Dave Franco is not his brother. This is presumably obvious to anyone who has seen the two. James is a little taller, for starters. He’s also a lot weirder. Whether it’s running around Paris with a prosthetic penis on his nose as an “art project,” or cameoing on General Hospital, the older Franco brother basically treats his career as one big performance art piece.
Dave, meanwhile, has followed a much more conventional path, going from a successful sitcom stint (Scrubs, the new class) to scene-stealing supporting roles in his brother’s friends’ movies (21 Jump Street and Neighbors). But this week, the brothers Franco see their professional lives converge for the first time in The Disaster Artist, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of what’s widely acknowledged as one of the best worst movies of all-time. That’d be Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 opus, The Room, a so-bad-it’s-kinda-amazing drama about love, friendship, betrayal, and a football.
James directs and stars as the human enigma that is Tommy (naturally), while Dave plays Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s co-star and the author of the titular book the movie’s based on. At times, it’s essentially a fan remake of The Room with an A-list cast—it’s worth watching for the cameos alone—but in the end, The Disaster Artist is actually surprisingly touching. An example of taking a cinematic lemon and turning it into Oscar-buzz-worthy lemonade (no joke). Complex spoke to Dave about the art of acting like you don’t know how to act and whether or not his brother really stayed in character as Tommy for the entire shoot.
The Room is known for being a really bad movie, what’d you think after seeing it for the first time?
So I was alone when I first watched it, which is not the way to see this movie. Because you really want to be able to pause it and turn to your friends and ask what the fuck is going on. I did not have that. I finished the movie in a hotel room in Boston by myself and I just felt very unsettled and I didn’t really know how to feel. But then—very soon after—I went to one of the midnight screenings, where people go crazy and I immediately understood the cult status of this movie.
Did you get to spend any time with Greg Sestero before filming?
Yeah, I met up with Greg a few times, and picked his brain about everything. Because Greg is a really complicated character himself. I really wanted to understand his connection with Tommy, why he was drawn to him originally, and I wanted to know if Greg ever thought that The Room could potentially be a good movie. And he maintains that he didn’t think it was ever going to be good. But I don’t fully believe him.
Because I know the mindset of a young actor. Especially when you’re on your first movie set. You’re just excited to be there. You’re excited to have the experience. This thing that you’ve been working towards for so long is actually happening. And you convince yourself that whatever you’re working on could be amazing. And you have to go into every project with that mindset, but then… You never know what’s going to happen. Even when everything looks perfect on paper, when you have the right director, the writer, DP [Director of Photography], actors, it can still be a mess. I mean, I’m sure Greg never thought that his whole life would revolve around this movie.
Right. I’m sure every actor’s worked on projects where it doesn’t turn out the way you think…
Sure. But normally, they just disappear and no one sees them. [Laughs]
Normally, they don’t get a giant billboard in Hollywood, and become an ironic cult classic.
And you normally don’t write a book about the experience. And travel the world for the rest of your life promoting that book and answering questions about it.
So, I’ve heard that your brother tried to keep speaking like Tommy between takes. I don’t know if that’s real, or just a fun anecdote that got blown out of proportion…
No, he stayed in character the entire movie.
Was that hard to take seriously?
It was weird! He was essentially directing us as Tommy Wiseau. That took a second to get used to. But when it comes to my brother, nothing really surprises me anymore. [Laughs] So I think I adjusted quicker than others. But then, every time a new person came on set, I would almost have to prep them and let them know that they were not going to be around James Franco today, it was going to be Tommy Wiseau. [Laughs] So it was, uh, it was a unique experience in that way.
Was this the first time that you guys had acted together?
In a real way, yeah. And it was really fun. We obviously feel very comfortable with one another, and when you’re acting with someone that you feel safe with, you’re going to give a better performance. It was just easy. There’s no other way to say it. He makes me better.
Plus, the relationship between Tommy and Greg is so important…
There is a brotherly bond between them. That being said, we were a little nervous about people watching the movie and accepting us as characters who weren’t brothers. But I think because [James] looks so crazy you can kind of suspend your disbelief a bit.
I was really impressed by how well you guys managed to nail the movie-within-the-movie with the reenactments of The Room. When you’re playing the scenes side-by-side during the credits, you’ve got it down practically to the syllable.
We put a lot of time into the recreations of The Room scenes. We wanted every tiny movement to be as close as possible. So we studied those scenes harder that I’ve ever studied for any movie I’ve ever been a part of. It was almost the most fun part of the experience. We recreated probably half of The Room. We only show a few scenes—that’ll be a good DVD extra. But our DP was lighting the sets really horribly on purpose, and it was killing him to do such horrible lighting. [Laughs]
That’s got to be tough for you too, because I don’t think people realize how hard it is to act like you don’t know how to act.
Exactly. When we’re doing these recreated scenes, I’m being a bad actor, but then you snap out of it and you want to be a good actor, and you just keep bouncing back and forth. It’s a fine balance. You don’t want to overdo it; you want to do it justice. But obviously I studied The Room very thoroughly, and specifically Greg’s performance, and nothing against Greg, I love Greg, but I think he would admit this himself… He’s pretty bad in the movie. [Laughs] And it was more just about mimicking him than about being as bad as possible.
I also just want to say I love how you guys managed to work in an origin story for the football. So, thank you for that.
Yes! Right? [Laughs] The true fans of The Room will appreciate that.