The Room's Greg Sestero on His Weird Road to Success
Connoisseurs of bad film know that The Room deserves a special place within the canon of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. By now the infamous film’s journey from director/writer/star Tommy Wiseau’s fever dream to the big screen has been well-documented, but nothing captures the story quite like producer and co-star Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist. As any Room fan would hope, the book reveals all the insanity that went into making one of the strangest films ever made. More than that, it also works as a moving Hollywood memoir about following your dreams, even if they take you to some weird places. This Friday, February 27, Greg Sestero will appear at the Alamo Drafthouse to talk about his book, lead an audience reading from an early version of The Room, screen a short documentary about the film and talk to readers about his experiences as co-pilot on one of the weirdest cult movies of all time. In advance of all that, we caught up with the actor and writer to find out what it's really like to deal with the madness of Wiseau, how the book affected their relationship and how he made lemonade from the bizarre lemons that life handed him.
Westword: I was glad to see you were coming back to Denver. I’ve wanted to interview you for a while, but I didn’t have an excuse until you came back here.
Greg Sestero: I’ve been wanting to come to Denver for a while, because I did a screening at the Esquire before the book came out and I was so impressed with the Denver crowd and the theater. And I just thought it was a cool place, so I wanted to come back with the book and talk about the experience.
I was at that screening. I interviewed Tommy for that, which was actually my second time interviewing him.
Did he give you his whole [in eerily accurate Wiseau imitation] “The Room, it eliminates crime. The screaming you know? We’ve had big so far for mainstream.” Oh, god.
He didn’t get into quite all of that, but I have to say he was by far the weirdest, most bewildering interview I’ve ever done in my eight years as a writer. You don’t really interview him so much as let him talk and try to make sense of it later.
Exactly. You nailed it.
I enjoyed both times, but it was a little… I almost felt high afterward, like my brain was operating in a different way. I assume that’s a phenomenon you’re well familiar with, given how much time you’ve spent with him.
I have to say, I’m really impressed. You nailed it. You feel high after you hang out. I think that’s what The Room kind of does. You’re like, “Oh, man, I’ve got to go back and get another shot.” You’re having a bad day, and you have to go back for more, you know?
I’ve definitely spent far more time watching, thinking about and writing about The Room than is feasible, much less defensible. I have this theory about filmmaking in general that filmmakers are trying to project their vision of how the world works onto the screen. The closer that vision is to reality, and the closer they get to succeeding at putting it onscreen, the better the film is. With The Room, Tommy succeeded almost perfectly at putting his vision of the world on screen, but the problem is, his vision of the world is really fucked up and pretty far from reality.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s not relatable, but it’s entertaining in a sick way.
So this appearance is part of a book tour for The Disaster Artist, right?
Yeah, the paperback and the audiobook came out a few months back, and there’s the announcement of the movie adaptation of the book, so I’m hitting some spots I didn’t hit with the hardback tour. I [also] have a short, thirty-minute documentary of behind the scenes and interviews with the actors [from The Room] that I’m screening. And I randomly kept the original draft of The Room script that’s even more insane than the actual movie, so we read scenes from that from the audience. It’s cool to just go out and connect with the fans and have an actual conversation, and not just have Tommy do his usual, “Move on, next question” thing.
Right, the Tommy shtick.
Yeah, “Where are you from?” [In Tommy voice] “I’m from Louisiana, move on.” We get to actually have a conversation and connect.
You do a wicked Tommy impression.
[Laughs] It’s one of the things I was drawn to initially, was his accent. Growing up, my mom had a French accent, so I was always intrigued by accents and then I came across his, and that was … like The Godfather of accents. He was so funny, just a character. God, I got more than I bargained for.
I read the book as soon as it came out, and I really enjoyed it. I was actually kind of sad when it was over. I wanted it to keep going.
Ah man, I’m really glad to hear that. It was such a long project, and it took so many different turns. It’s not [just] a book about The Room, it’s a book about dreams and friendship. It kept getting more and more detailed, and the publisher cut out around ninety pages. It was just about finding that moment. I feel like we all kind of know what happened with the movie, so it became about this eccentric, crazy man and his moment. There’s so many more stories to tell. It was tough. I know that anyone that’s seen the movie would want to know as much as possible.
It was a really great experience. Of everything with The Room that came out of it, I feel like being able to write, and tap back into that passion, was something I’m really thankful for.
I was drawn to the book for the promise of figuring out how the hell The Room came to be, but it also answered the question of how you, a seemingly normal guy, came to get wrapped up in Tommy’s madness. And the answer was surprisingly wonderful and warm and sympathetic.
It’s a weird business, whether you’re trying to write or act or do music. You’re put in these situations you’re not prepared for. I think whether you’re old or young, we’re all trying to do the same thing and it’s random who we click with. Ideally you’d want to collaborate with a Christopher Nolan or somebody like that starting out, and build those friendships. But Tommy was just a misunderstood figure.
That was one of the things about the book — it’s obvious that he marches to the beat of his own drum, but there’s also a side to him, a compassionate side, that a lot of people would never get to see through the movie or from meeting him. That’s a part of him I wanted to share, that he’s actually very supportive and positive, and kind of compliment the other qualities of him and not just make him out to be this obvious weirdo.
I think there’s something redeeming about trying to follow your passion. I think so many people say, “Forget it, what are the odds of me ever succeeding?” or “Nobody wants to see what I have to offer.” And he goes out, at a later age than most people would have wanted to, and he puts this out there and really believes in it. And he gets this kind of success, but not at all in the way he was hoping for, and how do you deal with that? He doesn’t back down. I know for me, when the book came out, if they were like “It’s the worst book ever written” and they’re laughing at it, throwing stuff at it, I’d pack up and move on to the next thing. I’m not going to hide from it, but I’m not going to stick around and try to promote it. But he just kept going. It’s a really bizarre story, and a really bizarre take on the American dream and success. I think that’s why it keeps going, because there’s nothing really out there like it.
Maybe due to the oddball path I took through life, that idea really resonated with me. When you follow your dreams, they don’t necessarily take you where you expect to go. People who find themselves where they expected have to be the exception.
A lot of times it comes down to, you see yourself a certain way, and you want those things but people don’t see you that way. I guess it’s just embracing who you are and try to share that and hopefully people see you that way. I know for me, the kind of work I wanted to do… The book was definitely something I wanted to do, because I understood the material and it’s the type of story I would have always been drawn to. But the journey getting there was the last thing I ever would have wanted.
I thought doing The Room would be just some little home-video job to keep going and stay in the game. That’s what I thought it was. I was just helping a buddy out and doing this movie and nobody was going to see it, but it would afford me a couple more years of staying in the business. Then that ended up being something that people responded to. You just don’t know where things are going to take you, or what kind of work you’re going to get into. A lot of it is luck. It’s a very strange thing. You can work as hard as you want at something and make an incredible film and walk away and nobody’s really interested in it. Or, like The Room, you can do something you don’t believe in and aren’t passionate about and people love it. So you just have to try to stay the course and keep getting better and keep trying to work on things that you’re up for and hope that people respond to it.
There’s something to be said for being open to the possibilities that present themselves to you. It’s so hard to predict what people are going to like or respond to. It’s pretty safe to say no one could have ever predicted the kind of success The Room would go on to have.
Yeah. You keep thinking, “Okay, that’s it” and the screenings keep growing. This movie adaptation [of The Disaster Artist], who knows where that’s going to lead.
Given some of the things you reveal about Tommy, are you two still on good terms? I know he’s insanely private and protective of his image, so it seems like there could be some friction there.
Some of the things I went into in the book, the personal stuff and his journey to America, he knew I was writing a book. I talked to him about it. That’s all stuff he shared with me. It was kind of a chance for him to tell his story.
I know he’s big on having the spotlight only on him. And in regards to The Room, he deserves that. In regards to the book, there’s things he likes in it, but he doesn’t like anything that deters from saying The Room is a first-class movie and a great movie. I know some of the making-of stuff, he has his own views on that. But I think that at the end of the day, everything’s cool. He’s part of the movie adaptation that’s coming out. He’s involved and he’s excited about that. You’re never going to get his 100 percent approval, but I think that at the end of the day, he’s okay.
Do you still do, or will you be doing, appearances together at screenings of The Room?
We did a few of those last year in Canada and he came to some book signings. I’m sure, down the road, there will be a few more, but I kind of took a break from it all.
At your appearance here, there was certainly an interesting dichotomy between the two of you. He had his whole act, with the four belts and sunglasses at night, and being Tommy, and you were kind of quiet, standing back, just watching it all. Do those kind of appearances still have any appeal to you?
They do when I get a chance to chat with people, especially if they’ve read the book and have more questions. You can actually have a conversation. I definitely love connecting with fans and stuff, but being a part of that whole circus? I think once in a while is fun, but I’ve done it now for a quite a while. We’ve been all over the world. We did London, Scotland last year — I’ve kind of done it. I’ve heard about every question you can hear. But I do enjoy getting out and doing the book events and connecting on a new level about new material and the story behind the movie.
It seems like the book had a great reception. I hear about it constantly, and it’s being adapted by James Franco. Are you happy with its level of success?
Yeah, I think for me what’s great is the publisher hadn’t even really heard of The Room and they really loved the story and have been really supportive. And people who have never heard of the movie or watched it really enjoy [the book] on its own. That was a goal for me, to create something that didn’t need to rely on The Room, and have it be a character story with The Room as a backdrop. I’ve been really happy with its reception and fans seem to enjoy it.
It’s maybe my favorite Hollywood memoir, although I haven’t read many. But I not only got lots of answers about The Room, but also this great story about following your dreams and the weird places that can take you. It will be interesting to see how the movie adaptation goes.
From what I’ve talked to and the angle they’re taking it, they’re definitely treating it as a serious movie and taking it in that vein. I think it’s got a lot of potential to be great and to do the story justice.
I think I may be a little mistrustful of James Franco. I’m intrigued to see how it comes out, and I’m sure I’ll see it no matter what, but I’m a little cautious about getting my hopes up.
Yeah, I think there’s a great movie in everyone and you hope that … you look at Bryan Cranston, and you never would have guessed that he was capable of Breaking Bad. I think there’s a great movie and a great performance from everyone, and I think this will be it.
See Greg Sestero at 9:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 at the Alamo Drafthouse, where he will read from his book. He’ll also be showing a short doc about the making of The Room, and running audience readings of the original, even weirder script of the film. For tickets, $15, and more info, visit the Alamo's The Disaster Artist event page.
Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.
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