dave Franco, thank you very much!
The Disaster Artist is in UK cinemas from Friday.