(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)
If, like us, you’ve spent any time around film nerds and cult movie buffs in the past decade and a half, you’ve likely heard about a little gem known as The Room. A true independent film in almost every sense, the romantic drama was the passion project of a single man, Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, directed, financed, and starred in the film.
Aside from a number of, let’s say, unusual directorial choices, The Room also features a collection of largely inexperienced actors, perplexing green screen usage, dangling plot points, and a curious obsession with American football. It’s also a supremely earnest creation, which is part of the reason why it’s earned such a feverish following and spawned regular midnight screenings across the country.
As it happens, both James Franco and Seth Rogen count themselves among The Room‘s fans, and they recently joined forces to adapt The Disaster Artist, a memoir about the making of the film written by one of its co-stars, Greg Sestero. With the Certified Fresh The Disaster Artist expanding into wide release this week, we spoke to Wiseau about his Five Favorite Films, what it was like to see Franco’s portrayal of him on the big screen, and what the legacy of The Room means to him.
The first one will be Citizen Kane. Orson Welles.
The second will be Giant with James Dean.
You’d be surprised but, again, I put in parentheses, I’m not here to praise James [Franco]. Okay? But the reason I support his role, because we didn’t have a choice at the time. We picked him because originally… I don’t know if you knew the story here that The Disaster Artist is based on the great storybook Disaster Artist, right? And he basically optioned the book, optioned to produce the movie. But people ask me who are supposed to… Who would I like? Who’s supposed to play me? I don’t know if you heard about it, but long story short, I say Johnny Depp.
But we had a conversation with James, and with Greg [Sestero]. And Greg, long story short, he said, “What about James?” I said, “Yeah, he’s good, because I like his movie Sonny.” Sonny is the movie directed by Nicolas Cage. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not. It’s about gigolo in New Orleans, Louisiana, etc.
So we had a conversation with James, and Greg says, “Sure, whatever. James playing you.” I said, “That’s good idea, because he did the movie Sonny, and which, I like it.” And for some reason, the critics think differently, or public, whatever. But this is relate to my life as well, The Room, basically. Because you have all the flavors. So that’s basically your little quirky backstory.
Casablanca. You see, Casablanca remind me what we have within The Room, some of the phrases. For example, I say, “Oh, you make my day,” or, “You are tearing me apart,” or whatever. I’m talking about the other movie as well, just paraphrasing some of those phrases. You see, The Room, people never give us credit, okay? And now everything turn around because people now, and especially the critic, which can be very tough as you probably… Including your company.
But, again, let me explain something here. Hopefully you guys print this. Please don’t misquote me, but it’s nothing wrong to criticize anyone, included film, play, whatever. But it is wrong when people started doing not just a critique but get into sort of hatred mode. You know what I’m saying? So I think it’s very important to understand the structure what I present, related to The Room now, I presented 14 years ago, based on my vision, which people did not expect it, this kind of vision, because it was, basically, it was different cookie cutter from Hollywood. I said this many times, but as you know, I’ve been ignored but fans embrace that.
A Streetcar Named Desire with Marlon Brando. I just want to put there. All these movies that I’ve listed, including Casablanca, you have flavors, which I like it. Drama. Comedy. And again, we may argue back and forth about what is drama, what is a comedy, right? What is melodrama? The Room never did melodrama.
The thing what I listed all the movies, they’re not melodrama, they are relate to real life. Streetcar Named Desire, for example, you have, my understanding was, the time the movie was made, the main characters, Brando and… He actually raped the girl. And they cut this on the movie. That’s my understanding, that it was part of the script. So this is again saying that Streetcar Named Desire give us some evidence that people were still cautious what we present in the big screen that certain ideas or situation between two people, you cannot do it.
Today’s society, as you know, we go extra miles. The Room is perfect example. We show the nudity, we show the certain stuff, because I myself, I was struggling as a filmmaker, as a director, how I present the scene. Same, you see, if you look at Casablanca, a relationship between two main characters, how they, you see… I love it, black and white movies. Sometimes you can educate yourself that you don’t have to physically show it, sexuality, but it’s there because you can feel it.
Now, just because of our culture, I decided to say, “Hey, we go extra miles.” And I was struggling with this. You see, I had talked to Greg. I don’t know if he remembered but I said, “Hey, okay, is it Johnny naked or not?” I said — and I was so frustrated — and I say, “Hell with everything because I don’t know how… I want to be real as much I can.”
Even though people say… Remember, The Room, and is again, The Room is supposed to be play. People forget that; they are short-handed. [laughs] I don’t want to be too negative, but that’s the history of The Room. So I will say, originally I was supposed to… I wanted to put into play, but it didn’t come out right. Actually it come out better because more people can see it. That’s basically what happen.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: My understanding is that the South by Southwest premiere of The Disaster Artist was the first time you saw the movie.
Tommy Wiseau: That’s correct.
RT: As you sat there and watched it, what was your initial gut response to it? What was the first thought you had?
Wiseau: I just breathe very heavily. As you know, they talked to me after the show, “Did you like it?” They don’t understand that — again, you may write this — that it’s a setback in my relationship with myself in the sense what I saw. And it shocked me because, actually, I approve 99 percent. Not just as a person named Tommy Wiseau — I approve because he did good job. I’ll be honest with you.
It was very emotional for me. You see, even now it’s very emotional, as you see in my voice. You can feel it — I don’t know if you can feel it or not. But it was emotional. It still is, because he tackled something what, as I mentioned, relate to Casablanca and others. It just too bad he didn’t go forward with some of the emotional feelings, which we tackle, especially at the end of the movie, the time when Greg says, the character, he say, I’m paraphrasing, “Everything is fine. They’re laughing because they love your movie.”
RT: Speaking of the end of the movie, I read that in the original ending, you and Greg parted ways on bad terms, but then James Franco saw that you guys were still close, so he changed the film to end on a more positive note. Is that true?
Wiseau: We never did. They did good job because we never… We always been friends, even though, as you know, he wrote the book and I support not as I supposed to support. I don’t even put the numbers now because everybody quoting me later. But it is what it is. I think Greg and me and others, we even sometimes trapped in Hollywood dilemma and situation what we feel that is right to say something stop and it’s too late to turn around.
But you can always correct, you know? I mean, as you know, I did the movie with Greg, Best F(r)iends. And also I’m working on the sitcom The Neighbors, the season two. So we’ve been very successful in past 14 years. Some of the stuff, it’s coming to my way in a sense as a director and actor. So I like it.
RT: You succeeded in making a film and continuing to work on projects completely outside the Hollywood system, and you did it all your way. With your experiences, what piece of advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who are trying to get their own movies made?
Wiseau: I would say the same thing what one of the biggest directors said to me, and I don’t want to name the name, but it’s the biggest of the biggest. He’s still alive. Just keep going. They say keep going. And I will add something else. All negative, let them go. So don’t get involved negativeness, because film industry is very complex field, in the sense that you need a passion. If you don’t have a passion, try not to steal other projects. As you probably noticed, perfect example is The Room. You can see on YouTube and other platform, people just steal stuff from The Room, including actors.
I’m going to mention one of the scene from The Disaster Artist. One of the scene, you may watch, the time when you see it, is my character — I mean James playing me — he confront the crew, the actors, and say, “Hey, I know what you say about me.” And then, guess what? This is what exactly happened, 100 percent. And I was very frustrated, but in the beginning I was making fun of them because I say, “Haha.” You know, it’s like little kids. I say, “I got you. I know what you talk about me,” you know? And I never said this for 14 years. Can you imagine that one?
And since they released this movie, I say it now very openly, because, still today, some of my actors — I’m not mention the name — they still that negative. For example, they say, “Oh, script did not exist. This is happened by accident.” They have no clue about industry whatsoever. And so we can go on and write a book about it, all this stuff, but watch the scene. It’s very good scene.
And one other thing with another advice I can give to filmmakers that, the main thing, think positive, and also have respect for others. And that’s the thing what we all lack of in the industry. As you know, current affairs, etc. And so if you have respect for your… Because of some of the area, when you do your art, is collective work. So I myself, people don’t understand, I have assistants, four or five assistant. People say, “Well, how many assistant do you have?” I say to myself, “Hey, I can use two more.” And all this people are extremely important. In this case, Greg, because he was keep going and he didn’t badmouth me — that’s the good news — except in the book. [laughs]
But on the end, everything turned out the way I think it’s supposed to be. I don’t know what the formula is, but to be a good filmmaker [you have to] have respect for others. And have a vision, you know? Like I always say, if you don’t have a vision, you cannot be a director, as well actors.
So, basically, all this advice what I mentioned — passion, respect for others, and have vision — it make you good filmmaker. That’s my take. That’s my advice. Pretty long advice. [laughs]
RT: Thanks for your time, Tommy. Really appreciate it.
Wiseau: We’ll see you at the screening of The Room. And I want to say to all the fans of The Room, have fun with The Room. And I always say, you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself. Please don’t hurt each other. Thank you.
RT: Thank you, Tommy.
Wiseau: Don’t misquote me.
RT: Oh, don’t worry. We never do.
Wiseau: [laughs] I know you guys. I’m just teasing.