I played Michelle, a.k.a. “Chocolate Girl,” in the cult film The Room, the awful yet utterly watchable flick that is famous for being bad in as many ways as a film can possibly be bad…and then some. Needless to say, I was nervous about seeing The Disaster Artist (out Friday), the film about the making of The Room, directed by and starring James Franco. Although I had little screen time in what’s now known as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” I was worried about how The Room actors would be portrayed. Would The Disaster Artist take shots at the cast? Would it rub salt in the wound of acting in the worst movie ever made? Would I walk out of the theater with my tail between my legs?
Luckily, the answer was “no” — as I discovered at a recent screening in Los Angeles. In fact, The Disaster Artist is a generous portrayal of the sweet but unlikely friendship between Franco’s Tommy Wiseau and his costar Greg Sestero (played by the director’s brother Dave Franco), two Hollywood outsiders who overcame odds and turned a hilariously bad film into a worldwide cult phenomenon. James Franco’s portrayal of Tommy Wiseau is dead-on accurate — the accent is great but more than that, James captures Tommy’s essence. James walks and moves like Tommy, his affect is stilted like Tommy, he captures the dichotomy of Tommy’s paranoia and his self-proclaimed love of humanity. I completely forgot I was watching James Franco as he vanished into the part. Through Tommy, James explores the vulnerability inherent in the outlandish dream of Hollywood stardom — and brings compassion and empathy to a role that could easily have slipped into mockery. In fact, the reason The Disaster Artist is so funny is because Franco never goes for the joke. Rather, he immerses himself in Tommy’s persona and lets the natural comedy of the situation, character, and top-notch script shine through.
I was fortunate to meet both Franco brothers after the screening of The Disaster Artist. As I spoke with James, it was hard to reconcile that this dashing movie star was the same guy I just witnessed embody Tommy Wiseau so thoroughly. James was gracious and welcoming, asking me all sorts of questions about my experience on The Room and kindly flattering my performance (I have witnesses), although conceding with a chuckle, “I realize it’s not saying much since we’re talking about The Room.” Didn’t matter — I came away thoroughly charmed. It’s also fitting that Dave Franco, one of the most gregariously likable stars I’ve encountered, brings Greg Sestero, a truly decent human, to life on screen in a lovable and endearing fashion.
Sure, the ending of The Disaster Artist gives this real-life tale the Hollywood golden-brush stroke treatment and the timeline of The Room audiences’ uproarious reaction is consolidated for storytelling efficiency. In reality, at The Room premiere, people were laughing, but certainly not cheering — yet. I personally was laughing so hard, I had tears streaming down my face — but quietly because I didn’t want to offend Tommy. In fact, many people walked out of The Room premiere within the first five minutes. Those who stayed got a delicious treat.
Mostly though, The Disaster Artist is fully committed to authenticity and precision. The set, the actors’ costumes, the intonation of dialogue, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans — all true to what actually happened on The Room set. It was surreal seeing my character, played realistically by June Diane Raphael, wearing the exact outfit down to the necklace that I wore to The Room premiere. Somehow, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber seemed to live in my head, giving my character dialogue I recall saying — like my theory that The Room is autobiographical.
Both The Room and The Disaster Artist resonate because, whether we like it or not, we see ourselves in Tommy. James Franco first suggested this several years ago in an article for Vice, but I didn’t completely buy it back then. Wait, you’re saying that you, me, all of us (artists) — we’re just like Tommy? Huh? But after seeing The Disaster Artist, I totally get it. James Franco succeeds in conveying the relatability and the child-like lovability of Tommy Wiseau. The sincerity of The Room is its biggest attribute and, despite the sincere effort, it still fails as a “good film.” Haven’t we all sincerely tried for something and failed?
The Disaster Artist movie is equally sincere, but while The Room fails spectacularly, The Disaster Artist succeeds just as spectacularly. I always thought The Room was like lightning — it never strikes in the same place twice. The Disaster Artist has proven me wrong — it’s a bolt of lightning that brilliantly captures the pathos, the humor, and the bare humanity of striving. Striving to be better, to be more, to be something other than what you are. And it’s this striving, depicted so authentically in The Disaster Artist, that fits Hollywood like a glove.
And now for the plug! (Hey, Tommy Wiseau is not the only cast member of the The Room who can self-promote, you know.) In addition to being in the worst movie ever made, I’m also a comedy writer and director (yes! I do other things). Several years ago, as The Room grew in popularity, I saw an opportunity to marry the fact that I’m in The Room, which is so ripe for jokes, with my love of storytelling. I conceived of and directed the mockumentary web series, The Room Actors: Where Are They Now? which follows the real Room actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves struggling to escape “the worst movie ever made.” After a successful year on the festival circuit, the first four episodes of my series launch on Funny or Die this Thursday, Nov. 30, with one episode released each week until Dec. 21. Each scripted episode follows one or two real Room actors, as the “cinematic trainwreck” that is The Room creeps into their lives in unexpected ways.