James Franco The Disaster Artist

I am not joking when I say that James Franco should receive serious awards consideration for his performance in The Disaster Artist, a film in which Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, the writer/director/star of 2003’s The Room, widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made. Having seen Wiseau speak in real life following a screening of his most recent movie at Beyond Fest earlier this year, it’s astonishing how perfectly Franco slips into that persona. Not only is the accent spot-on, but the physicality and the way he carries himself is a direct match. It’s a wonderful performance.

But here’s the best part. Franco, a prolific filmmaker who’s directed 30 movies or episodes of TV to date, also directed The Disaster Artist – and he directed the whole movie in character as Tommy Wiseau. You can read all about that in Franco’s own words and learn more about the making of the movie below.

I had a chance to see a screening of The Disaster Artist earlier this week, and afterward, James Franco and his brother Dave Franco (who plays The Room star Greg Sestero in The Disaster Artist) participated in a Q&A where they talked about James’ odd approach to directing this project:

James: When else am I ever going to direct a movie and play the movie where the lead is directing a movie and playing the lead? Never! I’m probably never going to do that again. I’ll just tell you, sometimes it works to do the Daniel Day-Lewis.

I think it was a weird experience for most people the first time they came to set. I’d been going through pre-production, testing out the prosthetics, and that was a two or two-and-a-half hour thing every morning, and then I was the director, so I was there before everyone. So I just showed up and I remember a pre-shoot day, we shot this commercial that’s not in the movie, but Tommy did a commercial for his Levis jeans company and we did it shot for shot. He quoted Hamlet in it: ‘To be or not to be? Come to Street Fashions!’ [laughs] He paid for that commercial to get his SAG card. That’s a way to do it. And then Seth [Rogen] showed up that day, and he hadn’t seen me or been around pre-production for a while, and he couldn’t handle it. The whole day, he could not handle it. That was how everybody was when they showed up. Like, ‘What?!’

Dave: After a while, we would sort of get used to it, but there were so many cameos in the movie where every day a new person would show up, and we’d kind of have to prep them. We’d be like, ‘So, you’re not going to be around James today…’

James: Seth’s grandma hated it. Lauren, Seth’s wife, hated it. She’s the sweetest person in the world, but I was dead to her.

Dave: At this point, there’s not much he can do that surprises me anymore. But I remember Seth coming up to me and being like, ‘This is weird for me. That’s your fucking brother. How are you keeping it together during any of these takes?’

James: I had that prosthetic on. It’d probably be weirder if I came up to you with all of that on and was like, [adopts purposefully normal voice] ‘So, Dave, I was thinking about for this scene…’ It’s just easier to just talk like [Tommy].

One of the other great things we learned in the Q&A was who the real Tommy Wiseau wanted to play him in this movie, and why he ultimately was okay with James Franco portraying him:

James: We had to get his life rights. So I did talk to him and Greg on the phone. He wanted Johnny Depp. I laughed, and he was like, ‘Why are you laughing?’ And I didn’t want to offer myself or my brother because we didn’t have a contract, but Greg brought it up, and then Tommy was like, ‘Yeah, maybe James. I see some of your stuff. You do some good things, some bad things.’ And then what I learned later is, he thinks he’s James Dean. He famously quotes Rebel Without a Cause in The Room: ‘You’re tearing me apart, Lisa‘ is directly from Rebel Without a Cause…I think he actually [thinks he’s James Dean]. And I had played James Dean [in a 2001 movie], so the two people he wanted were Johnny Depp or me, I guess.

Tommy Wiseau disaster artist review

I’ll leave you with one last funny story from James Franco, but be warned: this one includes the tiniest spoiler for the movie, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s revealed in the marketing before the film debuts.

Okay, everyone still with me? Here’s the spoiler: as the film comes to an end, we see a side-by-side recreation of scenes that The Disaster Artist team shot next to the actual footage from The Room, and it’s incredibly impressive how detailed they were able to get with those recreations. After the credits are complete, the film ends with a Tommy Wiseau cameo during a quick post-credits scene in the film.

Franco told the story of how that cameo came to be, and it epitomizes the unpredictability and strangeness of Wiseau’s behavior:

James: We didn’t really have him around, but his one point in the contract was that he have a cameo, and it had to be opposite me. We were just thinking, we can’t cast him in any role that’s crucial to the plot, because he just can’t play anything other than Tommy! You can see him in that [post-credits] scene, he’s trying to play a character and he’s got a fake mustache and a pony tail. [Sarcastically] Is that Tommy? Who knows? [laughs]

So we wrote this birthday party scene that’s not really in the movie anymore, but my [version of] Tommy went to this birthday and saw that Greg had all these friends there, so I go and pout in the corner. So we wrote, ‘This guy comes over and talks to him at the food table.’ Tommy starts writing me before his big scene, and he’s like, ‘I want my character to be named Henry.’ He’s obviously in LensCrafters because all the glasses are behind him, and he’s like, ‘Do you like these glasses for Henry?’ ‘Those are cool, dude.’ Then he had drawn on a mustache with big pen, and he wrote, ‘If you like mustache, I draw it on better when we shoot.’ [laughs] I’m like, ‘What movie do you think we’re making, dude? We’ll give you a fake mustache.’

So he came on and shot the scene. It was insane. It doesn’t play as big as I remember it, but that night, he was like, ‘So we go?’ And I was like, ‘Where?’ And he was like, ‘Back to my place.’ He was full-on hitting on me and everybody at the monitor, I could see them out of the corner of my eye [freaking out]. Not only was he hitting on me, he’s hitting on himself! [laughs] We cut [the scene] out. It was in the first assembly.

Later, we shot the [recreations of] scenes for The Room to play during our premiere scene. We hadn’t intended to do the side-by-side, but we were like, ‘We did those so well, we’ve gotta show them.’ But we had to negotiate for [the real] The Room footage. So we had to go back to Tommy, and during those renegotiations, he asked somebody, ‘So how’s my scene?’ And they’re like, ‘Dude, it’s not in there.’ So he’s like, ‘Well, you want my footage, you have to put my scene in.’ We were stumped for a second, and then we’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll just do the Marvel tag. It’ll be perfect for the Room fanatics, you’ll get to see a little bit of Tommy at the end of the credits.’

It’s a creative workaround for a film that in many ways is a tribute to creativity, so that couldn’t be more fitting.

If you haven’t yet, check out Jacob Hall’s review of the film from this year’s SXSW Film Festival. The Disaster Artist opens in limited theaters on December 1, 2017 and expands nationwide on December 8, 2017.

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