'Disaster Artist's' James Franco on Casting Famous Friends, Avoiding Parody Pitfalls

Courtesy of Justina Mintz/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
James Franco says that while directing 'The Disaster Artist,' he decided to keep the accent he was using to play Tommy Wiseau.

"Tommy is all of us, anybody that comes to Hollywood trying to achieve their dreams," says the director-star of the balancing act of keeping his character "emotionally grounded."

Director-star James Franco reveals how he persuaded his friends to star in his quirky film and the balancing act he struck with his leading man: 

How had you managed to not see The Room before reading The Disaster Artist?

It's kind of weird! The biggest fans from my circle who went to the early screenings [midnight showings of The Room became cult events in the 2000s and continue around the world] were Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Paul Rudd. But around that time, I wasn't really close with any of those guys. I wasn't in Superbad. I was in Knocked Up, but it was like a cameo. And I think Seth [Rogen] maybe went to The Room once, but he wasn't a superfan. So it just strangely slipped me by. I saw the billboards, I went to the Sunset 5 and was really into weird indie films. But it strangely didn't compute. You're just like: "OK, there's a fucking weird-looking poster. I have no interest in that at all."

Is the cast made up entirely of friends of yours?

A lot of them were friends. Or fans of The Room. The one sort of insider guy that we knew that we wanted in the movie was Paul Scheer. I was not aware of Paul and Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael's podcast How Did This Get Made? at the time. But Paul was at an early script reading and gave incredible notes. And we were just like, "Wow, this dude needs to be in the movie in some capacity." With the Bryan Cranston section, I had just worked with Bryan, and it was really fortuitous that we could have him in it. And it would be Bryan Cranston from Malcolm in the Middle before Breaking Bad! And I just thought, "Oh, this is perfect." So I really fought for that one.

How did you stop yourself from going too far into parody as Tommy?

We found the whole movie on every level was a balancing act. It is funny, but we didn't want to make an out-and-out comedy or a spoof in any way. And keeping the characterization in bounds was the overall design to make Tommy sympathetic. Tommy is all of us, anybody that comes to Hollywood trying to achieve their dreams or anybody outside of Hollywood with a dream, you know? We all kind of start on the outside and have to kind of figure it out. And so that was a way to really keep Tommy emotionally grounded. 

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.