For those who have seen The Disaster Artist, the Oscar-nominated biopic directed by James Franco, about the creation of the worst movie ever made and the friendship that produced it, Greg Sestero is a familiar name. Even more so if you're familiar with the film that The Disaster Artist was based on: The Room. A cult classic with a famous array of goofy lines ("Oh, hi Mark!" and "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"), The Room introduced the world to the madcap character that is Tommy Wiseau, the film's writer, director and star.
Possessing a nonsensical plot, bad acting and even worse writing, The Room captivated audiences because of, rather than in spite of, its overall terribleness. Watching it is like seeing episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that is so bad it needs no riffs. What has resulted is one of the most beloved films of all time, and one that continues to fill theaters with fans who know the entire ridiculous script by heart.
Now, Wiseau and Sestero have a new double feature hitting theaters—including Santa Fe's own Jean Cocteau Cinema—called Best F(r)iends. SFR caught up with Sestero, who will be at the screening and who literally wrote the book on The Room (Franco discovered his book The Disaster Artist and turned it into the critically acclaimed biopic) to chat about his new film, the old one, his friendship with Wiseau and the nature of art.
SFR: All right, is it Best Friends or Best Fiends? How should people say it?
GS: It's Best Friends, but I think you can decide to make your own title depending on what you think. (Laughs)
Let's start with The Room, although I'm sure you're sick of talking about that movie at this point.
No, no, not at all. I mean, it's going to be 16 years on June 27 since The Room premiered. And it's just amazing that each year it grows and gets stronger. At first it was a movie that I didn't think anybody was going to see, and I was OK with that, for many reasons. But then as time has gone on, it's brought a lot of happiness to people. It's unlike any other cinematic experience. I think it teaches you a lot about art. You don't know what your movie or your music is going to do, and how it's going to affect people. So I've just sort of sat back and observed what it's done. It's been a pretty fun ride.
When The Disaster Artist came out, we got a few emails from people saying that they didn't even know what The Room was or what all the hype was about. How would you describe that movie and its impact on American culture to someone who has never heard of it before?
I would say The Room is unlike any other film that's ever come along. It was made by one man who sees the world totally differently and believes in himself when no one else does, and has the money to make whatever he wants to make without having to get approval. And I don't think we've ever encountered something like that before. You know, you've got Ed Woods, who was a filmmaker who never had money and never had a budget and was just throwing together what he could, and then there was an enthusiasm there. But with this, there has never been somebody who put their own money up for five years to put a billboard up in Hollywood with their face on it, and put their number on there so you call him up and he could invite you to see screenings.
When you sit down and watch the movie, it's really a cry for help, because it's this guy putting his heart and soul into something and who thinks they're going to be the next Marlon Brando. You sit down and watch the movie, and it's really unique. Because in any other situation there would have been a studio that would have said 'Stop!' It just leaves you with question after question after question and makes you laugh in a way that is very fascinating to so many people. It's something that will change your view of cinema if you see it in a theater with a group of friends.
You know, James Franco had never seen The Room before. He was reading the book The Disaster Artist, and about halfway through he was like, 'Oh, that billboard!' He loves Hollywood stories and this is the most insane Hollywood story he'd ever read, and he wanted to make it into a film.
The thing about The Room and The Disaster Artist that I tell people is that it's not the story of the making of a bad movie; it's the story of two people who were complete opposites that were following their dreams and had no business being friends. And I think that's something that a lot of people can relate to, if you're an outsider for whatever reason, and you come together to form a band or pursue music or create anything. I think it's probably the most improbable success story in a lot of ways, and that's the appeal in The Disaster Artist: You're watching a glimpse of yourself going out there and trying to go after your dream, and seeing it through the eyes of, especially Tommy, who had never been accepted for anything. So it's very much an underdog story.
How has The Room narrative changed since The Disaster Artist came out? At first it seems like a silly, bad movie, but it seems that there's a sweetness to it now.
Yeah definitely. I wrote Best F(r)iends after I saw a rough cut of The Disaster Artist a while back, and it allowed me to see the friendship that Tommy and I have in a very different way. And I get it. He's saying, 'I want to be taken seriously and I want to be an actor, and nobody's giving me a chance.' And it inspired me to write a movie where Tommy can be a character that fits him and people can laugh with him, and not look at him like a joke.
When The Disaster Artist came out an older couple came up to me and said, 'Thank you so much for sticking with your journey and being this man's friend.'
I thought that was really cool, how that friendship touched them, and it means a lot to people. It shows how much support counts when you're trying to embark on a creative life. So yeah, The Room is considered to be the worst movie ever made, but these two guys stuck to it and eventually their movie found an audience, and I think that's something we can all get behind.
And it makes people happy.
Yeah, and at the end of the day when you sit down to make something, that's what you're going for. People ask, 'Oh, would you go back and not be in this bad movie?' but I see a much bigger picture than that. The Room has taught me so much and it's brought me so many cool places and its had an impact on people's lives. And when you set out to make anything that's kind of what you hope for. Ideally it's a Back to the Future or an Inception, but at the end of the day, whatever works you have to appreciate.
Tommy wrote The Room, and you were acting in it, and now the roles have switched. You wrote Best F(r)iends, and he's starring it alongside you. How does that change the vibe?
You know, when I was first writing the book, I realized how fun of a character Tommy was to bring to life. It was very much creating Tommy the person. And then with Best F(r)iends, it was based on our friendship, and he plays a version of himself. A version of himself that he didn't have access to that I did. I think Tommy in the right part can be really captivating, and I saw that the first day I met him in acting class. In The Room you're on Tommy's planet, so you're saying dialogue that you would never say. He can be very funny or interesting if he's not trying to be. So this time around I could give him a tone that he didn't even know he had. This is a chance for him to just be the Tommy that I see, and allow him to shine as the mortician. Which is a role his look lends itself pretty well to. A lot of times he wouldn't even look at the script because what I'd written was just like what he would say.
And this is not a 'bad movie' in the way The Room was. It doesn't fall into that genre.
It's a different scene, and with the Room it's not something you can recapture, because we didn't even know what we were making. And the thing is, I love movies. I love good movies. I loved Nightcrawler, I loved Drive I loved Sunset Boulevard. And I thought that we would go out there and make something that would surprise our audience.
Best F(r)iends Vol. I and Vol. II: 6 pm Saturday June 22. $13-$15.
Jean Cocteau Cinema, 418 Montezuma Ave., 466-5528; tickets here.