The man behind the ‘world’s worst’ movie

Greg Sestoro got his acting break in ‘The Room’, the 2003 film by Tommy Wiseau that continues to enjoy cult status, largely because it was widely dubbed the worst film ever made.

Sestoro chronicled his experiences making the film in his 2013 book ‘Disaster Artist‘, which has been made into a new film starring James Franco that is currently doing the rounds of Australian cinemas.

Hatch caught up with Sestoro when he was in Melbourne to promote the movie, for an insider view of this remarkable story.

Q: This has been a bizarre 19-year journey. How did you first get involved with Tom Wiseau? 
I was taking an acting class in San Francisco, just learning how to act to get better, because that’s how you find work right? What I got out of that class was mostly watching this guy (Wiseau) perform every week. One week I saw him do Shakespeare – which he just completely obliterated – and argue with the teacher, which everyone was a little horrified by.

I’d got optioned for a movie that I thought would put me in the conversation to move to Los Angeles, and on the morning I found out I didn’t get the part, and was about ready to give up, because I thought acting class was really a waste of time, I heard Tommy was performing A streetcar named desire that night. I had to see it.  He’d become the only reason why I went to acting class.

And it was everything I could have hoped for. He kept shouting ‘Stella, Stella’ in one direction  without paying attention to his scene partner, and I thought to myself, I need to find out who this guy is, because this is my future right here.

Q: How did you come to write the book? And did you ever think it would become a movie?
My goal for the book when I started working on it seven years ago was for it to become its own film. I knew that I’d have to comment on The Room as a terrible a film, so I was stuck in this predicament – because obviously you’re not going to use The Room to get acting work. But I knew there was a great story behind it. About three weeks after it was published, James Franco called. He’d read the book but had never seen the movie. We had organised conference call with Tommy.

About five minutes before James was going to call, Tommy got really angry. He started saying he should just take over the whole project, because he knows Hollywood more than I do. And when James called Tommy kept asking what his vision was. Franco said he saw the book as Boogie Nights meets The Master, and  Tommy didn’t know what he was talking about. But then Tommy asked, “who would play me? I think Johnny Depp should play me”. But I suggested James play Tommy – and Tommy was like, “yeah, that’s a good idea”. He was excited, because not only did Tommy like James’s portrayal of James Dean, he also felt close to a movie that James made in 2002 called Sonny, which Nicholas Cage directed, in which James plays a male prostitute. Anyway, so we were off and running. Many books get optioned [as films] but never get made, so I was lucky to have James who really wanted to make this movie.

Greg Sestoro with Macleay students Ashley Flockhart (L) and Ryan Peters

Q: Franco has now been nominated for the Spirit Award for best actor – how does that make you feel?
That’s the amazing thing about the Disaster Artist for me: Franco’s portrayal of Tommy is so mesmerising. I’ve seen the film six times, I fall in love with him each time more and more each time, I mean this is Tommy I’m talking about. That’s how good James is, you almost kind of forget that he also directed it. He stayed in character the entire time, too. To take on this movie and take on this part, and get nominated for best actor for playing Tommy is one of the hardest things to pull off.

Q: Could we be looking at an Oscar?
Yeah, I think [Franco] definitely deserves it. And I know the way Tommy thinks: It’s going to happen, James is going to win best actor, and Tommy is going to think it’s his Oscar.

Q: Making what’s been called ‘the world’s worst movie’ could lead to Wiseau being the stuff of caricature in Disaster Artist. How did the film avoid this? 
It’s James’s performance. It has humanised Tommy. All he wanted was to be taken seriously so he could be accepted and be given a chance as an actor. And no one really gave him that chance. So he gave himself that chance and passed himself as a leading man, and that became a joke. He had been remembered for making a much loved movie but it’s not loved for the reasons he wanted. It captured being stuck in Hollywood trying to be an actor, taking on projects that you think will be good, and ultimately, they’re not.

Q: You’re now giving him that chance with Best Friends?
Yes. I realised it would be great to just give him the chance to be an actor so that’s what I spent the best of last year doing, working on this project with him, trying to take him seriously. It’s connected us in a very different way. [It was different to him working on The Room] because when he was involved with that, he was stressed out and there was no passion. He was just fumbling through scenes, he was just wiped out.

So this time around, he was really hungry, he wanted it. He even said ‘if you need 100 takes I’ll do 100 times’. And he never complained; he just got through them. I was really impressed. I saw that he really wanted the shot at being an actor.

Interview by Ashley Flockhart