Dave Franco on Working with His Brother in The Disaster Artist—and That Time Alison Brie Walked in on James Naked
"At this point, there's not much he can do that surprises me," Dave Franco says of his brother, James. The upcoming comedy-drama The Disaster Artist, a tell-all about the making of 2003's The Room (known as "the Citizen Kane of bad movies," it tops most worst-films-of-all-times lists), marks the first time the Franco brothers will act together. The eldest Franco, who also directs, plays Tommy Wiseau—the enigmatic filmmaker who famously wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the box office flop-turned-cult classic—and stayed in character for the duration of shooting. "I think it just added to the whole meta weirdness of it all."
Unkempt, dyed-jet black locks and a vaguely Eastern European accent notwithstanding, Dave kept his cool with an impressive turn as Wiseau's co-star and IRL friend Greg Sestero, author of the book The Disaster Artist, on which the film is based. (Dave's wife, Alison Brie, plays Sestero's girlfriend, Amber, making it a true family affair. And pal Seth Rogen joins them onscreen too.) Here, Franco sat down to discuss his brother's passion project (out Dec. 1), dyeing his hair blonde, and his most shameful audition story. Spoilers ahead.
Who first introduced you to The Room?
My brother [James] and I were both pretty late to the game. He actually read Greg Sestero's book before ever seeing The Room—he's probably the only person on the planet who did it in that order. But after reading the book, he watched the movie and then texted me and said, "If you haven't seen this yet, watch it immediately. We need to make a movie about this." I was working in Boston at the time, so I watched it alone in a hotel room, which is not the way to watch that movie for the first time—you watch it in a group where you can turn to people and say, "What the f-ck is going on?" So I finished that viewing feeling very unsettled, not knowing how to feel. But I eventually went to one of the infamous midnight screenings, where the audience is yelling at the screen and throwing things, and I immediately understood the cult status of the movie. Since then, I've seen The Room probably 25 times, which is more than I've seen any movie in existence.
Your character is put through the wringer during the audition process in the movie. Did you have a similar experience when you started acting?
Oh yeah, on my third audition ever, the casting director asked me to "slate" real quick. At the time, I didn't know the terminology—it means to look a the camera and say your name—so I was like, "Sorry, say that again? I can't quite hear." I thought she said, "Can you sleep real quick?" So I got comfortable, leaned back, and pretended to sleep. Everyone behind the camera was so confused. I guess it shows that I wanted the part and I was willing to do anything.
How did it feel to go blonde?
It was a pretty gnarly pee-yellow color. I wouldn't say I was at my most confident when I wasn't on set.
You wear some pretty form-fitting tank tops, too.
Yeah; what's amazing about this movie is that it's weirdly a period piece. Fifteen years may not seem like that long ago, but when you look at the hairstyles and the clothing, you realize how much has evolved since then. I think my brother treated it in a very tasteful, subtle way where it wasn't hitting you over the head.
You've consciously avoided working with James up until now. Why this particular project?
It just felt like the right time and the right dynamic between our characters. I really understood Greg, and after a while, I just figured he's my brother and I love him and respect him. And we do have very similar sensibilities: We're both drawn to projects that feel slightly outside the box, and this one definitely falls in that category. When we first started making this movie, we knew there was a chance that no one would ever see it, because most people in the world have never even heard of The Room. So it was very niche in that way, but at the same time, because there's this underlying story about dreamers who are going after their goals and not taking no for an answer, we figured that there was a chance it could break out because everyone can relate to that idea.
How did you adjust to him staying in character as Tommy onset?
There was definitely an adjustment period. I think everyone else took a little bit longer to get used to it, particularly Seth Rogen, who probably needed two weeks to get to the point where he wasn't just laughing in my brother's face every time he saw him. He came up to me at one point and was like, "This is weird for me and that's your f-cking brother. How are you getting through a single take?"
Was there a particularly challenging scene to shoot?
The scene where he's naked except for the co-k sock that he's wearing was a special one. That was the first day my wife, Alison, came to set, so she walked in on that and was like, "Wow, this movie is gonna be different."
Speaking of, what was it like working with your other half?
Amazing. I've been lucky enough to work with Alison a few times this past year. It was a little scary going into the first project, because we were playing love interests in that one as well. In the back of my mind, I was scared that there might not be chemistry between us onscreen, and that would be weird! But on the contrary, it was so easy to act with her. I feel so comfortable with her, she knows me better than anyone on the planet, and I feel more willing to take risks in front of her, knowing that she's not gonna judge anything that I do. She really does bring out the best in me in my work, too.
She kicks serious ass in Glow. Was she practicing wrestling moves at home while filming season one?
She definitely comes home at the end of the day and shows me new moves that she learned. During the first season, I was filming a movie, Six Balloons, where I portray a drug addict—I lost 20 pounds and was in the worst shape of my life and she was in the best shape of her life. So she would try some moves on me and, after a while, I told her that we could not do that anymore because she was legitimately going to hurt me.
Shalom Life ranked you and James at number 2 on its list of "hottest Jewish men". How does it feel to be a Jewish heartthrob?
It's an honor. [Laughs]
Did you have a bar mitzvah? The one Seth Rogen threw for James seemed like quite the party.
I did not, no. My mom's Jewish, so we're obviously Jewish as well, but I was never bar mitzvahed.
Do you celebrate Chrismukkah?
We celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, but we have never combined the two. It's never too late...
VIDEO: Dave Franco Reveals Why It's Taken Him So Long to Work with James Franco
Your family holiday card with all of your pets went viral a few years back. Do the Francos always send one out?
We do. It is a very sweet thing that our mom makes sure that we have one every year. We're a full-on cat family. At that time, I had two cats, James had two, my mom had two, and my other brother [Tom] had two dogs, so when everyone brought their animals home, it was chaos.
Do you have a favorite cat video on YouTube?
"Cats with Bells"—it's two cats asking for food using bells, and it's hilarious. Weirdly, for whatever reason, there's almost a stigma against cats in the states, but I just watched this documentary, Kedi, about cats in Istanbul, and they're absolutely more beloved. They talk about cats as the closest connection to God. I'm like, "Wow, I might need to move there."
With the notable exception of "Cats with Bells," you've steered clear of social media for the most part.
Yeah, I've definitely been pressured to join because it actually does help with work these days, but I just find it all a little scary, and it makes me anxious. I have weeded out all of the negative people around me, so the idea of inviting trolls and negativity into my life on a daily basis doesn't appeal to me. I've stayed away for this long and I'm gonna try to stick with it. Talk to me in a few years when I'm not getting work, but for now I'm trying to keep my personal life as private as possible.
Do you ever think about going back to school?
Not really. I was two months away from graduating at USC when I got my first big acting job in Canada and had to drop all the work that I had done for the semester. We had two weeks left of filming when we found out there was no money left, so we all went home, and the movie was never finished. In hindsight, I think it all worked out for the best, because it was a B-horror movie called Bad Meat. The tagline was, "It's the meat. It's bad." I'm very happy that it never saw the light of day.