The Disaster Artist opened this past weekend to rave reviews thanks to its lighthearted but sneakily resonant telling of the bizarre, contentious, ultimately edifying friendship between Hollywood babyface Greg Sestero and unknown origin Red Bull gargoyle Tommy Wiseau. The hook was that theirs is a friendship forged largely in the fires of a famously strange cult movie. The Disaster Artist depicts the successful completion of that film — The Room, which stars and was written and directed by Wiseau — as a triumph of the artist, however strange, over adversity, mainly in the form of his own strangeness.
The first public screening of The Room provides the climax of The Disaster Artist, as recently described in The New York Times: “The audience is puzzled, then horrified, then delighted, and right before our eyes Tommy (James Franco) has to perform a tricky bit of emotional jujitsu, jettisoning his delusions and accepting that if the public loves his film, it’s only because it is so terrible.”
Of course, that kind of “emotional jujitsu” is easier when you’re the “star” of the movie like Wiseau — and when you’re seeing a piece of the estimated $20,000 – $25,000 the film still generates every month. It’s a little, well, let’s say different, when you took an acting job on a lark when you were 21 assuming no one would see it, baring your soul (and your body) in the part of a manipulative she-devil, only to end up becoming a quasi-celebrity based on the weirdest few weeks of your life, where one of your trademarks is a weirdly twitching neck muscle (or worse).
That’s closer to Juliette Danielle’s story, after playing Lisa of “you’re tearing me apart, Lisa” fame. She had the toughest job and gave the most of herself only to bear most of the most negative aspects of becoming an object of cult fascination. It would’ve been hard for some of The Room‘s inherent misogyny (Lisa is played as the ultimate harlot) not to have rubbed off the audience, even one watching it ironically.
Still, 15 or so years later Danielle is sanguine about it all, a consummate good sport, who, to an impressive extent, has managed to not let a few assholes poison her view of cult fandom (or humanity) as a whole. She’s an example for us all. Her only request in talking to me via email was to not write it as a “poor me kind of a thing.”
Done and done (I hope).
Tell me about what was happening in your life before you started shooting The Room.
I moved to LA in summer of 2001. I decided to start acting on something of a whim… something like “I’m here, why not?” My family moved to California from Sugar Land, Texas together. My mom, sister and I came out by ourselves. I had just finished my second year of college in Dubuque, Iowa (long story) and decided to go along with them. My sister was 10 at the time. I was 20. Can you imagine? Turning 21 in LA? So I was probably drinking and partying while holding down a full-time job and acting in my spare time. I was taking acting classes.
I’ve read Greg’s account of some of the bizarre auditions for The Room. What was your audition like?
Our auditions were unusual for film, but more appropriate for theater. There was a lot of improv. And although the ice cream eating scene in the movie wasn’t quite right… it did get the point across. Tommy would give us direction like, “You just won a million dollars. Go.”
What were the cast rumors about Tommy? There had to be some.
We didn’t know a lot about Tommy. We knew he liked Red Bull. He brought it in by the case.
Rumors? I think the most annoying thing consistently for the cast was having to be there every day whether we were shooting or not. That didn’t really affect me because I’m in most of the scenes.