In 2015 Alex Casey interviewed Greg Sestero, star of The Room and author of The Disaster Artist, about his book about a movie that’s now a movie of its own.
I remember sitting next to a middle-aged couple who had innocently wandered into a late-night screening of The Room at The Academy cinema one fateful Friday night. They were probably expecting a slow-moving arthouse number, a foreign film, or perhaps an old black and white silent film. From the poster, it’s really difficult to tell what it’s about. Minutes later the curtains lifted and they clung to each other as the audience erupted, shrieking and laughing and throwing spoons and drinking scotchka (scotch and vodka, a Room special).
First released in 2003, there is nothing that has ever been, or will ever be like watching The Room in a packed cinema. From the singular vision of Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious raven-haired man, The Room was entirely funded by his mysterious small fortune (some of which he claims was made by importing leather jackets from Korea). It’s these strange conditions that set up the film that was to come, a melodramatic mishmash of love triangles, drugs, sex, cancer and flower shop dogs.
With characters popping out of nowhere, nonsensical dialogue and the worst sex scene ever committed to screen, The Room quickly became a cult classic and revered as “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Star of The Room and friend of Wiseau, Greg Sestero immortalised the fascinating Hollywood success story in his book The Disaster Artist for The Room’s 10 year anniversary. Now, in 2017, The Disaster Artist has been adapted into a film starring James and Dave Franco. Ah yes, a movie about a book about a movie.
I spoke to Greg Sestero in LA in 2015 when The Disaster Artist was beginning production, and here are the leaked tapes.
Alex Casey: I first saw The Room when it came to New Zealand in the film festival. It was the picture that got me intrigued – I thought it was going to be a horror film.
Greg Sestero: It does look like a horror film. It looks like a guy who’s been doing drugs for 64 hours and had a mugshot taken, and that’s the poster.
A lot of people still haven’t seen this movie, how would you explain or describe it personally?
I think The Room is the movie that an alien would make after having movies thoroughly explained to him. Somebody who has a totally distinct, unique vision of how the world works and what life is about… this is their take on that, an unfiltered take on that.
Tommy had complete control over it didn’t he?
Yeah, there was a lot of input from people trying to make it normal, and he refused. That was lucky, because I feel like we would have got something that was average, and instead we get something that is mesmerising in its own way.
What was your first impression of Tommy when you met him?
I met him in 1998 in an acting class in San Francisco, about four years prior to shooting The Room. I was just really intrigued by the combination of bravado and how eccentric and bizarre, so I became creative partners with him just to figure out who he was. He was very enthusiastic and playful, and believed that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. That sentiment kind of shows in the movie too, in his speech about if a lot of people love each other the world would be a better place to live.
That speech in particular, at the time you hear it you kind of cringe and you laugh, but at the same time there’s an overwhelming sincerity and purity to what he’s saying.
Yeah. You don’t know what message is trying to be sent. I think it’s that mystery that keeps people coming back to The Room over and over.
What was it like living with Tommy? You mentioned some kind of strange happenings in the book.
It was interesting, because you had two polar opposites living in a small, one-bedroom apartment. He had roped off his portion of the apartment with black curtains, so it kind of looked like you were walking into a theatre, and you never got to know what was going on behind there. My room was just small, tucked-away, with a chin-up bar in the door jamb. Sometimes I could walk in and he would be hanging on the bar upside down, kind of like a bat. You just never knew what you were going to find in there.
I spent a lot of time outside, out on the town, walking late at night. It was very different. I got to know LA very well; I spent most of my time out and about. It was that living situation that kind of helped create The Room. One night we went out to go see the Talented Mr Ripley and that kind of pushed the creation of The Room, for better or for worse.
He didn’t have you in mind for Mark initially, right?
He did, he did. But I’d already read the script, so I agreed to help him make the movie but I wasn’t going to be in it. The night before filming he convinced me to actually be in it after there was already another Mark had been cast in the role. It made for an interesting first day on set.
How uncomfortable was it to kick off the other Mark?
It was extremely weird and uncomfortable. But I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way now, right?
What did you think you were getting yourself into? Obviously you had read the script and knew that it was strange…
I knew it was his creation, his version of what a drama is. I just figured that there are so many movies in LA that are made and low-budget and big-budget films that come and go, that this one really had the odds stacked against. It was both a favour to a friend so he could get his movie made and a job. I thought I would do it and buy some time where I wouldn’t have to work the odd jobs in restaurants or retail. That’s all I saw it is: a movie that would really never get seen by anybody.
And now it’s gone everywhere, to everyone.
It’s the most unlikely Hollywood success story I think you could find. Like I said, it had every odds stacked against it.
Did you get to talk to Tommy about the errors in the storyline and the conversations that come from nowhere and all of that, or was he closed off to criticism?
I never tried to correct him really in any way because I felt like I wanted him to make the movie that he wanted to make. So I just told him just to follow through on what he originally wanted to make. I was always the one being supportive and not really giving him notes, saying go for it. I think he appreciated that.
When did you first think ‘that this could be a book, I should write this down’? Were you taking mental notes from day one or was it only kind of retrospectively that you realised?
The whole experience was so vivid that it’s something you just never forget, and I was always sharing stories about it with family and friends. I’d shot and collected so much behind-the-scenes footage that that really helps tell the making-of the movie part of the book. Our friendship was just so surreal that people started watching the movie and wondering how the hell this thing happened. I was like, okay, there’s an audience that wants the story behind the movie, and it’s probably even nuttier than the actual movie
Has Tommy read the book?
He says he has. First he called it the Red Bible, and then he said he approved of it 50%. So I guess that’s good.
That’s a pass. What do you make of people who purposefully try to make B-grade, or cult films, or try to “go viral”? Is it something you can manufacture?
There’s just something that’s so earnest and unique about The Room that you can’t try to recreate. It’s a perfect storm of a person who’s got a clear vision and a little bit more eccentric and out of touch with the mainstream audience, and really shoots for the stars. There’s something very interesting about watching that, rather than a group of talented artists trying to create that, rather than having it happen organically. You can’t really set out for something like that – it just has to happen.
So congratulations on the adaptation, how’s everything going with that?
Well, the book just came out, they start the production in December  I think. They actually hired the writers that did 500 Days of Summer, and The Fault in Our Stars, really great three writers to adapt the book. They did a really terrific job of it and so I think it’s going to be a movie that will be really fun and profound, and people will be surprised by what it does.
Are you worried at all that it might turn it into something else, considering you had such a close relationship with Tommy?
Not at all. Those guys really get the story, and the script is very much like the book and I think they really nailed it. The most important part was to take The Room and try to tell the story of what it’s like to follow your dream and try to make art in such a bizarre way. So yeah, it’s a project in really good hands.
How involved are you going to be in the scripting or just overseeing?
I think when the time comes whenever they have questions and all that behind the scenes stuff, I’m sure whatever I can do to help them make the best movie possible is definitely what I’m up for. I think it’s kind of cool to allow someone else to take your creative vision and kind of see what they do with it as well. I’m a big believer in passing along your vision and letting someone else take the reins and go for it.
Finally, why do you think The Room, and now The Disaster Artist has struck a chord with the world?
I just think there’s really nothing else out there like it, at all, in any capacity. It’s a communal experience, when you witness it in the theatre with the packed crowd it makes you feel alive, and you can’t really get anywhere else. Whatever it is, it’s original, and it will live on because of that.
The Disaster Artist is in cinemas today. Like The Room NZ Facebook page for screenings around the country