'The Disaster Artist' Actor Paul Scheer On Being Directed By An In-Character James Franco [Interview]

We've written at length about The Disaster Artist, James Franco's terrific Hollywood tale that recounts the antics of the enigmatic writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau and his 2003 movie The Room, which is a candidate for one of the best worst movies ever made.

A couple of weeks ago, I trekked over to Beverly Hills to attend the movie's press junket and spoke with actor/comedian/writer Paul Scheer, who plays Raphael Smadja, one of four directors of photography who worked on Wiseau's cult classic. We covered many topics, including how Scheer was able to watch actual making-of footage shot on the set of The Room and what it was like to be directed by James Franco in character as Tommy Wiseau. Scheer also weighs in on the sexual harassment allegations that have been tearing through Hollywood over the past few months. It's a great chat that reveals some insight into the making of one of 2017's best movies.

The Disaster Artist Paul Scheer interview

You have portrayed real people before.


But The Disaster Artist is different than something like Arscheerio Paul, for example.


Did you ever meet the real Raphael and did you feel any sense of responsibility to him when you were playing him?

Raphael is I think one of four DPs that were used throughout The Room, and I am an amalgam of all of them. But what I was able to do, which was kind of invaluable, was, Tommy [Wiseau] did have a documentarian on set [of The Room] recording stuff. And James had all that footage. So I was on this Dropbox link watching like eight hours of footage, and every now and then I'd catch Raphael. There was this moment I saw there that was this great moment of Tommy giving Raphael some instructions, and he is not making eye contact with him, and he's going (short, disaffected answers) 'Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh.' And you got to see Sandy Schklair, Seth Rogen's character, so just seeing what they were like in that moment...

Everyone knows that revisionist history is easy. 'When I was there, I knew it was this...' But to have that documentary footage, one of the most amazing things was that Greg [Sestero] had all of that stuff. It was a good peek into what was going on in the moment. That Chris R. character, there's footage of him getting pumped up in the same way Efron's getting pumped up [in The Disaster Artist]. He's hitting the side of a car. And when you're watching it, whenever you think, 'Oh, someone's doing something that's pushing [reality],' it is exactly what was going on.

It must be pretty wild for you to be in a movie about the making of a movie that you've covered on How Did This Get Made.

It was amazing. I initially thought that was the reason [co-hosts] Jason [Mantzoukas], June [Diane Raphael], and I are all in this. I thought, 'Oh, James heard we did a podcast.' Because the writers of the film listened to our podcast as research as well as adapting The Disaster Artist. But James just told me today, 'I didn't realize you ever did it!' James has been listening to our podcast, but [only] lately.

Was your fascination with The Room the key factor that brought you to this movie?

I have to say, I've been really lucky with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They have put me in some of my favorite things, whether it's Future Man or this. I feel like I've done a lot of Seth and Evan things, I'm blanking on all of them, but I know I've done a bunch with them. They're just really cool guys, and I think in the way that Preston Sturges had a troupe of people, they just know they're going to deliver. So they introduced me to James, and then I did note sessions with James for the movie, and he cast me.

So it seems like there are two audience surrogates in this movie: Greg, who's empathetic to Tommy's behavior, and Raphael, who is definitely not. Pretty much every scene you're in, I feel like you're saying what the audience is thinking. Was that the original intent for your character, or did that get shaped in the edit?

I think it was a little bit of both, because I have the two moments in the film that are really yelling at Tommy – besides when he and Greg have their blow-up at the very end – and I always liked that, because it was sort of like, we needed to call it out. Probably on set, Seth and I did more Waldorf and Statler-ing of things, and I think the way the movie kind of cut was it let him do a lot more of that, and then I could come in and still have the same energy. But I think they did a great job with it. I remember reading it in the script and going, you need that voice because it's the 'Why are we here? What are we doing?' [reaction]. But that's all in the good writing of it.

Can you talk about shooting that scene on that day? What was that experience like?

James created an environment that was really conducive to making something that was interesting and alive. I think he's the first ever in-character director, because he's in character as an actor, but he would allow that section of the movie – the only section I was involved in, besides the end – to be shot a little like a documentary. So we would do these very long takes. A lot of moving parts. You were always moving around it almost felt like The Office or something. You never knew when the camera was going to grab you, so you were always in. That was an intense scene, and it was really easy to ratchet it up because you're just in the moment, and that's like an eight-minute long take. Now, obviously, it's all cut together. But in the moment, you could really build into it. I think that's something you lose sometimes in movies when you pop in for a two person shot. I think that's why the movie feels seamless and natural.

How was it being directed by James in character?

I think the way it's misconstrued is, it was like Tommy was directing us. But it's more like James with Tommy's voice. So it was confusing because he was also Tommy, and he'd be like (Tommy impression) 'Yeah, do that again.' And we'd be like, 'Is that Tommy, or is that James?' So he was never breaking voice. We did these very long takes that were sometimes going on – and we knew we weren't going to use it, but again, it just helped give the atmosphere of it. You just never knew. 'Is he saying cut?' Sometimes he'd have to be like, 'This is James. Cut. Cut. James says cut.' He almost had to identify who he was. But it wasn't like you'd talk to him and he was like, 'I don't know, I'm Tommy. I'm not James.'

I have to ask you about Best F(r)iends, because I saw the movie at Beyond Fest

You did!?

People went nuts. They lost it.

Well, you know more than me.

(laughs) I can't believe that's true.

So I've been a friend of Greg's since he came on the podcast. He's such a sweet, nice guy, and I reconnected with him for the book coming out, and I reconnected with him again when the movie came out. And he said, 'We're doing this movie. Seth is going to do it, and James is going to do it. Would you want to do a part?' And I was like, 'Absolutely. I'm in.' And it wound up that Seth and James did not do a part because of scheduling issues or whatever it was. So I am the only person in it, and for those four hours in that one day in Pasadena, we shot this scene. There was a part of me, and I'll be honest, I was saying, 'Am I being punked?' (laughs) There were documentarians, there were things going on, and I don't have any control over what was edited. I was very hesitant to make a mistake and be put in a pantheon that I didn't necessarily want to be in. But it's interesting, because Tommy has two very different personas: one is this very naive, sweet guy, and then one where it's like, 'Of course there's a movie directed about me. Yes.' But on set he was really lovely. We can go off record, but what did you think of the movie? Because it looks good, right?

It's crazy. Have you seen the final cut?

I haven't seen anything.

So the movie ends, and they're like, 'There's going to be a part two.' Did you hear about this?

Yes, but it's the same movie. I'm in part two.

You show up for like four minutes in part one.

In a morgue, right?

In a morgue. And somebody in a Q&A after was like, 'Are we going to see more of Paul Scheer's character?' And they're like, 'Oh yeah, he'll be in part two.'

By the way, all you're going to see of me is another very small scene. Not to spoil it. I don't branch out.

It's reminiscent of The Room, but it's its own totally different thing. It's very odd.

I felt like they were doing something different. I mean, God knows. We'll see. I mean, you did. You saw it.

James Franco The Disaster Artist

It's wild. So, you're working on Galaxy Quest for Amazon, which we're really excited about. When we spoke with you in August, you weren't quite ready to reveal your take on it yet. Can you tell us anything more about it now?

Right now, I just handed in my first script to Amazon, so I'm in that zone. I'm excited about it. It's a bigger idea that's kind of morphed and changed a little bit. Not much. The thing I keep on saying about it, without giving too much away – because it's going to be so long before people get to see it, I don't want people to get too burnt out on me telling you what it's about before it gets to that point – but for me, it was really important to do service to a Galaxy Quest story that gives you everything that you want and indoctrinates people who have never seen Galaxy Quest into what the fun of that world is. That Tropic Thunder, Galaxy Quest world. And also to continue the story of our original characters and have consequences from the first film. So it is mixing two casts. It's separate kind of adventures that kind of merge, and I'm looking at this first season not as episodic, but as a serialized story. So, the only way I've been looking at it is, using everything from the first movie and making the reasons for everything not just – I want to avoid anything that could be viewed as a reboot for reboot's sake. There are real reasons behind these choices – maybe too much so.

And then the other jumping off point was, I love that in 1999, as a fan of Star Trek and going to these conventions since I was a kid: sci-fi, fantasy, those worlds have changed so drastically. I really wanted to capture the difference between the original cast of Star Trek and the J.J. Abrams cast of Star Trek. I think that, to me, is my entry point. Sci-fi heroes are rock stars now. If you look at Thor, in 1999 if that movie came out, it would not be received the way it is. People would not want to see a cosmic, galactic thing on that level. But now we're accepting it. I think just by virtue of that switch in our environment, it'll make the story feel a little bit more fresh.

You just mentioned something I never really thought of until this moment, which is you have been in a lot of things in which there are stories within stories. Is that something you're drawn to as a writer and performer, or is that just coincidence?

Yeah, it probably is a little bit of both. Sometimes you don't know why you're cast in something. But yeah, I don't know. I think there's something really fun – in comedy, at least – to show two sides of an equation. Maybe in a drama you can show what's going on on the outward and what's going on on the inward, and in comedy, we're basically showing you, 'Here's outward, and here's inward.' You have almost two different stages to play on it.

I have one more question, and you can tell me if you don't want to answer it. It's kind of an unpleasant question. But with all of these stories of sexual misconduct coming out recently, I'm trying to take the temperature of Hollywood writers right now, trying to get a sense of what you guys are thinking. Are you worried at all about the work that you're doing – Galaxy Quest, for example – are you worried all of the work you're doing could possibly go away in the blink of an eye just for being associated with the wrong person? I'm obviously not saying that any TV show is more important than any victims or anything like that –

Here's what I'll say, and tell me if I'm answering it to the way you're asking this question. I think it's two-fold. First of all, I think there's a giant problem in the writing in Hollywood as it stands right now. There was a statistic released a couple of weeks ago about the breakdown of writers rooms and how many women are on staff, how many people of color are on staff, how many people with different sexual preferences are on staff. That, to me, is something that I've been very aware of and trying to reorganize my brain to what I owe to the next project that I do. I feel like I've done it to a certain extent, but not as much as I want to be focused on it. I want to be very conscious of creating a writers room that is diverse, that is not just full of white dudes. So just to address writing in Hollywood, I think that's the biggest issue, and to create an environment that is also safe where people can feel that they're there for their talent and not feel that there's any chance of them being affected or assaulted in any way. So that's one part of the equation.

As far as sexual assault and all of that stuff going on, it's an interesting time that we're living in. Again, as a white male, it's always about trying to look in, see how I'm a part of this system, how can I subvert this patriarchy, and do better. That's a constant battle. If anything is a positive from this, it is the awareness of that. And I hope that is what a lot of people are taking in. We should be hyper aware of that.

As far as something being taken away, it's tricky because, yeah, if you told me that it came out tomorrow that so-and-so was involved in this, and that affected me directly, it would be a real bummer. But I also believe in myself as a writer and the people behind me that we could make changes that would effectively take that person out, and we could continue forward. Or you just take a mulligan. At the end of the day, you just don't want to be that person that's facilitating more and making apologies for it. It's a scary time, but it's also a wonderful time because right now you're seeing such support for people and people listening, and I think if projects get killed because of that, then maybe it's worth it. As a person who's not had a project lost. But I'll also say that seeing everything so far that's going on, no one has lost anything yet. People have been replaced for all the right reasons and stuff like that. But it's a complicated and obviously a multi-tiered thing.

I appreciate you answering that. That's a good answer. And I think I'm out of time.

I have two things I want to say to your podcast. [Paul is an avid listener of /Film Daily.]


Number one: the spoiler culture argument that was going on for such a long time. I am so confused at what you guys – I feel like there needs to be a better definition of what spoiler culture is. Because I agree, I don't want someone to tell me that – and bleep this out if this is a spoiler – that Matt Damon is in Thor. That's a spoiler. That is a fun treat for me to see in the movie. But me knowing that the Hulk is in Thor, that's not a spoiler for me. I think there are variations of spoiler culture, and there's two sides. I don't want to know who Rey's parents are, but I don't mind seeing a porg. You know what I'm saying?

(laughs) Yeah, there are definitely levels.

So whenever I hear 'spoiler,' like a spoiler is something that affects – again, you guys talked about this on the podcast. Knowing that Bruce Willis is dead at the end of The Sixth Sense, that's a spoiler. That is a spoiler! That is a spoiler! It just is! You can't get around that.

The other thing I wanted to bring up is, I have a lot of thoughts on who could run this new Star Wars show, too, but I think Dave Filoni would be amazing because of Rebels. But I feel like everybody you guys brought up were all working. To me, this is what I was going to say – make room for the next Sam Esmail. Make room for – all these people that you referenced, they all popped out of nowhere. It wasn't like, 'Oh, Sam Esmail is doing Mr. Robot?!' And I think that, hopefully, will be the person that takes Star Wars to the next level.

Whoever's directing this year's Sundance comedy or something.

Exactly! Because it's like, yeah, those are the people that we're most excited about. That people that ultimately come in from nowhere. Like, 'Oh, who is that?'


The Disaster Artist is in theaters now.