- “The Disaster Artist” was the first time Dave Franco and his brother James had a substantial amount of screen time together in a movie.
- Franco shared how “in character” as Tommy Wiseau his brother was while directing the movie.
- He also revealed how losing 20 pounds to play a role in his upcoming Netflix movie, “6 Balloons,” led to some physical and emotional problems.
For most of his career Dave Franco has carefully navigated a path that stayed out of the very large wake left by his brother James. The younger Franco slowly found his niche through building credits doing zany comedies like “21 Jump Street” and “Neighbours.” But when his brother came to him about the two making a movie together about the cult classic “The Room,” it was an offer too good to pass up.
“The Disaster Artist” (opening in limited release on Friday and wider the following week) is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the 2003 low budget movie, “The Room,” which is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. James directs and also stars as Tommy Wiseau, the bizarre writer-director of “The Room,” while Dave plays Tommy’s best friend and fellow aspiring actor, Greg Sestero, who follows Wiseau on the journey to make “The Room.” Though hilarious at times, the movie’s backbone is the bond the two friends have and it’s all pulled off perfectly by the brothers’ performances.
Dave sat down with Business Insider to talk about making this unique buddy comedy with his brother. He also clarified how far James took being “in character” as Wiseau while directing “The Disaster Artist,” and explained what drove him to lose 20 pounds for an upcoming Netflix movie.
Jason Guerrasio: What was it about “The Disaster Artist” that not only made you want to work with your brother but also start a production company with him, Ramona Films?
Dave Franco: When I first started acting I did make a conscious choice to distance myself from him work-wise just because I wanted to paint my own path, not be referred to as James Franco’s little brother for the rest of my life. But after a while it just got to the point where I was like “he’s my brother and I love him and I respect him,” and with “The Disaster Artist” the dynamic between these characters just felt right. I understood these guys. I’m an actor, I understand the struggle of an actor starting out. And I can relate to the idea of how important it is to have an ally and someone who believes in you and encourages you.
In terms of the production company, my brother and I are very drawn toward projects that do feel slightly outside the box. And at the same time are accessible enough that they could draw a slightly wider audience.
Guerrasio: Starting the production company, did the idea come during production?
Franco: It was during post production when he started to invite me to the edit room. I quickly realised we share a brain and we had this shorthand where we get each other. We really modelled the production around what Seth Rogen has been doing forever. What Judd Apatow does. They create these very collaborative environments where everyone has a say and no one is more powerful that anyone else and the best idea always wins.
Guerrasio: Did you guys go as far as Seth and Judd go in videotaping the audience’s reaction at early screenings to see if a joke didn’t land right or something could be tweaked in the edit?
Franco: I don’t think they videotaped. And the reason for that is that works best for a full-on comedy. This is very funny at points but in regards to tone it’s most similar to something like “Boogie Nights.” A bunch of crazy characters in strange circumstances but everyone is playing it as straight as possible and the humour comes from that. During our test screenings we were most concerned if the friendship between Tommy and Greg was playing. That’s the core of our story. Because without the friendship it had the potential of just being an extended “SNL” skit.
Guerrasio: Were you into “The Room” before all of this?
Franco: My brother and I were both pretty late to the game. He actually read Greg Sestero’s book before he even saw “The Room,” and he’s probably the only person on the planet who did it in that order. But then he reached out to me and said, “If you haven’t seen ‘The Room’ watch it immediately, I think we need to make a movie about it.” So at the time I was working in Boston so I watched “The Room” in a hotel room by myself, which is not the right way to watch that movie for the first time. There’s so much coming at you need to turn to someone and say, “What the f— is going on?” So I finished that viewing and just feeling very unsettled, to be honest. But soon after I went to one of the midnight screenings where the audience is throwing stuff at the screen, reciting every line. And I then immediately understood why “The Room” is such a cult movie. Since then I’ve seen the movie roughly 25 times, which is more than any movie I’ve seen in existence. [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: I talked to your wife, Alison Brie, for “The Little Hours,” and she said you also did the book on tape of Greg’s book.
Franco: Yeah. And I would recommend the book on tape for this because it’s Greg reading it and he has a great Tommy impersonation. I sat down with Greg a handful of times before we started filming and through production, and one of the things I asked him was during production of “The Room” if he ever thought it had a chance of being a good movie. And he claims that he did not but I don’t fully believe him just because as a young actor all you care about is getting on a set. When you’re on set you almost have to have this blind optimism and believe that whatever you’re working on could be great. Even from the outside everyone can see it’s objectively bad. I’ve been in those scenarios. I’ve been on set and everything is going smoothly to the point where people were talking about the movie being nominated for awards and I bought into the hype. Then the movie came out and not only was a it not good but it was a full-on piece of sh–. It was probably the worst thing I’ve ever done. It just makes you think about the fact you do anything creative you have to give all of yourself over to the process. There are going to be moments when you question whether or not what you’re doing is brilliant or if it’s a total disaster.
Guerrasio: Now I’m trying to think back on the movies you’ve done to figure out which one you think is the worst thing you’ve ever done.
Guerrasio: Anyway, how did you and James work on the characters? Did you want to rehearse with him before shooting?
Franco: We didn’t really rehearse too much beforehand just because his style of filmmaking, like Seth’s style, is very loose and improvisational. Yes, we had an incredible script to work off of but we always kept it loose.
Guerrasio: So going into shooting he gave you no head’s up that he would be being in character as Tommy behind the camera as director?
Franco: I don’t think he knew. I think he just fell into it and it was just easier to stay in character instead of bouncing back and forth between Tommy and James.
Guerrasio: On the first day was he just James on set?
Franco: No, from day one he was Tommy. There was definitely an adjustment period. He can articulate this better than me, but I do think a huge reason why he did this was because he didn’t want to lose the Tommy voice. Yes, he stayed in character while he directed but that didn’t mean he adopted Tommy’s personality. He was still James but he was doing the Tommy voice. He wasn’t a dictator on set.
Guerrasio: Have you ever gotten into a role in your career where you’re so into it it takes a while to snap out of it?
Franco: I’ve never been the type of actor who comes home at the end of the day and goes, “I can’t get rid of my part.” But, I have a movie coming out early next year for Netflix called “6 Balloons” where I played a heroin addict and so I lost 20 pounds.
Guerrasio: For you, that’s kind of scary.
Franco: Yeah, I’m not a big guy. So when you lose that much weight it depresses you and I was full-on depressed. I remember at one point my wife saying, “You’re not yourself, you’re not fun to be around.” And I was like, “I’m f—ing starving! What do you want from me?” But on set I also wasn’t fun to be around. I wasn’t really interacting with anyone. I was in the corner by myself, miserable. That was the most I ever got deep into a character. I’m glad I did it. It was the hardest role I’ve ever done and it scared the hell out of me but I think that’s a good thing as an actor. To go into something that makes you uncomfortable.
Guerrasio: Do you feel you could ever do that again?
Franco: Not for a long time. I almost really f—ed up my health. Not to get too dark, I was running all day every day to lose weight and I ended up messing up my knee to the point that when we finished production I had to go to physical therapy for a couple of months.
Guerrasio: I mean, we’ve heard the stories from Robert De Niro to Christian Bale, of the losing and gaining of weight for roles. I would think for every actor there’s a wonder if you can take it to that limit.
Franco: I know. And it was very rewarding but I don’t need to transform my body like that for a long time. While I was in it I do remember looking at a lot of pictures of Christian Bale throughout his career, he’s losing weight or gaining weight, so that was inspiring. [Laughs.] “If he can do this 15 times I can do it once.”
Guerrasio: So, back to “The Disaster Artist,” what was Tommy and Greg’s reaction to the movie when they first saw it?
Franco: They saw an early screening, even before the South by Southwest work-in-progress. We were more nervous about Tommy’s reaction than Greg’s. They both loved it but after Greg saw it he was so taken by it that he went off and for the next four days wrote an entire script for him and Tommy to star in. So since then they have filmed this new project, called “Best F(r)iends,” and little did we know that “The Disaster Artist” is part two of “The Room” trilogy. [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: Wow. So what’s going forward for the production company? Are you going to produce? Direct?
Franco: I can’t get into many details but all the projects are all over the place in genre and size of budget. But the unifying aspect of all of them is they do feel unique. I’m having so much fun. As much as I love acting and I hope to be doing it for a long time, it almost feels more natural for me to be a producer. I came into all of this because I’m a fan of movies and I wanted to find any way I could to be a part of it all. I happened to take the acting route but it could have been a million different ways in. Now that I’m producing it’s just really fun for me to work with people that I really admire and put people together who I think will work well together. Just having a little more control.
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