It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for self-professed “The Room movie survivor” Greg Sestero. His book, ‘The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made’ was successfully adapted into a “real Hollywood movie” starring James Franco as the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, and his brother Dave Franco as Sestero himself. Picking up a Golden Globes Best Actor win for James Franco and an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, the world’s attention was back on the cult sensation once again, a staggering 15 years after its initial release.
Amongst all of this however, Greg Sestero was focusing on his next project, writing the screenplay for Best F(r)iends; a trippy tale of friendship and betrayal starring himself and, of course, Tommy Wiseau. As the scope of the project grew, the decision was made to split the film into two volumes, and following a successful run of screenings around the world, Best F(r)iends Volumes 1 + 2 are now available worldwide.
With the doors once again being opened on this incredible and unbelievable story, I sat down with Greg Sestero to get some insights into the making of Best F(r)iends, and what drives him to keep creating…
SB: Particularly in Volume 2, the craziness seems to have amped up a little bit – I’d love to know a bit more about the characters, particularly Rick Edwards who plays “Uncle Rick”?
GS: So growing up in the mid-to-late 80s, there was a soap opera called Santa Barbara that my mom would watch every summer, and she was in love with this character named Jake Morton who was played by Rick. A few years later I was going to my Junior Prom and I was going to rent a tuxedo, and on the cover of the tuxedo catalogue was Rick in a tuxedo, so he was like the biggest male model in the world, one of the first male supermodels, he was on the cover of GQ, and he did a little bit of acting as well.
In 2004, I got booked to model in Japan and when I get to the airport, there’s Jake from Santa Barbara and I was like: “wait, what?!” and I said to him “you’re the guy from Santa Barbara!” and he was like “how the hell did you know that?!”. So I told him the story and we went to Japan and shot for like a week there, and he was just the funniest guy, I mean he was non-stop entertainment. We became friends and he gave me a bunch of advice for modelling and hooked me up with some agents; he’s just a very proactive, positive guy. Around 2008, we talked and he does construction stuff now, so he gave me some advice; he’s like “I think it’s important for you to find something that’s like a business for yourself that you can do on your own” – and this was before The Room really took off and I was kind of at a crossroads. Then we kind of lost touch, I went through a few changes and that was when The Room stuff started taking off.
SB: And how did it get from there to where we are now with him starring in Volume 2?
GS: Cut to summer of 2016, I’m writing this script and Rick just pops into my head – I haven’t spoken to him in eight years – but I was like tapping back into who he was, and I could see this guy and this story in Arizona. So I just started writing – also he was living in LA and San Francisco when we used to meet up – but for some reason this character I was basing on him lives in Arizona, and he is himself. I wrote this guy exactly the way I saw Rick, it was Rick in my mind on the page, and so he was so much fun to write because I knew what he could do; I knew his humour, I knew what he would say… he was almost as much fun to write as Tommy! So I wrote the whole thing out, and I could see and I could feel it was great, and you know this as a writer – how do you then make this come to life?
We got the team together, we shot the trailer and then we were going to do the movie and I was like, “who is going to play Rick?” and I thought “well what if the real Rick played himself?” I didn’t have his number, I hadn’t spoke to him in years, I had no contact with him and no idea where he was, but I started looking on Facebook to try and find things, tried to contact other people that used to know him – dead ends, dead ends for weeks. And I’m in Europe at the time trying to track him down, and I found some guy who he had hooked me up with years ago and asked him if he had talked to Rick, and he said he hadn’t spoken to him in years, maybe get his number through his daughter, we tried to call his daughter, and then eventually he gave me this number and I call it and it’s an Arizona area code – I was like: “wait what?! Arizona area code?” it was so random because that’s where I had based this character!
So I call and leave a message, and then within an hour or so I get a message back, so we get on the phone and I catch him up like I made this cult movie and this is happening, now they’re making a movie out of the book, and now I’m making another movie and I wrote this part for you of a construction guy who lives in Arizona and drives a white truck and that’s exactly what he was doing! And I was like would you play this part, would you basically play yourself and he’s like: “Shit I guess I’ll do it, sure why not!”
I was really nervous to send him the script; you never know what someone is going to think, but he read it and he really liked it. When we drove to Arizona to start the filming, I had told all these stories about him to the crew saying “this guy is like Clint Eastwood, he’s amazing” and whatever. We get to Arizona and we meet up with everyone and we all go out to dinner and he literally lives up to the hype, he was just more Rick than ever and everyone just like fell in love with him.
SB: It looks like you had an absolute blast making these movies, was that the case?
GS: I can honestly say making this movie in Arizona was the greatest summer I’ve ever had, it was just one of those things; having this idea in your head come to life in that way, in this setting, with the real person playing that part was just the best, it was so much fun. He comes in like “is it okay if I change some lines?” and I was like “man I could never think of the funny stuff that you would say so yeah!”. He showed up and we shot it in like 6-7 days and he just delivered. He’s definitely the movie. The guy is a star, he’s got that confidence, it’s where he belongs, he’s very funny and he’s very charismatic so you know, that’s where he should be and it was funny to watch. I feel like he almost steals the show, and I was like “you know he deserves it”. I spent the entirety of Volume 2 trying not to laugh. They were like “you have no dialogue” and I was like “yeah no shit I was trying not to laugh the whole time!”. It’s so cool that other people find him funny as well because sometimes you can have friends that you think are funny but it just does not translate; from the moment we showed this with a crowd, people just got it, and that was a great feeling.
SB: I know you’re a big fan of movies, so what inspired this movie in general, and other side characters like the hotel owner, where did that inspiration come from?GS: I feel like a lot of times you get inspired to make a movie after you’ve been affected by movies or TV shows that you’ve seen and so Volume 2 was very much like Breaking Bad style with Jesse and Walt in the desert and a bit of No Country For Old Men as well with the money and the safe.
And the hotel guy, when we decided we were going to split the films, we had to add in a few new moments to round things out, and a few summers ago I got obsessed with Psycho, and I just wanted to have this Norman Bates moment with a hotel owner. And I didn’t know there was any comedy there until I saw it with a crowd. The biggest laugh is when he said that line “bitches”, and people were laughing through the whole next scene. I had no idea there was comedy there and I thought about cutting it out, but then I was like “no, people really like it”. So yeah that bit was kind of a weird twisted homage to Psycho and Norman Bates, but I love that the whole film just became its own thing, like you have your own stamp on those things that inspired you.
SB: I think you’ve said before you didn’t necessarily intend to make it as two parts, but at what point did you realise you were going to split it and did you see an obvious place to do that?
GS: I think it was just when it came down to timing and seeing what was there it was just too much to have all that come together. I felt like having Rick come in that late, and by the time you had to condense and cut everything it would kind of lose whatever charm it had.
Obviously nothing is perfect, but I feel like the films shine more with their idiosyncrasies and their bizarreness and if you cut all that out you end up with something that is “put together” but maybe not that memorable. I know where I could cut it into one film, like you’d lose a lot but you could do it. I liked the Arizona stuff so much that it’s nice to give that its own space.
SB: It certainly comes across to me that this is your passion project, how necessary do you think it is to have that passion for your craft and how does that shape the final result?
GS: Making a movie is the most difficult thing you could do, it’s like a war in a lot of ways; you have your day planned and there’s so many things that have to go right and so many things that work against you. You have to persevere through and you have to be willing to be maniacal about getting things done, willing to live, breathe making movies 24/7, for months, and you don’t really have many of those efforts in you. Look at Tommy for example, 15 years ago he made this movie, he hasn’t made a movie since because it just takes that much out of you. You don’t know if it’s going to work, and so when it does work it is such a relief you know. There’s a big difference between being hired on a movie and shooting for a week, but when you make it yourself from the ground up that’s when it becomes a huge challenge. It’s your life for a couple of years, and then “does it work, does it not work”. I had the experience with the book in that way, it taught me a lot and I was finally ready to do something again. I think people love the idea of making movies, but when you actually get there and get in the trenches it is a different beast and a lot of it relies on the team and having a good group of people around. You have to be so passionate about it to get through.
SB: Was there anything in particular you learnt through the creative process of writing and then making BF?
GS: I learned not to judge the work too much because there’s so many stages to go through and you’re never going to get it right so you just have to get it done and from there you can improve it and craft it, but if you don’t have anything finished, you don’t have anything to work with. Have fun writing it, and it’s important to think who is going to want to watch it, and how does this fit in for an audience.
SB: Is it hard to let go of something like this, is there the tendency to keep tweaking and keep changing?
GS: Yeah I think each movie is different, Volume 2 was easier to be like “yeah I’m good” but Volume 1 was a bit trickier. It’s tough to let go for sure, it takes experience, and it takes having the right people around you to know that this is as ready as it’s going to be.
SB: And now it is kind of out there with audiences what’s that been like?
GS: The first wave was really good, people really enjoyed it for the most part and now its available worldwide it’ll be interesting to see the reaction to that. Theatrically it has played really well so it’ll be an interesting challenge to see how it holds up being more accessible. The response has been really consistent for what I’ve seen, the people that are there for the right reasons will enjoy it and that’s what matters.
SB: Do you feel like your relationship with The Room has changed over the years
GS: Yeah definitely, it’s evolved. I always thought what The Room did was great but I always knew there was more to me than that, so I’ve tried to create things that respect The Room but are also going in different directions. But it’s a base that is fascinating because people are still coming to see it 15 years later and there’s not really anything else that exists like that. It’s a great thing if you use it wisely.
SB: Seems a long time ago now, but how did it feel having your name read out at the Oscars?
GS: It was a crazy time, I think the whole thing was like a rollercoaster with everything that happened. And you tend to just be like “go go go” and you don’t really have time to process everything, and I know for me it was really important to enjoy that ride, but also important to stay creative and make new things, and that’s really where my head has been, continuing to evolve and grow and challenge myself. It’s tough because you don’t just want to make movies for the sake of it, you really have to fall in love with the story you’re trying to tell. And I’ve been really lucky the last couple of years making Best Friends, things just worked with the timings and everything. The Disaster Artist stuff was great but I was always focused on the next thing and planning ahead.
SB: So the future, what does that hold for you; are you still thinking about writing another book?
GS: Yeah I mean there’s so much there, it’s just a matter of when to tell it!
SB: What is that really drives you, keeps you wanting to make movies and be creative?
GS: I think when you’re lucky enough to find something that you love but is also a challenge, that’s really where you want to spend most of your time. And for me a big passion was travelling, and through modelling and through this I’ve been able to travel the world many times over. The Room was something that was unexpected along the way, and I’m very big on being positive and seeing this situation and taking it and turning it in the most positive way, and the fact that I’m lucky enough to be making stuff and people want to come out and see it, that’s what really drives me is just to continue being able to do that
There’s certainly plenty more of this story to tell and I’d like to thank Greg for taking the time to once again share his insights with me and being so open and honest about the making of Best Friends and movies in general. And of course the next project is already in its planning phases as Greg has widely talked about making a horror film. And also, maybe there will be vampire in it, we’ll see…
BONUS! A Quick chat with “Uncle Rick”
After sitting down with Greg, I knew I needed to get the other side of the story, so I reached out to model and actor Rick Edwards who plays Uncle Rick in Best F(r)iends Volume 2.
SB: How did you first meet Greg and how did this lead to you getting the part in Best Friends?
RE: I met Greg when we were modelling together in Osaka, Japan. We worked together a few times afterwards and have always remained friends ever since. Greg got in touch with me after I had moved out of Los Angeles over a year ago on the phone and was telling me all the things he was involved in, that being The Disaster Artist book and writing a new movie script. This was when he mentioned that he had written a part for me.
SB: And what was your reaction when you heard Greg had written this part for you, or based on you at least?
RE: I thought that was pretty cool and laughed about it…until he asked me to play the role! My first response was “Buddy you’ve got to find somebody that can actually do this because I don’t want to!”. He laughed and said “Just read it “and he sent me the script. Now he had told me he had based this character on me, and after reading it I was like “Holy shit am I like this?!”. When I got back to him he said “Loosely based on you!”. We laughed about that and I said that if he really wanted me in it, and if I could help, then I would.
SB: What was your experience like of filming Best Friends, and what has the reaction been like from audiences who have seen the film so far?
RE: It ended up being one of the best times of my life, and working with Greg was amazing. He is such a hard worker – very inspirational – and I really appreciate that. As for the audience reaction, win, lose or draw, the end result was very rewarding.
SB: What’s next? Any plans to do more movies and acting?
RE: If the opportunity arises to work with Greg again, then I would do it in a heartbeat. The more important thing is, as a result of this experience, our friendship got stronger – doesn’t get better than that!
Huge thanks as well to Rick for being incredibly generous in sharing his experiences making the movie. You can catch him, Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau, and a whole host of others in Best F(r)iends Volumes 1 + 2, available to download worldwide and to purchase on region-free Blu-Ray.
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