Exclusive: Tommy Wiseau talks The Room
Dubbed "The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies, 2002's The Room has become a firm favourite at Edinburgh's Cameo cinema, returning in May for a third soon-to-be-sold out screening.
Having attended previous screenings, ReelScotland was determined to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the film, and managed to catch up with writer/producer/director/star Tommy Wiseau to discuss Denny, unresolved subplots, and why the hell the guys play football in tuxedos!
Los Angeles based Tommy Wiseau is a notoriously private man, and we were advised to contact Wiseau's assistant by email - less than an hour later we received a response. We were told we had to submit all questions to him beforehand and he would not answer anything unless it had already been vetted. Doing as we were told, we compiled a list, sent them off and waited for his call.
The call came and Wiseau informed us we were his and could ask anything that we wished. Completely unprepared for such a statement we had to resort to the set questions.
Wiseau apologised for his accent which he said we may not always understand, so some of the grammar below has been altered slightly for an easier read. And yes, he does talk, and laugh, like Johnny!
Don't hurt each other...
ReelScotland: You seem to have appeared on the filmmaking scene out of nowhere; what can you tell us about your background?
Tommy Wiseau: Well as a teenager I always wanted to be a rock star, but at the same time I always had my camera with me, you know. So I study and do lots of workshops.
Where did the inspiration for The Room come from?
Real life my friend, and environment. I studied psychology for many years and as a teenager I decided I like to write something, you know. I wrote 500 pages of the book. This has been 12 years of work and that's what people don't realise. I'm working currently with some publishers but we are not sure what will happen. It's much more detailed than you see in the film, as you probably know, with 99 minutes you can only present so much.
[The Room was] originally supposed to be a play, but I can't do a play because a number of people can't come to America to see the play, it's much less than the people who go to cinema. My idea was to go to Broadway, but we changed the script.
Lots of people blog and talk about it online and some of the stuff is completely nonsense! But never mind about that [laughs].
Something else I want to tell you, we submitted to the Academy Awards in 2002, it's there for release, we didn't get in to the awards but we did what they told us to do [laughs].
Are there any elements of The Room which are autobiographical?
First you have to see The Room at least seven times. Second, we have many Dennys, many Lisas, many Marks, many Claudettes, many Johnnys and other characters from The Room in the world.
What films and fimmakers inspire you?
I inspire myself every day of my existence. But my creativity is connecting to the creativity of Orson Welles, Hitchcock, James Dean and others because we are on the same page. We are dealing with people and many issues related to human existence in this planet Earth.
The marketing says it has the passion of Tennessee Williams; how heavily did his work influence your script?
I already answer to this question.
Jean-Paul Sartre said "Hell is other people", how does that apply to Johnny's descent in this story of a man undone by his so-called friends? Are you influenced heavily by philosophers?
No, I have my own take about the life, etc.
How did you go about casting the film?
We had regular casting. We do the same as the big studios do, big sharks I call them, 6000 headshots, and I do NOT exaggerate, OK? Also let me say to you something else, we never throw away a headshot to the garbage like some people do [laughs]. We review ALL the headshots and it was just rollercoaster ride.
You and Greg Sestero, who plays Mark, are good friends in real life; did that make it easier to play ˜best friends' in the film?
Absolutely, I commend your question. Yes that's correct I agree with your statement, he's my friend. All the chemistry between our actors is pretty close because I believe in the rehearsal as there's a lot of stuff to talk about. We have regular rehearsals. If you have a friend you have chemistry, but not always.
How did the shoot itself go?
I had to change crew and casting three or four times. I'm talking as a director right now. Some people didn't want to go the way I think we were supposed to go and the way I want to present it on the big screen, especially as we had been using two cameras. The Room is the only feature movie in the entire world shot at the same time with 35mm and HD, but what you see in the movie is 35mm print, that's the best of the best. When I start a project, I wanna finish. It's extremely difficult as a form of art, people will try to tamper your project and that's why people got fired or I lay them off.
You used a fair bit of green screen in the film; do you prefer it to using locations?
It all depends...
Did you find yourself under a lot of pressure?
There were 200 people on the set and I do not exaggerate the numbers at all. We have different departments etc etc and everybody comes to me because I am in charge, but I did enjoy it and we found a good team overall and it's all entirely original what you see you screen. No inputted footage or second footage as I hear, everything is original including the soundtrack. And I'm very proud of this project, it was very difficult and sometimes I wasn't as knowledgeable as I am now.
There are a lot of sex scenes in the film; did you find that a nerve-racking experience?
We have a closed set. This means we use only minimal crew there. Again this is good question. It's an extremely difficult environment, you have cameras and lights and it's difficult, but you have to adjust accordingly. It's good and bad, but I enjoyed every minute of it to be honest with you.
I read that there was a lot of dialogue removed, would you consider an extended director's cut?
With the new found success of The Room, would you ever consider revisiting the characters? Perhaps a prequel, how Johnny met Lisa?
First of all Johnny is dead, but who knows what will happen. I'm always open, we will see what happens.
Or even the future story of Denny? How does he survive after his father figure is gone?
What more can you tell us about Denny? He appears to be a very complex character.
Again this is good question. It's a complex face on the confusion of life. We have a drugs issue, a relationship issue, two is better than three and again, as you probably notice, with Johnny talking to Denny saying ,"well I want to tell you something" and he's talking about Lisa's relationship and Johnny says it's OK to love someone. You have to understand, you probably do, but we have a lot of symbolism in the movie so I always encourage people to see the movie several times in the theatre environment and say, "you don't have to worry about your dishes or eating your food or taking from the fridge, just you enjoy the movie". I always say, "you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don't hurt each other".
Symbolism? Like Denny eating the red apple?
That's good one, apple. Eve and Adam, their first sin is they eat the apple. Red dress, I give you another example means blood. Blood represents survival. Think how many transfusions people have in the world! There are lots of symbolisms within The Room.
A lot of the male bonding involves football; are you a big fan?
I love football, and again you see certain people criticise that part, but the thing is there is nothing wrong to play football three feet apart or play in tuxedo. I encourage everyone to try it [laughs].
So why are they in tuxedos?
Well, they are supposed to, you know, prepare for the wedding. You have to try before the wedding and that's a part of it. Denny comes up with the idea. Actually that's what I wrote, that Denny comes up with the idea, can we play football? and they say in a tuxedo, are you kidding me? Someone calls you chicken and it's three against one on the ground, what you gonna do?
Where did the 'cheep, cheep' phrase come from?
Life, chicken, etc.
A lot of criticism comes from unresolved subplots; was that intentional?
I commend your statement because you are right on the money, this was intentional. See, I want people to think about it. Look, Scotland, Great Britain, any country, how may books do you have access to? Drugs issue, any issue. People are educated. So my take is you don't have to drill people, if you read my book, 500 pages, I have more explanation about more issues, cancer etc etc, but it was intentional because the audience will know about it, or will talk about it, or they will make a research [laughs].
How disappointed were you when The Room didn't quite get the initial response you hoped?
Well, the fact is that we always have a great response from the audiences.
The Room has a lot of celebrity fans, Alec Baldwin included; would you ever consider working with any of them?
I met Alec in one screening and he is a very cool guy and we might work together someday. We're always open as actors. I'm not begging for work, I'm all work right now. I'm fully booked, but I have respect for them and it seems they have respect for me.
At the moment The Room is almost a phenomenon with screenings worldwide; what do you make of it all?
First I'll tell you a little background. We release The Room 2001/2002 and we submitted it to the Academy, but we couldn't release the DVD. We got a lot of emails and people were camping outside the theatre to see The Room and to see me. I got in trouble with the fire marshal because too many people showed up! I said, let's screen at midnight, so we started screening midnight once a month, now we are screening five.
I'm very happy with result. We notice in UK they like The Room. I don't now if you guys throw the spoon? That's what they do in America, they express themselves and have a groovy time.
Yes, we throw the spoons. At the last screening I attended, I saw someone with a wig dressed as you.
[Ecstatic] Oh that's great! Just have a laugh, that's what I wanna hear. I hope to come to UK in September for a tour!
Are you often recognised when you are out? How are your fans?
Yes, and I love my fans of The Room and future fans of The Room as well.
Before we go, what can you tell us about The Neighbors or your future projects?
Work in progress; however I might release a new movie within six, seven months.
The Room screens at the Cameo cinema Friday 14 May. Tickets are available online or at the Cameo box office. If you are heading along, remember to bring some plastic spoons...