‘The Room’ Star Greg Sestero Talks ‘The Disaster Artist’ and Putting Up With Tommy Wiseau

Fifteen years ago, Greg Sestero was making a movie he didn’t want anyone to see. Ten years ago, a reporter called Sestero to tell him the movie was a cult hit. Five years ago, he was writing a memoir about the bizarre behind-the-scenes saga of the movie, which had been dubbed “the worst movie ever made.” And next year, all that experience might result in a trip to the Oscars.

The Disaster Artist, in theaters Friday, is based on Sestero’s 2013 memoir of the same name and is a must-see for anyone who’s laughed their way through the 2003 cult hit The Room. Director James Franco stars as the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, an aspiring actor and mastermind of The Room who, despite his bizarre persona, manages to complete his bonkers passion project. Franco’s younger brother Dave plays Sestero, Wiseau’s normal, good-looking friend—who, in The Room, plays Wiseau’s normal, good-looking friend Mark.

  greg-sestero-tommy-wiseau-the-room The real Tommy Wiseau (left) and Greg Sestero (right) in 2003's "The Room," widely cited as the worst movie ever made. Chloe Productions / TPW Films

Watching The Disaster Artist, it can be baffling trying to understand Sestero’s loyalty to Wiseau, especially as the wannabe auteur becomes increasingly jealous and controlling. But you also find yourself moved by their friendship, thanks in part to stellar performances by the Franco brothers.

The real Sestero spoke to Newsweek about, among other things, why he chose to stand by Wiseau.

What made you want to write The Disaster Artist and tell your story with Tommy?

After The Room premiered in 2003—which went exactly as it does in The Disaster Artist—I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere. It wasn’t a film I wanted to share with people. For a few years The Room wasn’t a part of my life. But I knew Tommy was a great character. I would tell people stories from the set and they would say, “There’s no way that happened!”

And then Entertainment Weekly reporter Clark Collis called me and told me it had a huge following. He was so enthusiastic about the film, I couldn’t believe it! I figured it would be some small blurb about the movie, but it was like a six-page spread. So I realized there was a big interest in the story.

Were you thinking your book, which you co-wrote with Tom Bissell, might be made into a movie?

Yes, that was my goal, to have the book become a film. I studied books that had been made into films—Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy, The Pianist, The Social Network—and I studied 127 Hours because I felt my story was a survival story as well, in a different way. [Laughs.] 

Three weeks after the book was published, we got a call that James Franco and Seth Rogen were interested in the movie. I was amazed. I mean, [Franco] had been on my radar, I loved him in James Dean and I kinda thought he might be drawn to [The Disaster Artist] because of the James Dean connection.

the-disaster-artist-TDA-05209r_rgb From left: Dave Franco as Greg and James Franco as Tommy, attending the premiere of "The Room" in 'The Disaster Artist' (2017). A24

How did Tommy fit into the process of writing the book and pitching the movie?

Tommy showed up at the meeting with the talent agent Ron Bernstein, after Simon & Schuster sent him the book. But he didn’t really get what was happening. He kept trying to pitch a sitcom idea. He would say, “What about a show about…,” and we’d say, “Well, we’re really just here to talk about the book.” [Laughs.]

Who did you picture playing you and Tommy at first?

I pictured Javier Bardem for Tommy. I saw No Country for Old Men and I said, "That’s Tommy!" And then I was thinking Ryan Gosling to play Greg. This was before Drive and everything. I thought it would be an interesting pairing, and when I had the beard on set, people compared me to him. But I’m really happy with how it turned out with Dave [Franco.]

What advice did you have for Dave Franco playing you? How accurate was his portrayal, in your opinion?

I’ve seen the movie now six times, and it emotionally rings true. Dave really understood that time in your life when an actor is hearing “no” all day. We talked about the feeling of hope that Greg relays, his affinity for Tommy and his appreciation of Tommy’s weirdness. Dave totally got it. He played it a little more hopeful than I was, maybe. I was a bit jaded at that point. I didn't think The Room was going to really go anywhere. But you know, in the back of your mind, you hope that any project you do is going to to go somewhere. 

GettyImages-873410216 From left: Dave Franco, Greg Sestero, James Franco, and Tommy Wiseau attend the screening of "The Disaster Artist" at AFI FEST 2017. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Is it true that you turned down a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle because Tommy made you shave? Why would you put up with that?

It’s partly true. [Tommy] was, at that time, very controlling. I realize that now. It came from his fear of being rejected. When you’re young, you don’t question that behavior as much. He was a huge part of my life—I would never have gone to LA if it wasn’t for him, so I felt like I owed him. My mom, my friends and everyone around me told me I was crazy to put up with it. And I did put up with a lot, but I was a lucky person. I got to see Tommy’s lovable and sweet side.

One of the more uncomfortable scenes in the film is when he verbally abuses the character Juliette Danielle (Lisa in The Room) played by Ari Graynor in The Disaster Artist. Assuming that’s also a true story, how did you feel about that, at the time?

He came off very abrasive, but I don’t think he meant it. I think if he saw himself on the tape he’d be surprised and upset. He was overwhelmed with the things he had to do, and he didn’t have the best social understanding of how to get to the point he was trying to make. The Tommy I know, I couldn’t imagine him doing that. But that unpredictability is what makes him tick. You’re always trying to figure this guy out, and I think that’s what makes the movie work.  

the-disaster-artist-TDA-02424_rgb James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in "The Disaster Artist" (2017). A24

How involved were you in the production?

I gave James a lot of the behind-the-scenes footage from The Room, which is why [The Disaster Artist] is so authentic. Here’s a crazy thing: Years ago, when Tommy and I were roommates, Tommy would record things. I found out later he recorded all of our conversations without my knowledge. I was going to destroy the tapes when I found them!

But then I found this one Tommy recorded in 1998 talking to himself in his car, saying things about how Hollywood doesn’t understand, how upset he is, that he feels like he’s not going to make it. It was kind of heartbreaking. I thought James might be interested in listening to the tapes, and he said it was one of the greatest gifts he’s ever been given as an actor.

greg-the-room From left: Juliette Danielle (Lisa), Tommy Wiseau (Johnny) and Greg Sestero (Mark) from 2003's "The Room." Chloe Productions/TPW Films

Despite everything you have gone through with Tommy, you’re working with him on another film, Best F(r)iends, which you’re writing and directing as well as starring in with Tommy.

That’s a movie inspired by The Disaster Artist. After I saw a cut of the film, it made me cheer Tommy on in a way I hadn’t before. After everything I’d gone through with him...the last thing I wanted was to work with him again. For so many years Tommy would ask me to help him with a new project, but I never wanted to. But Tommy was totally different with this film. He worked hard and was more willing to collaborate. Of course, he was still four hours late every day.

Any time after The Room, people would just hire him as a joke. Best F(r)iends is a chance for people to see him as a serious actor in a dramatic, experimental role. It's an L.A. noir type film meant to be taken seriously. I would never try to recreate something “bad” on purpose. What made The Room interesting is because he tried so hard to make A Streetcar Named Desire.

We’ve done a few test screenings for Best F(r)iends, and the audiences who’ve seen it have been surprised in a good way, impressed with Tommy’s performance. When it comes out, it will [be] 20 years since we first met in our acting class, so it’s a nice close to that chapter.

Do you and Tommy ever watch so-bad-they’re-good movies together?

[Laughs.] No, not really. If anything, we watch films I think are good but Tommy thinks are terrible! Like, we watched Her, and he hated it. But I see the appeal. I used to watch Private Resort and laugh all the time. Finding the genuinely bad movies is hard to do. The Room does it so well. It’s just reigned the genre for almost 20 years.

The Disaster Artist is in theaters everywhere Friday, December 8.

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