Tommy Wiseau’s film “The Room,” released in 2003, depicts a bizarre love triangle involving a banker named Johnny (Wiseau), his fiancée, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Wiseau wrote, produced and directed what everyone acknowledged was a melodramatic mess with shoddy production values. Nonetheless, the film developed a cult following, with fans laughing at its unintentional humor.
That was the material mined by James Franco for “The Disaster Artist” (out Dec.1 from A24). He directed and stars as Wiseau/Johnny, with his brother, Dave Franco, playing Greg Sestero/Mark and Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle/Lisa. The film tells the story of how Wiseau made what he thought was a masterpiece.
The crew behind the new film, which lovingly parodies the old one, set out to do good work on behalf of bad work, which adds to the laugh factor.
“He inhabited Tommy so fully,” costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo says of Franco. “He directed in character. Even when I would go to dress him every morning, before he put his costume on, he was talking to me as Tommy.”
Franco shot much of “The Disaster Artist” at Occidental Studios in Los Angeles, where production designer Chris L. Spellman built sets, including Johnny and Lisa’s San Francisco apartment — re-creations of key scenes from “The Room.”
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“We replicated pretty much everything that was part of ‘The Room’ as thoroughly and consistently as possible,” Spellman says, noting he incorporated all the flaws of the original sets (such as sloped floors and windows that didn’t fit the apartment). “It’s tough to tell a union carpenter, who has learned how to level things and measure twice, cut once, and keep everything plumb, to build things that are not quite plumb and a bit too high on the left.”
Spellman filled the wonky sets with items “Room” fans will recognize, including the film’s signature spoon artwork, which Spellman hired a graphic designer to make.
Abbandandolo tried to “channel Tommy’s uniqueness” when costuming Franco. “I could tell immediately when he put something on if it was going to work or if it didn’t, because I could see him unconsciously responding to it,” she says.
Wiseau, whose look is best described as ’80s rocker-meets-Euro guy, according to Abbandandolo, goes on a fashion journey in “The Disaster Artist”: “He starts very dark. In the opening scene, he’s got on that gothic pirate shirt and that sort of band jacket with all the frogging and accoutrement on the front. He’s very ornamental.”
By the time he’s making “The Room” in “The Disaster Artist,” Wiseau is wearing a white tank top and cargo pants. “He’s a lot more pared down because he went through this introspective phase of finding himself,” the costume designer explains, “so we shed a lot of external persona.”