MONDAY MARCH 27, 2017
 
Blog TALKING TO
TOMMY WISEAU
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There are good movies, there are bad movies, and then there’s The Room (2003), which has transcended notions of quality to become the definitive cult classic of a generation.

The Room tells the story of Johnny, a banker caught in a love triangle with his fiancé (or as Johnny memorably puts it, “future wife”) Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). As played by the movie’s clearly European writer / director Tommy Wiseau (though he has been cagey about his exact origins), Johnny is an altruistic, romantic, all-American hero ultimately betrayed by those closest to him.

That’s how Wiseau sees it, anyway. But Room fans are more intrigued by the movie’s many bizarre technical choices and non-sequitur plot than its central drama. At times, Wiseau seemed to go out of his way to make the filmmaking process more obtuse — like constructing a rooftop set in a parking lot with a green screen skyline — but every obscure choice that went into production has been explained and defended by its star / writer / director / financier. Wiseau’s refusal to consider perceived flaws in his movie as anything other than a lack of insight on the part of its critics has only further endeared him to fans: here is a man who made exactly the kind of movie he wanted to make, apparently with his own money, that he has no apologies for.

Against all odds it became a hit, still playing to sold out crowds around the world. In Toronto this week, The Royal theatre will be hosting several screenings to mark the movie’s 10th anniversary, with Wiseau and Sestero in attendance as they often are. We spoke with Wiseau about the origins of the project, its surprising success, and his next movie Foreclosure.

This year is the tenth anniversary of The Room. After so many screenings and audience Q&A’s, what do you still get out of touring the movie?

I love the fans of The Room. I am very connected to the public. I love to interact with them ... some of the Q&A is OK, some is completely off the wall, you know, with the questions. But I always enjoy myself. After all these years, believe it or not, I never have a bad screening.

Have the Q&A’s changed over the years?

Over the years it has become slightly different. The Room has evolved itself by people asking more specific questions about character. There are still some personal questions. But, you know, I love when the questions challenge me — “Why does Chris-R appear in only one scene?” I like the challenging questions, I do.

You wrote, directed, financed, produced and starred in The Room. Was that out of necessity — not finding people who could live up to your vision — or are you just that ambitious?

I don’t know if you know, but at the beginning The Room, you see, was supposed to be a play. From beginning I never approach big studio system, but I had good resources from growing up in the business world. I wanted to do the play but I have roller-coaster ride, because in America I discover people don’t go to see the play on stage as often as they go to the cinema. I knew I had to make movies, no other way.

So I did the (filmmaking) research for the movie, like with the camera. I decided to use two cameras [The Room was famously filmed using HD and 35mm camera stock at the same time] and yes I was confused about the formats but everybody was. People say, “Tommy was confused!” but 10 years ago people were confused. But that’s another topic.  

I wanted to put everything I learned into the movie. Everything I’d learned about life, relationships, acting and directing. So to answer your question it was ambition, slash a bit of an ego thing. But not in a bad way.



You were a stage actor before The Room. What kind of roles did you play?

I was in A Streetcar Named Desire. I played Billy the Kid. I was very active in the Bay Area, graduated from Laney College in Oakland. I studied acting and directing for many, many years. I love the stage. I always call it my home. I feel extremely comfortable with it.

We actually did The Room on stage at the AFI in Washington, D.C., to a sold-out audience. I was very proud of it.

Do you encounter a lot of young filmmakers who are in the position you were in 10 years ago?

Yeah, they say, “What can I do to make better movie?” And I say with humour, “I’ll wish you good luck!” I know it is extremely difficult. Actors, too. I always say, “The more skills you have, the better it is.” You have to be both multi-talented and at the same time multi-task. Film as an art is extremely difficult. And your vision has to be an original work. People say, “Can we screen The Room with this other movie ...” and I say no because The Room can stand by itself.

If you have a good vision and you work very hard with your original material I believe very strongly you can move forward with your dream to be a director. But it’s not easy. That’s my point.

You’ve cited Citizen Kane as a favourite movie. Do you see any of yourself in Welles, in the way he also handled so much of his own productions?

Yeah ... I’m not inspired because of him, not at all, I don’t like that word. I inspire myself. That’s my point. To be honest with you movies effect me but I’m very cautious about using these kinds of words — inspiration, influence. Influence means something effected you 100 per cent, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that, you know?

It’s well-known that you had to replace many cast and crew members in the process of making The Room. Did you find it easy to be “the boss” in that situation?

It was a challenge. But I did grow up in the business world and when someone isn’t working out you just have to let them go. The Room, we replaced the same position four times, because a lot of people tried to temper the project their way. I didn’t want to make typical Hollywood, cookie-cutter movie. Audiences always want something different and I wanted to give them that. You don’t have to like my movie but it’s something different - that’s the reason it’s still going after 10 years.

To answer your question ... I never avoid questions. People write that I avoid questions, but the issue I have with reporters is that they don’t understand what I’m talking about. A lot of people don’t care in interviews — but it seems to me you did homework — to understand what the person is really about. So to respond to your question it is extremely difficult to (fire) a person that you hired if they misrepresented themselves. The expression I would use was “You see that door? Go through the door, close it, and don’t come back.” Yes, we replaced the director of photography four times. Extremely stressful from the beginning.



In both watching The Room and talking with you, I think you’ve a very strong idea what you want, and are perhaps not a pushover when it comes to others’ opinions. Has that made it difficult to continue making movies in America: butting heads with the people who have the money?  

I don’t know ... the industry isn’t just about money. It’s a creative process.

I’ll give you an example: I was recently hired as an actor, for a cameo appearance. But the production was not what they claimed. They ask me question like “How would you direct this?” But I say “It’s not my project. You would not like me to be director, because I have different vision.” Give me the words and I’ll give you the scene. Don’t ask me for my vision if you want me as an actor. Pretty awkward, you don’t think? It happened to me working with on Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job! - they could not have it both ways.

What can you tell me about your next movie Foreclosure? I assume from the title it’s about the real estate market.

That’s exactly it. Thank you for asking. The script has been completed — 100-page script, drama slash comedy. I’ll be playing Richard, who has a crisis because his house is taken over by the bank — he has a family, two kids. If we’re lucky we’ll finish shooting in a few months.

I just want to say thank you to all the fans in Canada, I’ll see you at the Royal! You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but don’t hurt each other. I love you all.

Click here for a full list of The Room screenings this week.

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