A cinematic phenomenon was born June 27, 2003, when aspiring actors Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero premiered “The Room,” their first original film, in Los Angeles. Wiseau — the eccentric mastermind behind the project — wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, and sat in the audience its opening night eagerly awaiting critical acclaim for his Tennessee Williams-inspired drama. As the film played, audience chuckles slowly escalated to uproars of laughter, and today “The Room” is widely considered one of the worst films ever made.
Since its premiere, “The Room” has amassed a loyal and ravenous cult following. It’s odd dialogue, melodramatic plot and awkward line deliveries have captured the hearts of audiences around the country. The film still plays regularly to sold out crowds nationwide at various midnight screenings, including Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave.).
Fourteen years after “The Room’s” debut, James Franco (“127 Hours,” “The Pineapple Express”) and his brother Dave Franco (“Nerve,” “Now You See Me”) have teamed up with producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to tell Wiseau and Sestero’s story in “The Disaster Artist.” The film stars James as Wiseau and Dave as Sestero and follows their friendship during the making of “The Room.”
The PHOENIX spoke to the critically acclaimed writers of “The Disaster Artist,” Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter (“The Spectacular Now,” “500 Days of Summer”), to talk about their new film, “The Room” and the enigmatic Wiseau.
It’s difficult to describe Wiseau to readers unfamiliar with him. Over the years, he’s grown into an almost mythical figure — a reserved character with a mysterious background, iconic look and entirely unique way of speaking.
Neustadter said he and Weber never wanted to write an impression of Wiseau, but rather attempt to get at the core of who Wiseau is.
“The last thing we wanted to do was demystify the aura and magic of Tommy [Wiseau]. It was more [about] why it’s so important to him to be a man of mystery,” Neustadter said. “What’s magic about Tommy is that he’s full of insecurities. He has all these issues, but he can disconnect from them and pretend they don’t exist and drive [forward] headfirst. There’s something enviable about that.”
“The Disaster Artist,” however, is about more than just Wiseau.
“To us, this was always a story about a friendship,” Weber said. “And that friendship is tested in a big way when [Wiseau and Sestero] make [“The Room”].”
Within the first 10 minutes of “The Disaster Artist,” it’s clear how much fun the Franco brothers have playing Wiseau and Sestero. Their infectious energy and commitment to their roles is a crucial reason the film works. The movie is often light and fun, but has heartbreak and emotion at its core, which Weber said was intentional.
“We wrote it as a drama. We knew Rogen and [James] Franco and them would bring the funny, but we thought there were real emotional stakes that we could mine in this friendship,” Weber said. “[Wiseau and Sestero] believed in each other when no one believed in them, and that’s a really powerful thing.”
“The Room” is a film bred from an undying desire to create and to pave one’s own path. When Wiseau and Sestero couldn’t secure any acting roles through auditions, they decided to make their own movie and gave themselves lead roles. After months of hard work and $6 million dollars of his own mysteriously large fortune, Wiseau was crushed by the audience’s reaction.
“Psychologically, I think he was on the verge of being devastated,” Neustadter said. “He took [“The Room”] seriously, and no one else took it seriously. Greg [Sestero] really helped him to see that, when you create art, you can’t control the response to it, but you should really appreciate that there is one.”
Since that 2003 screening, Wiseau has come to embrace “The Room” and its cult status, even traveling around the country, attending midnight screenings of the film and holding Q&As with the audiences after the credits. Weber said Wiseau now wants “The Room” to be anything an audience wants it to be, whether that means laughing, crying or cheering.
While watching “The Room” before seeing “The Disaster Artist” will enhance the viewing experience, Neustadter and Weber insist it’s not necessary. Weber said he even refrained from watching “The Room” for the first time until he and Neustadter finished the first draft of their film, just to make sure it would work for audiences who may not have seen the infamous film.
“The Disaster Artist” is ultimately a celebration of Wiseau and his creation. The film never mocks him, but rather finds a bittersweet humor in his undying drive. While audiences know what Wiseau’s efforts will ultimately produce, they can’t help but empathize with him and even relate to him. The film balances comedy and heart perfectly, and the last 15 minutes will inspire even the most amateur artist to stop waiting to be given their opportunity and create it themselves.
“The Disaster Artist” is now playing in limited theaters in Chicago, including the Century 12 Evanston Theater (1715 Maple Ave.), and will expand nationwide Dec. 7. A midnight screening of “The Room” will also take place Dec. 8 at the Music Box Theatre.