James Franco Interviews the Men Behind the "The Worst Film Ever Made"

James Franco Interviews the Men Behind the "The Worst Film Ever Made"

Our contributing editor talks to Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero about The Room, the book all about it, and the upcoming star-studded film based on both

Our contributing editor talks to Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero about The Room, the book all about it, and the upcoming star-studded film based on both

The Disaster Artist is my forthcoming adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s 2013 book with the same name. I’m directing, co-producing, and starring in a dramatization of the making of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room—a 2003 cult film that stars both Wiseau and Sestero, lovingly referred to as “the worst movie ever made.” Follow? In my take, I play Wiseau and my brother Dave plays Sestero. Seth Rogen (another co-producer), Ari Graynor, Kate Upton, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, Sharon Stone, Jacki Weaver, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch and more are in it, too. Here, I’m researching some roles by interviewing Tommy (who, yes, makes a cameo in The Disaster Artist) and Greg.

Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero reenacting a scene from Rebel Without a Cause at the Griffith Observatory upon Wiseau’s SAG membership announcement (1999)

JAMES FRANCO Did you read the book, The Disaster Artist?

TOMMY WISEAU No comment, move on, next question.

Just teasing.

JF What do you think about a movie being made of your life?

TW I love it. You’re doing a good job. You’re a good actor. The best ever. People will realize that it’s the American Dream. I wanted to be a filmmaker, I wanted to be an actor, and I did everything possible. Some of the stuff I did differently, but I’m very proud of my project. I think people enjoy it. I hope that your movie will be the best, too, James.

JF Now, tell me this. It felt like you intended The Room to be a drama.

TW What is your question?

JF Did you?

TW I learned in school that the more colors you have, the better. So, how do you define drama and how do you define comedy? I wanted it mixed up. Like, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa.” So, we don’t talk that way, but guess what? I have a friend who actually talks that way. It’s funny. All the reporters and critics ask how I would divide it between drama and comedy and I would say 50/50. Some of this stuff is quirky.

JF Are you ever going to direct another movie?

TW Absolutely. I’m working on Foreclosure. It’s related to a crisis—home foreclosure.

Wiseau on set of The Room (2002)

JF How did you get the money for The Room?

TW That’s a beautiful question you have. Not an ordinary question, but it’s a good question. You live in America, you work hard at what you do, you save money, right? When you save money, what do you do? You spend it. I spent it on the movie. I used to have a retail store in the Bay Area.

JF How did you deal with someone like Sandy trying to take over the movie?

TW When Seth Rogen plays Sandy, we see that happen. I learned in a business class that if somebody quits and doesn’t give you notice, you don’t give them credit. I respect him and who he is, but what he did was wrong, bottom line.

JF What is your relationship with the actors like now?

TW Juliette [Danielle, who played Lisa] sometimes shows up, as we have regular screenings of The Room. Some actors show up, but you know, we are not on the same page. They’re nice people and that’s all I can say. Everybody did a good job, the way I wanted them to. So, I wish them luck and to make millions, whatever. I have to enjoy myself.

JF How do you deal with watching your suicide scene while people are laughing?

TW So what? They laugh, who cares? I don’t care. The more they laugh, the better.

JF Why?

TW Why?

JF It’s a dramatic scene.

TW So what?

JF So, it’s a dramatic scene.

TW Citizen Kane is dramatic too, but some people laugh.

JF But most people are laughing.

TW You make me laugh right now, I swear.

JF Is there anything in our movie that you hope we capture?

TW There was a lot of arguing with the script supervisor. I think you should capture that. There was a lot of arguing with actors. We actually had a strike on the set. That’s another thing Greg did not put in the book. Your movie will probably straighten out some of this injustice toward The Room. So, I appreciate your effort to do a good job...but I don’t know what kind of job you’re doing, to be honest.

JF How do you respond to criticism?

TW I say, “You know what? You don’t have to watch me. That’s fine. I’m happy with my one million worldwide viewers. If I’m such a lousy actor, why don’t you do your own acting? Maybe you can show us what you can do.” That’s my answer. But I don’t care, to be honest with you. I say to my assistant, “Read only the positive comments.” Touchdown.

JF Touchdown. When did you first meet Greg?

TW I don’t actually talk about Greg, so I’ll just respond to your question generally. To Greg and others I always say, “You guys have the same opportunities as Brad Pitt.” Some people don’t see it that way. They think you call your agent and get a $20 million job. That’s not how it works here. You have to work very hard, and don’t criticize other people because you don’t know what will happen. But Greg is a cool guy; he’s a very dedicated person. I personally think that he could make $20 million for a part. He’s like James Dean, if you really think about it. But I’m very uncomfortable talking about him.

JF Why are you uncomfortable?

TW Because he’s my best friend and because I’m not him. It’s not my business. Move on.

JF Greg told me your first two choices were Johnny Depp and me. If you were to direct me in a movie now, what would it be?

TW I like the movie Sonny; it’s a real New Orleans story. That’s the part of the movie I relate to. I’ll tell you privately.

JF A gigolo in New Orleans? You relate to that?

TW Absolutely. Actually, I have a script called American Stud. You could be part of it. I know a couple of high rollers, you know, S-E-X, $2,000 a night, whatever. I will send you the script. I mean, you can produce and talk about setting the budget—$20 million?

JF My God. How do you get this money?

TW Did you see the Richard Gere movie, American Gigolo? Mine is similar to this, but much more intense.

JF Will you be in it?

TW Yeah, of course.

JF Give me a little taste.

TW Okay, I’ll give you one taste. In one of the scenes, somebody hires him to have sex with a guy, and the guy gives him only $200, and he tries to beat him, and he says, “You fucking faggot, give me my money now.” The guy opens his safe and he gives him almost $100,000. Each time he gives him another hundred, he says, “That’s all I’m worth?” He almost kills him. That camera’s rolling. I hate you guys.

JF It’s always rolling.


JAMES FRANCO You and Tommy seem like an unlikely combo. How did you end up friends?

GREG SESTERO My foreign upbringing was a big part. French was my first language. I took an [acting] class [in San Francisco] and I saw Tommy—there’s something about him that’s just really different. His accent wasn’t one I’d heard before. He made me laugh when he performed, and nobody else in class did that. He was awkward and kind of standoffish, but once the ice started to break, I really felt more at home with him than I did with guys my own age. Because the stuff he was saying—when you got through all the wacky stuff—rang true. He was freedom to me, at that point.

JF Was there anything different about him then?

GS There was still an innocence to him. Little by little, he got a shade darker. He was secretive. I never asked questions about his age or his money. He’d disappeared and I’d seen a little bit of a darker side, so I didn’t trust him emotionally as much by the time we were doing The Room.

JF Was there an especially awkward moment after he first read your book?

GS I was on the road with him in 2010—when the movie started taking off—and I started interviewing him and he was fine with that. I think he thought I’d never really do a book. Then he said he refused to buy it, so I could give him a copy, or else he would never read it. I thought maybe that’d be a good thing. But I gave him a copy. Little by little, he would come up with things that he didn’t agree with. He’d lash out and be like, “I never dyed my hair.”

JF Do you think there was anything to him casting you as Mark, Johnny’s best friend, who betrays him?

GS The Room is basically his life experience mixed with his view of life, of the ideal. I think he went through exactly what happened in it. I don’t know whether it was a girl, but somebody he trusted betrayed him. I think he always kind of saw me as somebody who may betray him. The original script is such a clear window into who he is because everybody talks the same way. Every character’s written in his voice and everybody’s best friends and they mention it all the time. It’s touching.

JF Do you think there was a Denny in his life?

GS The way he’d talk to Denny is like what he’d say to me back then. He gets Denny an apartment and the same thing happened with me. I think he probably didn’t have much of a childhood or a chance to be a teenager, so he’s obsessed with that period.

JA He’d made attempts to break into the biz before he moved in with you, right?

The Room billboard in L.A. (2004)

GS He showed me this student film called Robbery Doesn’t Pay that he made when he was going to LACC, so I think he’d been trying to bust in since the late ’80s. He used to tell me about splicing Super 8 together. This film was just a dude walking around looking at cars to “Blue Monday” by Orgy. And around ’94, ’95, he was taking that workshop with Vincent Chase.

JF Vincent Chase is actually a well-respected teacher.

GS They had a falling out. Tommy always stood up and fought back, and that was it for him. After he’d run out of those classes he kind of faded away from L.A. He’s a fighter, though. It’s not like he had parents helping him out, paying for stuff; he could have very easily been satisfied making money doing this retail stuff. What’s interesting is that he was taking all these classes, but they didn’t influence him. You don’t see any technique that he learned. His big thing with me was always, “You’re not loud enough. You need to yell.”

JS Is that an interpretation of James Dean?

GS Yeah, and Brando—they’d pick a moment to really floor it, and those are the scenes that are shown over and over as the classic moments.

JF The crew went through several permutations, but the

initial crew actually had a fair amount of experience, right?

GS They were working on Terminator 3 at the same time.

JF And they agreed to do it because Tommy paid well?

GS Yeah. At one point, Raphael [Smadja, one of The Room’s successive DPs] was telling us, “He’s a nice man, but he’s just flushing money down the toilet.” He’s incredibly stubborn. I think it comes from whatever way he worked himself out of living in Eastern Europe and coming to France, and then coming to America. He found a way to become independent and financially successful doing it his way. I don’t even think he could have fit in working at McDonald’s. Not because he’s not capable, but because he’s better suited working for himself than in a collaborative environment.

JF When you started on the movie, did you think anyone would ever see it?

GS I literally didn’t expect anything from it. I’d show my parents the dailies, and we were laughing, like, “Can you imagine if anybody ever saw this thing?” It was virtually impossible for it to go anywhere. When it took off, it felt like having this embarrassing cousin that only the family knows about, but you wonder what other people would think of him.

Karen Kramer, Wiseau, and Ed Lozzi at the premiere of The Room (2003)

JF Did people laugh at the premiere?

GS I left after about five minutes of it and hung out in the lobby. I checked back in maybe halfway through and people were laughing. He was pretty stunned at the end.

JF Seth Rogen felt like the most awkward moment of The Room is the underwear scene, because the guy is actually trying to be funny, and it’s so forced that it’s the least funny moment of the whole movie.

GS It’s not self-aware at all, so when those things come on, it feels like a bad audition for a sitcom pilot. Stanley Kramer—the director who produced Brando’s first movie, The Men—his widow and their daughter came in a limo to the premiere. Afterward, the daughter’s like, “Tommy, I think your talent is comedy. I think you’re like Christopher Walken…quirky.” A week later he did a new trailer for The Room and added on at the very end, “Experience this quirky new comedy!” He found this screening room on Wilshire that would show it on a Saturday during the day for free, and he got all these college students to show up. I showed up one day and it was packed. These kids were imitating scenes from the movie.

JF That was before Sunset 5 started showing it?

GS Right. He had to pay for [Sunset 5] to show it, once a month at midnight. The billboard was up for five years. Entertainment Weekly did an article that came out in December 2008. In January 2009, The Room sold out on all five screens.

JF But he knew that to get people in there he had to push the comedy angle, right?

GS He knew that he had a circus animal quality. He knew how to ham it up.

JF Why do you think he does the Q&As? He doesn’t ever answer any questions.

GS For him, one Saturday out of every month he would get to go to this theater and have a thousand people waiting out there, and he’d play football with them and take pictures.

JF He’s made some other things, but they’re definitely not the same.

GS In The Room, you’re seeing the guy at his most authentic self, and he’s on a mission to make his mark. You’ve got a guy who has gone through the wringer. He swung so hard for the fences, and now that his film has been embraced...I don’t know if he could go there again because he’s kind of lost touch with that guy. It’s more about being that character. Everything’s recycled. Instead of creating new movies, he’s creating merchandise. I told him, “You have all the resources to do whatever you want. You’re in a totally ideal position.” But he always gives an excuse: “It’s not as easy as you think.”

Credits:

Images courtesy Greg Sestero

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