Dave Franco has racks of Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Gucci set out before him — and an awards season-bait film to discuss — but before he can get to that, there are cat videos to be seen.
When the topic of feline companions comes up mid-shoot, a small frenzy ensues. Franco pulls up a video on his phone: The camera pans over to the two striped tabbies, brothers Harry and Arturo, lovingly grooming each other.
It’s another side of the youngest Franco brother, who is perched for a major breakthrough.
Franco arrives to his photo shoot wearing black jeans and a vintage-style T-shirt from Kelly Cole’s Los Angeles flagship, near where he lives with his wife of half a year, actress Alison Brie, and, yes, two cats. The 32-year-old is polite and approachable, friendly but reserved in the way many actors are while in the thick of press — and for his latest project, there’s been a lot of it.
Franco and his brother, James, are the stars of “The Disaster Artist,” a quirky biopic about the relationship between two best friends, actors Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau, who costar in “The Room.” The film is regarded — unofficially — as being the worst film ever made since its 2003 premiere.
Directed by James in-character as the eccentric, long-haired Wiseau, “The Disaster Artist” is based on Sestero’s 2013 memoir “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made.” It marks Franco’s first major project with James, who called him after reading Sestero’s book several years ago and implored his younger brother — filming in Boston at the time — to watch “The Room.”
“I watched the movie by myself in a hotel room, which is not the way to watch that movie for the first time just because you want a group of people you can turn to and say ‘What the hell is going on?'” recalls Franco, reclined on a love seat in Midtown Manhattan. “But soon after that I went to one of the midnight screenings, where people are yelling at the screen and throwing spoons, and I immediately understood the cult status of the movie.”
“The Disaster Artist” follows the events that led to its creation, beginning with Sestero and Wiseau befriending each other during an acting workshop in San Francisco before moving to L.A. When roles failed to pan out, Wiseau wrote — and independently financed, produced and directed — a film for him and Sestero to star in. The film tanked, before taking on a new life on the midnight movie circuit. Similar to “The Rocky Horror Show,” the film has developed a cult following: A typical screening elicits dressing up, tossing footballs and, yes, throwing spoons at the screen.
Despite all of the gimmicks during screenings of the original movie, the intention of “The Disaster Artist” was to laugh with Wiseau and Sestero, not at them. Although panned for its quality of acting, directing, and disconnected plot, “The Room” was intended by Wiseau to be a serious, award-contending film and a breakout moment for Sestero. And in a roundabout way, the two men were successful, although not how they could have ever originally imagined.
“We wanted this to be a love letter to the movie, and we wanted it to be a celebration of people who go after their dreams and don’t take no for an answer,” Franco says. “As weird as their story is, I can absolutely relate to it. And I know that most people who have ever tried to do anything creative can relate to these guys’ struggles.
“I can relate in my own way just because when I was first starting out my first handful of jobs were for projects that weren’t very good. And I knew that at the time, but obviously, I was very happy to be working — I was just happy to get on set and have those experiences,” he continues. “But after a while I just wasn’t proud of anything I was making. And I would literally tell my family and friends, ‘Don’t go see this project I just did.’ And so I ended up” — he quickly backtracks — “I decided to take things into my own hands.”
His brother James has coined the film an “upside down ‘La La Land,'” referring to 2016’s acclaimed movie starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling — a very different pairing of personalities than Wiseau and Sestero. “The Disaster Artist” is the familiar “make it in Hollywood” tale as much as it is a love story between two best friends.
“It’s leaning into the fact that [Wiseau and Sestero], who are trying to make the movie, are weirder and are more on the outside,” Franco explains. “And they ended up finding success, but in the most backward way possible. It was not the path they intended to take, but they did end up at the same goal in the end.”
So far, reception to “The Disaster Artist” has been overwhelmingly positive since it premiered at SXSW in March; in May, film distributor A24 picked up the film, and it screened again during the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival. At this point, labeling “The Room” as “the worst movie ever made” is a misnomer.
“I’ve seen [‘The Room’] 25 times, and if something is that watchable, yea, at what point can we just start calling it a good movie?” asks Franco. “There’s been a lot of really bad movies made over the years, but none of them have played in theaters 15 years after they originally came out. And with these other really bad movies like ‘Sharknado’ or ‘Birdemic,’ they know they’re B movies, they know that they’re silly and over the top. But with ‘The Room,’ Tommy Wiseau, the man at the center of it all, was really trying to make an earnest drama to contend for awards. And when you’re watching ‘The Room,’ whether or not you’re aware of it, I think you can feel the passion that’s underneath it all, and there’s something really special about that.”
As for Wiseau and Sestero’s reception of the film, “they’re very happy,” Franco says. “I think they’re pleased with the fact that we treated their story very respectively.”
The film marks the first time that both Franco brothers have shared screen time (Dave’s wife Brie also stars), and with equal billing. When he was an up-and-coming actor, working with the already established James may have seemed like an easy choice, but it’s one that Dave Franco avoided for many years — and yes, James has noted that his brother had turned down his offers.
“For a long time, I did make a conscious choice to distance myself from him in the work arena, just because I wanted to pave my own path and stand on my own two feet,” Franco says. “It just got to a point where I decided that it was the right time. He’s my brother — I love him, I respect him, and we do have very similar sensibilities and are drawn toward projects that do feel slightly outside the box, but do feel accessible enough that they could draw a slightly wider audience — and this movie definitely fell into that category. And the dynamic between our characters felt right in terms of just the dynamic that I could understand and relate to.”
Since filming “The Disaster Artist,” the brothers have worked together on next year’s “Zeroville” — Dave is playing the Golden Age Hollywood actor Montgomery Clift — and cofounded a production company, Ramona Films. He recently finished Barry Jenkins‘ sophomore effort, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
“We’re not starting this company solely to find material that’s just for us to act in or direct. We love the idea of just being producers and bringing people together who we really admire,” Franco says. “We are developing projects that are all over the map in terms of genre and size of budget, but the unifying aspect of everything is that they are projects that feel unique and are at least attempting to bring something new to the screen that we haven’t seen before. We’re definitely drawn to more diverse stories, more diverse characters as opposed to another middle-aged white guy going through a mid-life crisis or something like that.”
In keeping with the brotherly love, the third Franco brother, sculptor Tom, makes a brief appearance in “The Disaster Artist.”
“It’s a very small role — he does not speak in the movie, but go back and look for him,” Franco says, flashing a smile. “It’s a nice Easter egg.”
As for the rest of the family?
“My mom saw the movie for the first time last week, and I was sitting next to her and she was making noises that I’ve never heard her make, just because there were so many emotions going through her, seeing all her sons on screen together. It was very sweet,” Franco says. “She likes everything we do, even the bad stuff. [But] it seems like she genuinely got a kick out of this one.”
Not such a disaster, after all.