With The Disaster Artist set to hit theatres December 1st, I sat down with Greg Sestero, author of the novel on which the film is based, to talk about his friendship with Tommy Wiseau, writing the novel, and The Room after all these years.
Your most recent project, Best F(r)iends, seems to draw parallels to your real-life friendship with Tommy Wiseau. Where is that friendship now?
It’s been 20 years. There’s been highs and lows, as you can imagine with any friendship over 20 years, but especially this one since we’re both complete opposites. We’re kind of back where we started. We appreciate each other. I think when we first met we kind of needed that support and it felt very much like a fun adventure. I’m back to seeing Tommy in a positive light, realizing that maybe there was a rhyme or reason to a lot of those eccentricities and the crazy behaviour he had. I’ve come to accept and appreciate the journey.
What was your second film alongside Tommy like between takes?
You know what, I gotta say, filming Best F(r)iends was a really great experience. It was insane in similar ways to The Room, in the sense that Tommy was always late. It was the same kind of deal – I had to go pick him up every day and then bring him home. But when we got to filming, he was really great and really open. We did lots of takes and took him very seriously because I really wanted him to finally give a performance that people would be into and where they would take him seriously instead of making him kind of a spoof. It was a lot of hard of work but I’m really proud of his performance in the movie. I think people are going to be surprised that he carries the film in a much different way than he does in The Room.
He finally had fun making a movie. You can kind of tell that he was enjoying himself. I’m glad that I didn’t quit after The Room. I never expected to work with Tommy again but I’m glad there was one more chapter in there. And really a lot of me wanting to even take the chance of writing and producing a film came from seeing a rough cut of The Disaster Artist. I was really touched and inspired by James Franco’s performance as Tommy, by the way, that he humanized Tommy and really made him likable. It helped me understand him more. The way the film ends, I felt there was another chapter in there to this story and I wanted to do it right.
How was it you and Tom Bissel came together to write The Disaster Artist?
It was almost exactly 7 years ago that I started working on the book project. At the time, a lot of people were kind of wondering, “Who’s going to want to read a book about a bad movie?” I always thought this isn’t really a story about a bad movie – it’s much more than that – it’s a universal story about friendship and following your dreams. My goal with it from day one was for it to become its own film like Ed Wood or Sunset Boulevard. That’s what I started out with – framing the story in a way that would be very cinematic. I got a chance to read an article about The Room in Harper’s Magazine by Tom Bissell, which I loved. It took The Room and Tommy seriously. I’ve never laughed harder reading an article, and here it was in Harper’s Magazine, which was never intended to be funny. I thought this is the right angle to tell this story. So Tom and I got together and ultimately decided to do the book together.
I’d never written a book before – I always loved writing and have written in the past (I wrote a screenplay to Home Alone when I was 12). I always loved storytelling. I didn’t want to do this on my own because we didn’t want the Room of books and because I wanted some perspective. I knew Tom was a phenomenal writer and journalist so it was a really great experience. We sat down and I had all my stories kind of set up. I wrote a book proposal that I sent him initially of what I wanted to do. I sat down with him and a tape recorder and I would just tell these stories. I got a chance to sit down during a little break and really write out all these chapters. I wrote the story out completely, all the way to the end. We reconvened in Escanaba, Michigan, where it was -14, and we just holed up for three days in a hotel room. He would stop me and interview me, ask questions, and we just recorded hours of me telling the story. Tom drafted that into a manuscript and then we rewrote it together back and forth, framed it, changed it, and worked extensively with our editors at Simon & Schuster, which was great because one of the editors loved The Room and the other editor hadn’t really seen it, so we got really good perspective. The goal was keeping this a universal story where you wouldn’t have to have seen The Room to really appreciate it or get lost in it. It was a really great team of people. Tom had seen The Room and loved it, but he also knew how important it was to tell the personal story which we both felt was the most interesting part.
How much of a role do you believe the Internet played in taking this story beyond Los Angeles myth?
The Room has been really fortunate in how many bumps it’s gotten from such random things. It started with RiffTrax and Adult Swim showing it on April Fools’ Day to shocked viewers who watched black boxes cover the screen during the sex scenes. It got a huge bump from the Nostalgia Critic – so many people found out about it through that. Tim and Eric as well. All the memes that came about: the video game, “You’re Tearing Me Apart (Dubstep Remix)”. Of course, the key was getting it to this point. James Franco had never heard of The Room. He read the book first, amazingly. It’s been a very fortunate phenomenon. So many people have championed it and gotten it into places it wouldn’t have ever been.
How has Tommy responded to The Room’s growing legend and popularity?
He’s really pushed the film. He believed in it, even if people were laughing at it for the wrong reasons. He stuck around and he was there through it all. He’d show up and do these Q&As and people just kept coming. I think he’s really excited that The Room has screened around the world now for almost 15 years. He should be really proud.
Were you on set throughout the filming of The Disaster Artist?
I got to go to the set quite a bit. Every time I went, my mind was blown watching them recreate these scenes from my experiences back in the day and getting to meet Bryan Cranston and Sharon Stone. The amount of passion on set was contagious. These guys were working so hard and they were having so much fun and it made you want to make movies.
What was your role on set? Were you there to keep things authentic to what happened?
I had a lot of behind the scenes footage and pictures and stuff from over the years. I gave everything I had to the production just to help them make everything as true to life as it was. Whatever I could to help them make the best film possible.
Do you feel the film adequately captures the book?
Yeah! People who’ve seen The Disaster Artist and who haven’t seen The Room have loved it. They couldn’t stop laughing and I think that’s a testament to how good the film is. It’s not something you need to have seen to go watch the film. I think you just go watch The Disaster Artist and get blown away by it. It’s a sequel or a prequel, whichever way you want to look at it.
With this and Best F(r)iends, have we come to the conclusion of the Greg and Tommy story?
Yeah, that’s kind of what I was saying! It’s kind of a trilogy really. It started with The Room, The Disaster Artist was the bridge to the next level, and [Best F(r)iends] is our kind of revisiting it 15 years later and going out with a film that we both will be proud of for different reasons than The Room. He’s kind of run full circle; he started with the worst movie and now he ends up with a film that’s really terrific and getting awards buzz. It’s a great way to go out.
But then again, some people have seen some advanced test screenings of Best F(r)iends and they really enjoyed it and thought, “You and Tommy should make a movie every year! You guys are kind of the new duo that’s really fun to watch onscreen.” So I don’t know. I’ve been saying for years, “Ok, this is it. Time to try something different and go in a different direction.” And all of a sudden you kind of keep coming back to this. Ultimately, when you make movies, you got to give the people what they want.
Could we be seeing the next Scorsese and De Niro?
Hey, if I’m passionate about what I’m doing! With Best F(r)iends, it was kind of one-for-them-one-for-me because I was really into the LA noir type story and it happened to have Tommy in it. If you can find that balance and still be passionate about what you’re doing, and not just making these bizarre cult films, then I think it’s great. I’m thankful for the whole experience and as long as the fans are happy then I’m happy as well.
In the book, you tell the deeply harrowing story of Pierre. How difficult was it to get Tommy to open up for your interviews?
You know what? The first time I told him that I was doing the book that was the time that he opened up the most. He told me this very emotional story about living in France and trying to come to America and it was very powerful. I let him tell his own story in the book. It’s a little broken and unclear but it was his chance to talk about himself in a personal way. There’s other stuff that was discussed or stuff that I found out that I didn’t feel belonged in the book cause it’s not really pertinent to the story and it’s Tommy’s more private life.
In the book’s closing passages, you say Tommy is The Room. The central mystery of the man himself seems to draw audiences unlike anything before, but you were there from the beginning. How much of yourself do you see in those drawn to The Room? To Tommy?
I was kind of the very first audience. I don’t think anyone in the acting class I was in saw anything in Tommy. I think they just saw him as this kind of strange man who had a weird way of acting, but I was the one to get the humour right away and was drawn to find out more. Instead of being put off by it, I actually approached him. He was never scary to me. He was always funny and intriguing and that’s very much what I see with Room fans. It’s a good feeling to know that I’m not completely crazy to have wanted to approach him.
What do you feel is the ultimate lesson of yours and Tommy’s story?
Really, the lesson is to get out there and follow your dream. If you ever had something you wanted to do or try, whether it’s music or sport or painting or whatever it may be, just go out there and give it a shot because you never know how it might affect people. I’m sure people will point to the dangers of following your dream, because look at The Room, but really, The Room is something that has made so many people around the world happy for years and brought people together. I’ve had people come up to me and be like, “We got married because of The Room! It was our first date and we fell in love!” Even though it’s not the best film, obviously, it’s still an experience that has been put out there by taking a chance. If you’re going to do something, put your whole heart into it, because while The Room doesn’t come off as Tommy intended, it’s the one thing that has kept it going.