Trapped in The Room with Tommy Wiseau
Wiseau thinks you're weird, not the other way around
B-movie fans, take heed. If you plan to attend one of the Plaza's upcoming special screenings of The Room — at which writer, producer, director, and star Tommy Wiseau and cast member Greg Sestero will appear — think twice about the seemingly brilliant question you're planning to unleash during the evening's Q&A portion.
In the 10 years since he scraped together $6 million of his own funds to make the movie only to see it flop on every conceivable level, in the six since it was revived by the same powers of nerd necromancy that resurrected such glorious stinkers as Troll 2 and Manos: The Hands of Fate, and in the three years that he has been appearing at screenings of the film around the country, Wiseau has pretty much heard them all. Or at least the same few, over and over again.
I had a plan for our interview: No questions about his inscrutable accent or his seemingly dubious professional background. Nothing about the movie's fixation on casual football-tossing or its magnificently awkward sex scenes. I wanted to skirt the immediate world of The Room itself as much as possible. So much has already been written about it, including one fairly definitive essay by writer Tom Bissell in Harper's a few years ago, that few of its strange pleasures haven't yet been poked and prodded: The tortured love affair of Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and Johnny (played by Wiseau, who begins nearly every on-camera interaction with, "Oh, hi"); Lisa's listless infidelities with Johnny's goobery best friend Mark (Greg Sestero); Denny (Philip Haldiman), their inexplicable man-child of a downstairs neighbor; and the subplots that pop up and disappear like so many indigent Whack-a-Moles.
As an entry point, I asked Wiseau if he ever felt weird watching his film alongside his notoriously enthusiastic fans, some of whom come to screenings in costume as main characters (including Wiseau himself), many of whom throw spoons at the screen at key moments, and most of whom have seen the movie multiple times — a scenario that seems like a festering pool of anxiety whether or not the director and audience are on the same page.
"Is it weird?" he replies. "No, I think your question is weird."
Instead, he launches into a list of things he wants to make clear: He grew up in New Orleans, his background is in stage acting, he prefers the term "love scene" to "sex scene," he has spoken about his work at Harvard and Oxford University. He goes on for a while about something regarding TV news anchors playing football on camera; I remain unsure about the nature of his beef.
Every issue I wanted to avoid, Wiseau hits nearly dead on. He seems so tired of talking about these things, so weary from fighting to make his legitimacy known, that talking about and fighting it is now his default setting.
I ask if he's been in touch with Bissell, who's turning his Harper's piece into a book, and he launches into a small tirade about how in my story I should print that he wants an apology from the writer. "He say I'm not American. It's completely nonsense. I am an American and proud of it," Wiseau says. "... I personally think he's a very nice person — hopefully you add this to what I say. I wish him well. I think he's a good writer. But that's basically what I can say, you know? I think he as well as others have gone a little too far with — you know the expression, 'bashing someone before you know someone'?" He tells me to tell Bissell to get in touch with him, so "he can straight out some of his facts." I tell him I don't know the man but I'll see what I can do. (Confidential to Mr. Bissell: Godspeed you, sir. Godspeed.)
Wiseau seems happier to discuss his upcoming projects. One is a drama called Foreclosure, which should be out later this year; he plans to submit it for the Academy Awards, as he did with The Room. "It's related to current affairs, you know? Economy, affairs of survival, will they foreclose your house or not, and when? That's all I can say at this time."
He's also working on a vampire movie, which he hopes to release in early 2013. "My vampire's a good vampire. He does good things for the world," he says. "But if you see my vampire movie you will probably not sleep for couple weeks. It will be positive and negative, but at the same time, you won't be sleeping. You never see something like it." I don't doubt it.