Tommy Wiseau on the legacy of The Room
For ten years, The Room has been confounding and entertaining audiences. The film's strange blend of inept performance, oblique writing and haphazard direction has earned it an ever-growing cult audience that can't get enough of the movie's unique charms. Sure, by most standards it a "bad" film, even a terrible one, but make no mistake: The Room is one of the most entertaining cinematic experiences you will ever undertake, even if you don't really understand it.
Talk to its creator Tommy Wiseau, and the film starts to make a certain kind of sense, at least in relation to the man himself. Ask him a question on one topic and you might get a simple, direct answer, or a ten-minute digression that covers everything from classic film to the way the media misunderstands his work. It's a rambling, surreal and, at times, confusing experience, but one that never fails to entertain -- kind of like the movie itself. We caught up with Wiseau before his first-ever appearance in Denver this weekend for special screening of The Room at the Esquire to talk about the film's tenth anniversary, its legacy and why people still have a hard time understanding everything The Room brings to the table.
Westword: When you released The Room ten years ago, did you imagine it would have this kind of longevity?
Tommy Wiseau: No, no. I already said before that I always thought I'd make the movie, then move on to the next project. It did not come 100 percent the way I planned it, but the same time, I'm happy with it. [Laughs.]
Since The Room came out, you've worked on a few other things, right? There was a sitcom called The Neighbors and a stage adaptation of The Room too, right?
Yeah, we did the first, two years ago, three years ago on the stage at AFI -- the American Film Institute in Washington D.C. in front of an audience. Of course there was -- I say of course, but it was sold out, the audience as well. People really enjoyed it. I slightly changed it because due to the stage, you know? Keep in mind, the AFI is a cinema, it's not a stage theater. But we did really well, because people really enjoy it and I'm proud of it. I'm working very deeply with several people to put The Room on Broadway. It's a work in progress. I was very happy with the result, because it was originally supposed to be a play.
Over and over people ask me, nothing happens by accident. Some people have a really vivid imagination. I don't know if you've checked some of the assumptions people have about The Room, about me, etc., etc. My background is a stage actor. I studied acting for many, many decades. I know all kinds of methods. I attend many workshops, etc., etc. All these assumptions people have about me is completely false.
You mentioned The Neighbors and [it's] coming back. Again, there was a clip just recently with Tim and Eric and Eric claimed that I said The Neighbors was, I wanted approval of the network. That's completely false statement. That's not what I said. What I said was we would like to work with TV people first, because in the end it will end up on the website. But it's a fact also that Comedy Central, they approved only one episode of The Neighbors. It is, for me, very difficult to work on one episode when I already have fifteen episodes written almost of The Neighbors.
You anticipate that we'll see The Neighbors at some point then?
Yeah, absolutely. Now we have, coincidentally -- I don't believe in coincidence -- but the fact is that I will be doing The Neighbors because now we have actual interest from some of the network people that they do the TV and the web also. A lot of people are switching to web and I'm still say the same thing when I said with the other network, Cartoon Network. I said very clearly that the pilot we did was for TV, it was not for web. But eventually everything ends up on the web, as you probably know. I thought The Neighbors now, in my heart, it looks to me that we may actually do it.
You'll be making in your first appearance ever in Denver, and Greg Sestero is coming too, right?
Yeah, yeah, Greg is coming too, because we usually travel together because people like him and it's fun.
You've done a lot of these personal appearances over the years. Is that still fun? Do you enjoy it?
Sure, I'll be honest with you. If you can, stop by the screening, say, "Hey, that's me, I was talking to you."
Absolutely. I'd love to meet you.
Also, let me give you a red flag. You can spin this the way you want: Tommy did not change! I'm speaking in the third party right now. You can say negative stuff, there's nothing wrong with that. That's another thing, when people misunderstood and still do about what I mean about black comedy, you see. What I mean about black comedy, I got this from my teacher. People don't understand, especially film industry I notice that too, that you have more colors, there has to be logic behind it. People don't understand this stuff. They have this assumption that I don't think is right, to be honest with you. Each time I have a Q&A I'll stress that, for the tenth anniversary of The Room, look at behind the scenes what we did with The Room and you'll have the answers. A lot of people think, "Oh, the set was disorganized, [they] didn't have a script," which is completely false. Again, some of this stuff I understand, people are jumping into wagon in typical American way, but the assumption is incorrect, that's my point.
I'm happy when people actually analyze The Room's characters. I do appreciate that, with the fans, the media, etc. What happens, why it happened, what's behind it. But a project will not exist if you're not organized.
Have you found that some portion of your audience has a hard time getting what you were trying to put across with The Room, or do most people get it?
It goes both ways, to be honest with you. If I'm looking objectively right now, it goes both ways. When people see it for the first time, they go, "I don't get it. What's going on here?" This is education. I just heard recently, which is a good statement from critics: "Wait a minute, this looks like a play." Yes, that's correct. It's supposed to be a play. Come on, open your eyes! That's why you have a lot of elements from the play, but I changed the script because I wanted people to really enjoy themselves, and that was my vision from the beginning. You see, a lot of people in the mainstream media, including you guys and others, it's difficult to understand. If I was in your shoes, I'd say the same thing. If you're honest with yourself. As the director, I have the same story. I have to be honest with myself. Give yourself a little time and watch one more time, a second or third time, say wait a minute, now maybe you get it.
You have a lot of elements in The Room. We're dealing with drugs, we're dealing with ... recently somebody asked me, "What is the meaning of the apple when Denny eats apple?" It's not happening by accident! You can have a shoot in the movie, and have an apple growing by itself on the stage. I put the apple there on purpose, so I say, "You'll be eating an apple." My actors say, "Why's that?" Because it's in the script. You know why you're eating the apple? Because then I give him a little story, what you'll be doing after eating the apple is like being a bad apple. Two is better than three, three is a crowd. What people do in private moments with a girl, they should do themselves. It's the same with people calling [laughs].... I'm laughing about it, because it's funny when people react to it, they say it's a sex scene. It's not a sex scene, it's a love scene. But again, if you or somebody say it's a sex scene, that's your take on it. My take on it is, as I create it, it's a love scene.
You mentioned about travel. I love travel. I never have a bad event. And I don't think I ever will have a bad event. To spoil my day is pretty hard to do. I'm very optimistic and very ... you have to understand the other side as well. It's nothing wrong, and I always say when people spin it in a negative way, but again to respond to your question, some of the people cannot get it the first time. I say this openly ten years ago, and I say it right now, again and again, you have to watch a movie a few times because there's so many elements. If I'm the viewer, I see it for the first time, I say, "Wait a minute, I have so many questions. I cannot digest it." It's like a Caesar salad, you know? What kind of ingredients do you put in it? Do you put extra salt, or eggs or anchovy? It all depends on what you put in it.
Another thing people don't realize is The Room can stand up by itself, because you have so much stuff going on. That's why The Room can drive people crazy a little bit, if you ask me. I love it when people ask questions, to be honest with you.
So you'll do a Q&A at the screening?
We'll do a Q&A before the film. I enjoy always the Q&A to be honest with you. We did it recently in France the first time, with a very great response. Canada is very big for us, Toronto. Also London. We've been a second time to London so we had like 3,000 people show up.
Over the years, you've done a ton of press and met a lot of audiences. In your experience, is there something that people consistently misunderstand about The Room?
I'm happy right now because people actually analyze the characters. That's my biggest point of why I make The Room. When you analyze the character, they're real people from the world. It's not just because I say so, because I study character. That makes me happy. It really does. They don't talk about me, they talk more about the movie. I like that. But to respond to your question, it's still misunderstood, yes. I don't know what to say. We'll see what happens maybe ten years from today. I think little by little they are much more kind and much more understanding of where I come from, you know? Again, this goes both ways. I'm a simple guy, but at the same time I'm stubborn, too. I have a certain vision. You know the expression, "A different cookie cutter from Hollywood"? That's what The Room is about.
I'm working right now on Foreclosure; basically it will be dealing with the economy. The form will be much different than The Room. The difference between, the art is the art, the film is the film. I think The Room is a pioneer in how you can present your stuff in not a conventional way. It's good for people to understand that, including critics. I understand what they understand, because they actually don't understand. I don't know if that makes sense, but for me it does.
You say you're working on another film, called Foreclosure? What can you say about that?
I'm working right now. The script has been completed and we're currently doing research as well. We're doing the casting. We have some interest from a studio. We'll see if they're willing to work with me, or if it is the same as The Room and I have to use my resources [laughs]. Definitely, I'll be shooting this year.
Do different nationalities have different reactions to The Room?
Absolutely. Some people give us compliment after compliment immediately, believe it or not. It's a different reaction. Some people are actually crying, believe it or not. Some of this stuff, I was just like, "Wait a minute!" I did not realize that, to be honest with you. Yeah definitely, in different countries you have different reactions.
Was there one country that surprised in you in particular?
Well, England surprised me. They understand the language 100 percent, English, right? The reaction was extremely, extremely positive the first time seeing The Room. Some major director in England, I forget his name right now, he gave us really good feedback. He saw it for the first time and the audience, the same thing. I was surprised, because sometimes people actually are very reserved with their opinion. Canada was big, too, in the sense of positive thinking about The Room. They always recommend "See The Room, see The Room, see The Room," you know. I didn't ask them that. I think it's very nice. I myself, I see the movie and it's hard for me to recommend any movie actually. But if you hear a third party recommend your project, for me it's very complimentary. Australia was big, too. England was a very unique situation, because they immediately just grabbed The Room. It was just like, "I have to share with my friends." Their opinion, I was very surprised. I did not anticipate that happening. In America, we have very mixed reaction. If you look at London, if you look at the difference, we have almost immediately a positive reaction, like, "This is the best of the best."
Since The Room came out, there's been a video-game adaptation, a stage play, Greg Sestero has a book out about the making of film, Philip Haldiman has a graphic novel about his experience with it as well. It also opened the door for you to do Tim and Eric and some other things. Are you satisfied with the legacy of The Room?
Not 100 percent, to be honest with you. The reason for it is because some of the mainstream media, they don't get it. I don't understand ... we're not there yet, let's put it this way, as far as I'm concerned. I said to one reporter, "You can write about The Room every day, or every month, and it will still be interesting." As you know, mainstream media, they're always looking for a sensation. We were on CNN, we were on ABC but some of the networks they just ... supposedly they don't have the interest, but I know the interest is there, but they're not keen to openly say it, if I may say that nicely. So hopefully people someday understand, say, "Hey, you know what, after all, we have to give him credit." That's my response to your question.
590 Downing St.
Denver, CO 80218
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter