The Disaster Artist writers on how they crafted an entrance for Tommy Wiseau
In the lead-up to this year’s Academy Awards on March 4, EW is taking a closer look at some of the screenplays honored in the original and adapted categories. Each weekday between now and Oscar night, a nominated writer will break down a single scene that was essential to the stories they were telling and explain how the pages came together.
In the early version of the script for The Disaster Artist, the true-life story of the making of The Room, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber included a lot more background for one of their lead characters, wannabe actor Greg Sestero. “We had a couple more scenes of Greg Sestero — meeting him, seeing his friends, seeing his mom, learning about his dreams,” Weber recalls. “This was a couple pages before this scene. We shot that stuff, and it quickly became clear that we didn’t need any of it.”
Instead, after a series of famous talking heads introduce the concept of the gloriously bad The Room, the film transitions straight into an acting class, the setting for writer-director Tommy Wiseau’s and Sestero’s first meeting. The sequence establishes their shared dream, the lengths Wiseau is willing to go to realize that ambition, and just how shut-off he could be to criticism.
NEUSTADTER: This is San Francisco, Jean Shelton’s acting class. It’s a real thing. We read a few articles about what that was like, and Jean Shelton was very legit. People were terrified of her, and she discovered a lot of talented people. The idea that Tommy Wiseau took her class is in and of itself really amazing.
NEUSTADTER: Streetcar was always in there, based on real events. We wanted to get that one. With Waiting for Godot, we had tried others, but it was really about clearances at that point. It was about figuring out what we were allowed to do. I know Franco very much wanted to do Waiting for Godot, but there was some precedent that you had to do the whole scene as written if you wanted to use the scene, so there was no messing around with it.
WEBER: In the book, Tommy does a Shakespearean sonnet. Because these guys have a mutual affection for Brando and that style of acting and the fact that Tommy later on puts Tennessee Williams on the billboard for The Room in LA — and he spelled Tennessee Williams wrong. We just wanted to establish his affinity for Tennessee Williams early on.
NEUSTADTER: Greg always had this issue where he was in his head. He didn’t feel the confidence when he’d get up there. He knew his lines, but he really couldn’t deliver them with the same kind of intensity that he hoped to be able to do and he knew he’d be able to do if he was ever going to do this for this life.
WEBER: I like to think that in Tommy’s head, this is how he enters most rooms. More seriously, Greg is the first person to really believe in Tommy, so I think it was important to not just show that grand entrance for Tommy, but try to experience what Greg experiences, of falling under Tommy’s spell.
NEUSTADTER: Scattered throughout the book, there are a lot of random descriptions of what Tommy looks like in terms of comparisons. Everyone who talks about The Room has a different way of describing him.
WEBER: A combination of Jack Sparrow and Van Damme villain, I think Tommy would view that very positively.
NEUSTADTER: On the page, we basically did what felt right to us. I think on the day of shooting, it probably went on for 20 minutes. It was like, “Let’s get as much as we can.” James [Franco] really went for it. He was climbing up walls and falling on his ass really hard. A couple times over, he brought up another acting student played by Zoey Deutch, who didn’t have any lines in the scene, but just had to react to the insanity.
WEBER: For the most part we treat this as a drama. We take all of this very seriously knowing that Franco, [Seth] Rogen, and all those guys would bring some of the comedy. Ultimately, we’d all meet and it would mesh somewhere in the middle, which I think gets encapsulated pretty well with what’s on the page version how the scene turned out.
NEUSTADTER: Jean Shelton would try to give constructive criticism to Tommy, and he would not take it. He would genuinely fight back saying, “You don’t know this character. I know this character better than you.” At a certain point, she was like, “Okay, next!” We’re teeing up the idea that this is Wiseau here. He has this dream.
WEBER: I love this exchange between Tommy and Jean. In some ways, it foreshadows the industry saying no to Tommy and Tommy saying, “I’m gonna do it my own way regardless of what the industry thinks,” which is sort of his reaction to Jean. In another way, it foreshadows the making of The Room, where Tommy has to collaborate, and all of these people are questioning his choices and questioning his vision and Tommy is like, “No, I see it this way, and my vision is singular.” The stubbornness he shows with Jean is a trait that carries Tommy throughout the rest of the movie.
NEUSTADTER: The real scene ends when Greg says, “Do you want to do a scene with me?” And Tommy is so surprised that anyone would want to do it that he thinks it’s a joke, and it’s not. So begins this kind of beautiful story, and we always kind of viewed it as a very positive thing wherein these two guys are the ultimate Hollywood underdogs, undertaking this impossible thing and somehow making good with it.