Understanding ‘The Room’: An interview with the stars of ‘the worst movie ever made’
The Room is a very special kind of movie. Atrocious and hilarious in equal measure, the film is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Yet recent years have seen it become a huge cult phenomenon amongst midnight movie fans – a following that may see the film become this generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, a decade on from its release, director-writer-actor-producer Tommy Wiseau and his co-star Greg Sestero tour the world meeting fans, answering questions and selling merchandise off the back of the uniquely beguiling movie in which they starred. This terribly made but hugely entertaining movie sold out all 12 of its screenings during a recent UK tour – and being a part of the singing, screaming, spoon-throwing audience is a unique movie-going experience.
The Room centres on the story of Johnny (Wiseau), a generous, passionate and philosophical man who will do anything for his future wife, Lisa. However, unbeknownst to Johnny, Lisa is bored of their secure relationship and instead pursues an affair with Johnny’s handsome best friend, Mark (Sestero). Thin on plot but high on eccentricity, The Room is a filmmaking travesty from beginning to end. The script is an absolute mess; with cringey love scenes, cancer diagnoses, confrontations with drug dealers, and tuxedo-clad American football games taking up large chunks of the film’s run time – despite having absolutely no influence on the plot.
While the dialogue is indecipherable and ludicrous, pure exposition, and outrageously misogynistic. One character is even replaced by another actor during the film, despite the two looking completely different. Melodramatic performances, badly-timed dubbing, overly loud Foley, out of focus camera work, a cheesy soundtrack, gaping plot holes, lots of continuity errors, and an apartment decorated with framed pictures of spoons all contribute to the film’s ironic camp value that has helped it become a cult phenomenon.
Yet to truly understand this movie’s odd appeal, you may have to understand its architect: the pale, long-haired enigma that is Tommy Wiseau. When talking to Tommy about his creation, it is clear that he is just as erratic a conversationalist as he is a filmmaker. He claims that his life mirrors that of Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci, and he compares The Room to Citizen Kane and Romeo & Juliet.
No question seems to bring a straight answer, but rather a series of tangents and ruminations as bizarrely unrelated as the scenes within his movie. Wiseau does however comment on how difficult it was to make the film, which he funded independently to the tune of $6 million, partly because the entire cast and crew were replaced four times over, and partly because he shot simultaneously on 35mm and HD so he could “experience the difference”.
If questioned about his specific creative choices, his usual response is “why not?” He remarks that The Room is real life and not fantasy, yet later goes on to suggests that all of the film’s strange images are intentional symbols with a hidden cultural context. When asked about his masterpiece’s infamous reputation as one of the worst movies ever made, he responds: “bad, good, whatever, it doesn’t matter… some people have vision, some people do not have vision. Sometimes to understand a person who has a vision takes a long time… People are very kind to The Room as now they’ve got it [sic].”
Wiseau doesn’t appear to entirely understand the film’s ironic appeal, and believes that the poor reception of his movie was due to people being too analytical and subjective, rather than understanding the movie’s objective brilliance. He even admits being so happy with the film that he submitted it for the Oscars, and remarks that the Academy treated him “pretty well”.
His co-star, Greg Sestero, seems a little more grounded in reality. He describes his time on set as “entertaining”, “mayhem” and “funnier than any comedy club he’s ever been to”. He describes Wiseau as an “engaging, passionate and energetic” director whose “grand, intense vision” left an unsuspecting crew questioning whether he was real. For Greg, the project has been life-changing, and he is fascinated by the way each crowd turns the movie into its own creation. As a boyhood fan of Star Wars and Back To The Future, it’s all about entertainment. “Whether it’s taken as the worst or the best – I’m happy that people enjoy it… At the end of the day you hope everything you make gets seen, and people really get a kick out of it. There’s something in this movie, whatever it may be, that people keep coming back to.”
Sestero is currently working on a book detailing his time working on The Room, and his unlikely friendship with Tommy Wiseau, adequately named The Disaster Artist and due for release in October. He believes that the best way to understand Tommy is through The Room. “The best glimpse into him is to watch the movie because that’s his life and perceptions revealed on screen. I think that’s what people are responding to: an unfiltered movie that no one in their right mind could have ever created, other than him.”
Greg’s self-aware fame, however, seems to be a double-edged sword. He remarks on the challenge that faces him to “take this audience and give them something unique and interesting”. Tommy Wiseau on the other hand is brimming with enthusiasm for future projects. He has a TV pilot called The Neighbours which he is looking for a network to pick up; a feature covering the recession called Foreclosure that he wishes to release internationally this year; and is currently writing a movie called The King of Vampires about a good vampire who ruled the world – which he promises will leave viewers unable to sleep for a fortnight. He is also currently designing underwear.
Despite this unrelenting ambition, it seems that entertaining sold out theatres of insanely jubilant film fans will forever be Tommy Wiseau’s greatest achievement. His enthusiasm, whether misplaced or not, has left an indelible mark on cult film fandom. When he’s posing for pictures, signing autographs, selling merchandise, and tossing an American football around with awe-struck fans, Tommy receives the attention and adoration that he clearly feels his incredible vision deserves. Although he may not fully realise that the crowds are laughing more at him than with him, he remains philosophical about The Room’s ‘success’: “You can be a Johnny, Lisa, Claudette. You can be any character. You can play with The Room, within The Room… have fun with The Room. You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself – but please, don’t hurt each other.”Tagged in: Greg Sestero, The Room, Tommy Wiseau
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