Published Nov 13, 2017A story about the making of Tommy Wiseau's wonderfully bad movie The Room, James Franco's latest film The Disaster Artist stands as his best onscreen work yet. As director, Franco manages to tell a riveting tale that asks big questions about art, but more importantly, he nails his Tommy Wiseau impression, utilizing the mysterious actor's eccentricities while also humanizing him in the process.
Speaking with Exclaim!, Franco explains that it was tough to get past Wiseau's famously defensive public persona. After all, no one really knows his age, his ethnicity or how he made enough money to finance an expensive film like The Room. "If you've ever talked to Tommy, or heard his Q&As, you know that his defences are impenetrable," Franco says. "He's been asked every silly question or probing question, and he just knows how to duck and dodge."
Fortunately, Franco had an in, via Greg Sestero, Wiseau's former roommate and star of The Room. Sestero co-wrote The Disaster Artist as a memoir, so he was crucial in bringing Wiseau's massive personality to the film. "Greg knew him from the beginning," Franco says. "Greg knew him from before The Room. Greg knew him way back in San Francisco. Greg knew him at his lowest moments. So I really used Greg and his stories as sort of a guiding light."
Sestero also offered something that Franco describes as "one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received as an actor" — a collection of private tapes that Wiseau recorded of himself.
"There are two weird things here — weirdness on Greg's part and weirdness on Tommy's part," Franco says. "Tommy, at least in the past, recorded everything. Every phone conversation. Just like in The Room. He really did that. He would also record himself, just talking to himself. He'd go around with a recorder, driving around in his car, and talk to himself. About his feelings and his thoughts and everything. So that's weird on Tommy's part.
"The weirdness on Greg's part is he stole some of those tapes, like years ago," Franco continues. "But it was great for me, because Greg gave me those recordings. So I have those recordings of Tommy in his most private moments. He never thought anybody would ever listen to this but himself, right. He's pouring his heart out, and it's weird, it's moving, it's sad. And I feel like there I got a sort of unfiltered glimpse into Tommy's soul."
As Franco explains, the tapes provided unprecedented access into Wiseau's previously guarded psyche. "I didn't have that for James Dean! James Dean just talking to himself? Actually I did have that for [127 Hours subject] Aron Rawlson because Rawlson did show me the actual videos of him when he was trapped there. So this was sort of the equivalent of that, like Tommy at his most vulnerable."
Whether or not Wiseau would have approved of Franco accessing the tapes, it resulted in the best possible performance from Franco — and plenty of awards-season buzz. "With any role like this, you've got to work on the outer life and the inner life," Franco says. "I got the outer life just from watching Tommy's performances and all that, and then I got a lot of the inner life from his tapes with Greg."
The Disaster Artist opens in Toronto on December 1 and across Canada on December 8. Check out the trailer below, and read Exclaim!'s cover story on the making of The Disaster Artist here.