Interview The Disaster Artist

What a Story: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero and Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber on 'The Disaster Artist'

November 30, 2017Justin Waldman

Oh hai, Reel Roundup readers! If you're unaware of what an unquestionable genius Tommy Wiseau is, The Disaster Artist will certainly clear that up for you. In 2003, The Room debuted and shortly after became a cult sensation that seemingly took Hollywood by storm. Greg Sestero, who co-stars in The Room, wrote a book about his relationship with Tommy and his experience on creating The Room and it became a New York Times bestseller.

The Disaster Artist, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is the movie based on Sestero's book that The Room fans have wanted for years. Carefully illustrating the friendship between Greg and Tommy while Tommy's vision comes to life, it is one of the best experiences you will have in a theater this year.

I was lucky enough to take part in a roundtable interview with Scott, Michael, Greg and the master himself, Tommy, the day after The Disaster Artist played to a full house at its Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness premiere this past September, where we discussed both The Room and The Disaster Artist. The following are the highlights from that conversation.

Obviously, the root of the story is a film about loving what you do. There is that scene where Dave [Franco]'s character, Greg, is talking about loving being on set. I'm curious how much of that kind of moment [there] was throughout the entire film. Were you just enjoying yourself in the moment of making this film?

Neustadter: We were surrounded by actors. A lot of them were friends in real life. And hearing their stories — everybody brought their own stuff to the table, what they loved about The Room, what they loved about their own careers, great movies and stories they had — we fed off that a little bit. And I think the camaraderie you see in The Disaster Artist is very authentic and real. Everybody did get along and love each other; we’re just so happy to work with that group of people on this story that everybody very passionately wanted to tell. And it was a really fun experience.

Weber: This wasn’t one of those movies where anyone's on-set punching a clock. They're there because they love The Room or they love the story of this friendship. They identify with the story of two people going [with] their dreams when the world says no. That's kind of why everyone is there.

Wiseau: Yeah, very powerful. I supposed to answer your question? What is your question again?

Especially when you’re making The Room, because there's this moment where everyone's just enjoying being on the set. How much was that true to life that we saw in The Disaster Artist?

Wiseau: You know what? 99% approve by Tommy and 1% not. 1% not because not because throwing the football. Where you guys blogging about you should correct that because they say lighting. That incorrect statement and we have discussion with main character.

Neustadter: Franco thought your 1% was that you didn't agree with was the lighting. And you said it was about the football.

Wiseau: No. No "because I said." I know what I said. I said that you guys may have a little problem with lighting but I did not refer to my 1%. I referred to 1% football. And I talked to Greg after the fact but you guys already blogging about it. Now I try to correct this — maybe you guys correct that in blogging or whatever you're doing. Hey, you know that's not correct.

Neustadter: You throw the football better than Franco does.

Sestero: Tommy throws a perfect spiral. That's what you need to report.

Wiseau: I have idea: you will compare how I throw the football with James Franco. Side by side. I rest my case.

Sestero: That'll be the next movie.

I know, Tommy, you said you didn't totally approve the book in the past. I'm just curious — has it been awkward in your friendship to go from shooting the film, then writing the book, and did you guys have a falling out or a fight in there? Or did it come back to being friends again now?

Sestero: I mean, Tommy was the first person I told I was writing a book. I talked to him a lot about his fascinating stories that he had. You know, just living in New Orleans, coming to San Francisco, building himself up as a businessman. My goal with the book was always to tell something inspiring and heartfelt, because there was overall my friendship with Tommy while it's obvious he would say it's a roller coaster ride.

But it's been an amazing experience and I wanted to share that the best way and I didn't want to shrink way from times that were tough because there's nothing interesting about reading a story that's just kind of fabricating just good times. So, I knew there [were] some things that were probably going to be kind of uncomfortable. But ultimately, I think Tommy knows I did it for the right reasons. And here we are today with an incredible film that was made out of it.

What about the parts you contradict? Things he'd said about himself, like his background.

Sestero: Well, actually the background stuff is a lot of stuff he told me. I let him, for the most part, tell his story. And really the biggest thing with the book — one of [the] things I love about Tommy and I love about The Room — is the mystery behind it. And people who love The Room have their own opinion about it and their own choices, and I don't want take that away from anybody. I wanted to keep the mystery intact because I think that's what makes it fascinating, so I just allowed Tommy to kind of tell his story and let people have their own questions.

Wiseau: To respond — do I like the book? Yeah. But do I absolute approve of the book 100%? No. So, what else do you want to know?

So, were you mad at Greg?

Wiseau: No. The way you said the question, I have to correct you. I think very simple look at the dictionary and see what mean friendship. So, friendship — the definition of friendship — my definition is when you have two friends they can say whatever they want and maybe hurt that other person but still become their friend.

So, sometimes, as you know, media misleading the audience because that's not what the life is about. So, sometimes you forgive your friends for what he or she did. Or vice-versa, you know, you make mistake. But he created his book. What you want me to say? People like his book, that's what I can tell.

Neustadter: But honestly, at the heart of your question, what we were attracted to with this project was the story of a friendship. We weren't trying to decode The Room. The goal wasn't to demystify things. We couldn't anyways even if we wanted to, so it's really just the story of a friendship. Everyone can relate to a story about friendship.

Wiseau: I'm sorry to interrupt but sometimes, you know, people misleading about friendship. Because they don't understand you may very deep friendship with another person. And sometimes they say, "Oh, that’s not true." Or "He wrote this way." It's the same I say very publicly about Greg. I approve of his book 40%, whatever, but this is my choice to say that. But that doesn't mean I don’t respect him.

And you guys come out with these ideas — "Ahhhhh Ahhhhh" — whatever I say about him is not good. But then I lost the friendship but always they put the quirky stuff, which is pretty unfair for public. That's not what I explained to you. It's nothing to do with you. You know what I'm saying. So hopefully you guys will straighten out this. We've been friends for many years. When we met, Greg?

Sestero: 1998. It’s going to be 20 years.

Wiseau: We have greatest respect. I know his mother. He knows my nephew. And...

Sestero: Maybe it's time to reveal we're actually brothers.

Wiseau: We say that one time too. You supposed to be my cousin. I speak French if you want to know that. But that's certainly connected. You know it's unique — we friends. This is my take on that — I don't know if this is your take — that we wanted prove to the world we actually are friends. But I don't know if you guys know. You want to talk about your new movie, BEST FRIENDS?

Sestero: One quick [point] I want to make about friendship, which is interesting — Tommy wanted me to do The Room and at the time I didn't want to act in it. And he literally forced me to do it. I didn't want to do The Room. Just where I was at, I didn't see it. He clearly had a vision that I needed to be in.

He pushed me do it and it changed everything. And I feel like it's kind of similar now with the book, where it's a little bit uncomfortable in the sense where I saw the story and it needed to be told, where[as] Tommy didn't really approve [of] maybe the way I told it. But it ended up becoming something people responded to in both ways.

Wiseau: You know, friendship is very touching subject. I don't know how you guys see it but it's very difficult to sometimes define. How two people can get together and say, "Ok, work on a project." And we create something.

Tommy and Greg, I wonder what you think of the Francos' portrayals of each of you.

Sestero: I loved it. I remember when it first was announced. People always tend to get skeptical how can brother portrays these guys that are very different. I thought they did it beautifully. I thought I didn't see James and Dave at all. Their dynamic worked incredibly well. And James as Tommy is honestly one of the best performances I've seen this decade. I mean he completely went for it. And everybody that's seen the new trailer that’s come out, they're just like, "Oh my God. James as Tommy was meant to be." And people that didn’t see it just love it. I thought they did a really great job.

Wiseau: Same here. I think James did a good job, except is 99% I already told you. I like what he did, like several in certain situations. In the school, for example... Did you see The Disaster Artist? Ok, perfect. You have the scene in the school with Jean Shelton [Melanie Griffith]; so we have really teacher her background — hopefully someone write about her because she one of the best teacher in San Francisco; for acting she teach Stanislavski.

So, long story short, you know she tell you, she was brutal. She was brutal — she would tell you and people would cry. I have friends, classmates, they go home crying because she was very sincere brutal. So, my job — I remember like today — I say no I will show you what I can do, you know. The scene is, you know, when I perform.

You know he left when I was performing, so I was upset because I was counting on him like he'll be there at the time when I was performing the scene. So, I was so upset that I remember today, so James did very good job. I give him credit for that. I think it's very difficult as a director to actually go into someone else shoes because you actually have to study the person and emotion and all the stuff is there. Except the accent is a little too much, so I close my eyes.

TIFF Midnight Madness, in particular, is known for having these amazing audiences who interact with everything and scream and clap. What was it like for you guys? You got [a] bigger cheer and people clapping for you guys than the Francos. What was that like for you?

Sestero: It doesn't really get more exciting than that. To have this story we all worked so hard to bring to the screen and have people respond to it with such excitement. I mean that's kind of what you dream about.

Wiseau: But we have explained it, in a way. We have a Q&A with an audience. We always do different stuff. We wanted people to just have fun, not just to see the movie but actually to interact if they can.

Weber: My favorite movie experiences are shared movie experiences. A room like that is so electric. I feel that the crowd is a part of it. Everyone stood up, Tommy, you came out and then you kind of wouldn't let them sit down. The crowd stood for the whole Q&A. You sort of took over like a game show host, sort of working the room. And then you brought the cast out one by one. But [you] asked [the] cast what each of them thought of the movie.

Neustadter: When you go see a band and the band comes out and everybody stands, and as long as the music is what everybody wants to hear no one sits. Until there's a slow song. And that's what happened last night. Everybody came out, and it was as if they were rock stars.

Greg, when you were writing The Disaster Artist, did you ever expect it to become as big as it did?

Sestero: I had big aspirations for it. My goal from day one was that it would become a film.

Wiseau: He told me many times. I am witness.

Sestero: I worked on it every day for almost three years, really trying to make it much more than just about the making of this so-called bad movie. Literally, if [you] wrote out your dream sequence, you knew that it would be adapted by Scott and Mike and made into this, that's what you'd dream would happen. So, the fact it did happen the way it has, it still is hard to process.

Weber: You said something cool earlier today. You were talking to us about how you were thinking about Ed Wood and Sunset Boulevard when you were writing the book. We didn't know that. The first time we met with Franco and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, we didn't know those guys at all and we sat down with them. We just started riffing about certain touchstones that the book reminded us [of] and the movies we wanted to harken to. The first two we mentioned were Ed Wood and Sunset Boulevard. We had no idea that was what you were talking about, which is cool.

Neustadter: Yeah, those are Hollywood stories that really aren't about Hollywood. They're about misunderstood people. You have Norma Desmond, who's a faded star, and [the] screenwriters trying to make it. And Ed Wood, a guy who's very complex [and] likes to dress up in women's clothes.

Wiseau: I'm not Ed Wood. Okay? Stress that.

Sestero: So yeah, it's characters in this environment. And a lot of times with the publisher, for example, they wanted something about The Room in the title and I was like, "No. No, this isn't about that. This needs to be neutral." I didn't want anything about The Room. I wanted it to be its own story on the cover. So obviously, you dream of it, but the fact people have responded to it is very, very cool. I mean, again, I've been very lucky to have great collaborators. Like I said, having Scott and Mike do it; that was why the film was so great. They were able to pull stuff from the book and turn it into a great film.

Weber: It's not why it was great, but thank you for saying that.

The Disaster Artist opens in Toronto December 1st and expands December 8th.

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