On the surface, the 2003 melodrama turned cult masterpiece The Room is just a worst-than-usual soft-core porn film. There’s lots of horribly wooden dialogue (“Should I try the dress on?” “Sure, it’s yours”) and blocking right out of bush-league theater (characters say “Well, I’ve gotta go” to end virtually every scene). The lead actor has Fabio-length hair and comically over-toned abs and ass. The splendidly unerotic sex scenes feature candle-lit bedrooms, rain-streaked windows, third-rate Stevie Wonder clones on the soundtrack and more emphasis on luxurious satin sheets than the thrusting bodies within them. The plot, of course, is negligible: sensitive hunk’s girlfriend cheats with hunk’s vacant best friend.
So why has The Room, directed, written and produced by and starring the Slavic/Swiss-accented behemoth Tommy Wiseau, come close to replacing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as the most highly-regarded so-bad-it’s-good saga of all time? The short answer: Because Tommy Wiseau made the movie (see our REVIEW). Not even Ed Wood at his most delusional would so unabashedly showcase acting this bad or dialogue this tin-eared, or throw in subplots about cancer and drug dealers and exhibitionist sex that never resurface. And despite the film’s naked misogyny (sample line: “I just can’t figure women out. Sometimes they’re just too smart. Sometimes they’re flat-out stupid. Other times they’re just evil”), Wiseau has publicly affixed a perfectly innocent moral to it: “If everyone would just be nice to each other, the world would be a better place.”
Well, now that “The Room’s” co-star Greg Sestero is writing a book about the film (working title: “Locked Inside ‘The Room’”), the world will be a better place indeed. Co-written by Harper’s columnist Tom Bissell, the book, slated for a late 2012 release by Simon & Schuster, will discuss Sestero’s fourteen-year friendship with Wiseau (the two met in a San Francisco acting class, where Wiseau regularly recited Shakespearean sonnets), how “The Room” got formed in his head, how the chaotic production shoot went, and everything else fans might want to know about the real-life, cryptic Wiseau (to date, he has never revealed where he’s originally from). Screen Comment talked with Sestero about the book, his thoughts on “The Room” and its unforeseen hype, and his involvement with FiveSecondFilms.com.
Screen Comment: Your comments on “The Room” in interviews are mildly tongue-in-cheek. Did you go into the movie with that attitude?
Greg Sestero: Pretty much. It was like watching a train wreck, but on the other hand it was so much fun to do.
How quickly did you sign on to the project?
I didn’t right away. I told [Tommy Wiseau] that I’d help behind the scenes and help him cast the movie….Then, the first day of shooting, he fired the actor that played Mark. So I said, OK, why not? I’ve never had a beard before, I’ll never have a beard again.
Is that how that in-joke got thrown in, where you appear newly clean-shaven and everyone’s reacting like it’s the Second Coming?
If people only knew (laughs) …
How long did it take to shoot the movie?
Almost six months. It took longer than “Transformers.” That is sad.
Was there any part of the character of Mark that you related to?
Not really. I don’t really say “I’m very busy” all the time, without knowing what for.
Were the love scenes torture to shoot?
Luckily I get to keep my jeans on. But if you watch closely, I make it pretty clear that I’d rather be sitting on the beach, getting a tan.
What’s your personal favorite memory of shooting “The Room”?
Probably watching Tommy do the whole “You’re tearing me apart!!” line.
How many takes?
I lost count.
Were there any legendary fights or screaming arguments on set?
There were definitely heated moments.
I know at least one actor, Kyle Vogt (who played Peter), quit in the middle of the film. Was this an amicable split?
I guess so. I think he gave it a certain amount of time and then that time ran out and he said, “OK. I gotta go. It doesn’t matter that my most pivotal scene in the film is coming up.” As Tommy says, “That’s life.”
Did anyone ever take the director aside and point out the flaws, like, “This character doesn’t show up ever again. What’s the deal?”
Yeah, but he never budged.
Were any lines improvised?
Very few. He was very big on having his script being word-for-word. We snuck a few in there. That’s gonna be a fun part of the book, what some of the lines have to do with [what was going on behind the scenes].
How did you get the idea to write the book?
When I went on the international tour of the film a few years ago, I was talking to fans, and they couldn’t believe this stuff [behind the scenes] happened. They said it sounded like a movie in real life. I figured people would want to know what the journey was in getting the film made.
In interviews, Tommy Wiseau won’t say where he’s from or how he financed the movie, besides importing t-shirts. Does your book reveal any of that, with his blessing?
Yes, there’s going to be an intimate look into Tommy’s life and background. It won’t be just a book about making “The Room” but about the process of Tommy getting [the idea for it].
Will there be interviews with all the cast?
Yeah, I will cover everyone involved.
Was there any resistance from the cast to take part in the book?
I had kept in pretty good contact with everyone, and they wanted to reveal what being filmed was like. The movie doesn’t answer one question about itself. It’s just one big question. As much as people enjoy the film, for me, the story of how it got there is even more entertaining.
How long did it take to get a book offer?
How did Simon & Schuster know about “The Room”?
A lot of people there are fans!
What’s your recollection of the film’s LA premiere seven years ago?
It was just complete—people were hypnotized with laughter. Some people [walking out of the theater] looked dismayed, some said they’ll never be the same again after seeing the film. One guy said he may never get hard again.
By that point were you laughing with them or trying to hide?
I was laughing with them. I had watched the dailies for months before that and it was a lot of fun. But then to see the audience who thought they were gonna get the work of Tennessee Williams and then they get this…I thought, maybe I’ll enjoy this from the lobby. But by the end I peeked back in, and people were going nuts. It was almost as if this master comedian set it up.
In interviews, Tommy Wiseau gives the impression that he’s thrilled now that people have any positive reaction, however mocking. Was he initially hurt that there wasn’t a more serious reaction?
I think at the end of the day he was happy people were entertained. Even though the audience reacted in one of the strangest ways the entertainment industry has ever seen.
So you’ve done a few films for 5SecondFilms.com?
The room’s original superfan, Michael Rousselet, started 5SecondFilms.com. Patton Oswalt caught on and wanted to do one. I just shot one with him and Juliette Lewis. His latest film for the site can be viewed here.
The Room is a very high-profile cult film. Do you get a lot of offers now for other roles?
I am getting some non-cult offers. I’m looking to do something really different from the whole world of The Room, like playing a serial killer or something.