James Franco

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SATURDAY FEATURE - Week­end Post

James Franco is an old hand at im­i­ta­tion. When the ac­tor played James Dean in the TV movie of the same name in 2001, he be­came fa­nat­i­cal: iso­lat­ing him­self from his loved ones, tak­ing up smok­ing, mim­ick­ing man­ner­isms on-screen and off. “I was ob­sessed,” Franco ad­mits, a bit sheep­ishly. Franco brings that same dra­matic fer­vour to bear on his lat­est per­for­mance: in The Dis­as­ter Artist, the new movie he pro­duced and di­rected about the mak­ing of the so-ba­dit’s-good cult clas­sic The Room. He stars as Tommy Wiseau, prob­a­bly the best-known and most beloved hack-au­teur in the world, em­u­lat­ing Wiseau’s sin­gu­lar look and bear­ing — vaguely Euro­pean ac­cent, Franken­steinian air, slightly de­mented-look­ing as­pect — with a rigour pun­dits have sug­gested mer­its an Os­car. If noth­ing else, the per­for­mance is a tes­ta­ment to the man’s gift for im­per­son­ation.

But just how ac­cu­rate must a bi­o­graph­i­cal film re­ally be? “I’ve done a lot of movies that are based on real events or real peo­ple,” Franco says. “There’s an art of get­ting some­one down, get­ting the be­hav­iour down. But af­ter that, who knows ex­actly how it was?” In telling another per­son’s story there will al­ways be some di­ver­gence from the let­ter of the truth, and the per­son whose story you’re telling might not nec­es­sar­ily un­der­stand. What Franco does repli­cate, and slav­ishly in­deed, is The Room. He recre­ates scenes from the orig­i­nal movie with such as­ton­ish­ing dili­gence that it can be dif­fi­cult to tell them apart side-by-side. Which of course ac­counts for why he shows them side-by-side, at length, at the end of the pic­ture. “We hadn’t ac­tu­ally planned on do­ing that,” Franco says. “But when we did it — when ev­ery­one on set worked just as hard per­fect­ing some­thing bad as on mak­ing some­thing good — we were like, okay, this is good. This is just kind of magic.” So they needn’t show it off.

But there was a prob­lem. “We had never ne­go­ti­ated to use footage from The Room,” Franco ex­plains. They only had Wiseau’s life rights and the rights to Room co-star Greg Ses­tero’s be­hind-the-scenes mem­oirs. To make mat­ters worse, the pro­duc­ers had al­ready in­fu­ri­ated Wiseau, who owned the film and re­mained in to­tal con­trol. “Tommy’s big­gest stip­u­la­tion had been that he have a cameo in the movie op­po­site me. But he didn’t know — he didn’t read the con­tract closely — that while we had to shoot the cameo, we didn’t have to put it in the movie.” Well, Wiseau must have heard from some­one who saw a rough cut that it wasn’t in there. Be­cause when it came time to rene­go­ti­ate for the footage rights he had one re­quest.

“He told us if we wanted his footage, we had to put his scene in the movie.” There was no way around it this time — the strange scene of Franco’s Tommy meet­ing the real one, which Franco de­scribes as “like this David Lynchian slash Ed Wood mo­ment,” would make the fi­nal cut. But then it oc­curred to Franco that although the newly rene­go­ti­ated con­tract re­quired that Wiseau’s mo­ment be in the movie, it never stip­u­lated where. “I re­al­ized, oh, we can put it at the end of the cred­its, like a Mar­vel teaser,” he laughs. “All of that was just to get this side-by-side thing.”

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