A vintage interview with The Room creator Tommy Wiseau: 'Believe in what you believe'
In 2008, I wrote a feature for Entertainment Weekly about The Room, which was then just starting its unlikely march to global cult success. While researching the piece, I conducted two interviews with the film’s mysterious director-writer-star, Tommy Wiseau, the first at a restaurant in Los Angeles and a second over the phone. With James Franco’s acclaimed film The Disaster Artist — which details the making of The Room — arriving in theaters Friday, I dug up my research file and was surprised to discover how little of the latter, very lengthy conversation made it into the article. The thought also occurred that fans of The Room might be entertained — if not necessarily enlightened — by this early interrogation of the mercurial Wiseau.
Read a close-to-complete transcript of that interview below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I went to the screening the other week and had a great time. The audience seemed to love it.
TOMMY WISEAU: That’s very typical of the screening — that’s what we always have. We actually had an anniversary of The Room in June  and we had two screenings of The Room at the same time.
What inspired you to write the film in the first place?
I decided to write a script first. Originally, it was supposed to be a play, presented in a theater. I’ve been in many different relationships. I studied acting for many many years, and I say, “Let me write a script and try to make a movie.” That’s when everything start, you know. I take a lot of stuff from real life, as well as from my own experiences. The Room, I always say, is a red flag for young people. Have fun, but, at the same time, the message behind it — what not to do in the real world, you know. Relationships between three people, as a friend it’s okay, but then you go extra miles, it’s not good.
When did you start work on it?
I was working already in 2001, 2002, but we released in 2003, but we were shooting 2002, so five years before prior to the shoot.
1997, ’98? Something like that?
Something like that. I did a lot research prior that. I have scrumpled little paragraph, you know. I say, “Okay, let me create some characters.” Then everything I put as one script. Originally, my idea was actually to present in a theater. But then I concluded that not so many people actually got to the theater, particularly in America. The theater is not as popular as a movie. Even a theater like Broadway. That’s my idea, now, the next one, that I want to show The Room on Broadway. That’s what I want to do. Then I change my mind and I say, “You know what? Let’s just make the movie.” And I did a lot of research. And we use the two cameras: HD and the 35[mm]. HD, when we shot The Room in 2002, was not as popular, actually. It got very bad comments from many filmmakers. But I just say, “Well let’s put two cameras together,” and that was my plan to actually write a book about it. What is the difference between HD — high definition — and 35mm. What you see in the theater — for your info — is actually 35mm. What you see on the DVD is the same thing. We take everything from 35mm. Because film was the film. It was a quiet production let me tell you that. [Laughs]
Did you try to involve a studio?
Well you see, I didn’t. You see, I did some research, and I noticed that a lot of projects, when people pitching the projects…You see, I did not believe… Well, let’s put this way: No, I didn’t. And one of the reason was because I wanted it be my project. I have already a vision for it. And I was right about that. Because, to conclude, that everything is your project, to studio you would have negative results. Not always. Let’s put this way, I’m open for any project with studio. I love to work with studio now. I have a couple gigs. I have this vision already that I say, “No, I have to do this project myself.” I did a lot of research production-wise — crews, camera, etcetera, etcetera. So it was very exciting for me to do it. And I can do 24/7. Sometimes it takes time. My idea was, look, if we finish The Room, we want to release immediately, I don’t want waiting…It’s your project, it’s slightly different than somebody give you certain direction. I already have a vison that I have to do this movie myself. That’s basically what it is. I did not submit it. But working with a studio is good thing to do.
The shoot was supposed to be three weeks but ended up as six weeks?
We shoot The Room almost six months, you got wrong information. We have two units, one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. I remember it very well. You have to understand, with The Room there was a lot of preparation. Prior to shooting, we have regular rehearsals at least six months before we actually have decided to shoot, you know. We use green screen. We did everything what big studios do. Plus, the complexity of The Room was because we used two cameras to compare in two formats, and that was the reason to do that. So, you can imagine you need the two double crew basically, because the HD is different from the 35mm film. Like I said, I want to write a book about it. That’s my plan. So the crew was terrific. Everybody has been paid fully and I was very happy with everyone.
Greg Sestero [Wiseau’s costar on The Room and the co-author of the memoir upon which The Disaster Artist is based] said there were “creative differences” on set.
Yes, that’s correct. That’s very correct, I agree with that. You see, I was as a producer, director, and also line producer somewhat. You see, I am very complex guy in a sense but, at the same time, I believe in research. I don’t believe in copycats. I believe in research and then I make decision. And some of the crew members, it’s correct, we changed three times basically, DPs as well, the crews, because they tried, for example, tried to change the script. They try and say, “This is the way to do, etcetera etcetera.” I say, “No! That’s not the way to do.”
So, that was not about money. That was mostly about my vision. We had a certain disagreement, that’s correct. There was a certain pressure. There was differences, what they wanted to do, and what I wanted to do. This is great question by the way, Clark. I don’t speak for all the filmmakers. But I will tell you one thing. Prior to filming I already have a vision. My idea was to present in the theater. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the theater. We call “zone” in acting. Means that you are somewhere else, you know. Whatever you are surroundings, like a Stella Adler acting. You know, I’m just trying to explain you. And that was my intention. And then I say, “No, no, no, no.” I look at the numbers, I look at the attendance on the theater, I contact dozens of theaters in Los Angeles. And then I say, “No, no, no.” Because I wanted people to actually see the work and I wanted people to enjoy it. And that was a lot of preparation, a lot of planning. And some of the people, maybe they don’t fully understand that.
Let me say this: ask anything you want, except not too much personal question. But anything The Room is everything goes. I’m not upset. I understand. So it’s no problem.
What was it like to film the love scenes in The Room?
Love scene is most difficult scene ever. We call it in the industry like a closed stage, we mean closed set. I think all the actors did good job as far as I’m concerned. But let me stress something here, they did a good job but they did have preparation, let me say that. Because, if they did not have preparation, they did not do what they did. We did rehearsing, back and fore, back and fore.
You’re aware that the reaction to the love scenes tends to be quite extreme. People get up and walk out during the last love scene. That can’t be the reaction you were hoping to provoke.
Let me tell you this way. My answer to your question is that, I open certain doors for certain people that they are, let’s say uncomfortable, that’s the word, and that’s what they don’t want to see. Some people are cheering and some people they walk. That’s a part of life. And that’s why you see, in the love scenes, repetition. People say, “Well, I want to skip this.” Which is okay with me. There’s nothing wrong with that. I believe that audiences should be comfortable with the movie. If they’re not comfortable, it’s like a scary movie. Some people don’t want to see this moment and they say, “Well, I’ll be back in five minutes.” That’s fine with me. But you can say to yourself, “Why not?” You see, it all depends how mature you are. The summary of the statement should be that I open certain door, they don’t want to be in this door. That’s basically what I’m thinking.
It’s not so much the love scene they’re objecting to, they just don’t like the way it’s portrayed in your film.
That may be one of the obstacles, yes.
Did you always intend it to be a comedy?
Let me say it this way. I’m as a director speaking now. It’s my job as a director to provoke the audience. Provoke the audience, by my taking, you provoke by comedy or drama. I was planning to do reality. Otherwise, we don’t relate to it. If you want to attract the audience you have to be real. Even sci-fi movies, you see, you can suck the audience into your screening, given certain imagination, and they will connect to it. The Room is the same thing. The reality is there. That was my attention to certain styles of comedy. Because I say, “Well, people don’t talk that way to people, don’t yell this way.” But you have instances that you took from life, that I have some friends that are very dramatic, you know, with girls for example. But that’s a unique approach to relationships. But we do have in society certain individuals that they act that way. But we as a so-called normal people, generally speaking, we don’t accept that. And I say, “No, The Room has to be that way.” Otherwise, imagine, if you take certain elements from The Room, it would be not the same. So, I was looking always for uniqueness.
I’ll tell you a little secret. I was driving in Los Angeles and I say, “Well Johnny has to be naked!” Because, you see, how you present a love scene by just a kissing the person. Well, everybody can kiss, but you don’t go from A to Z by kissing someone. You cannot show the relationship fully. And if you want to provoke the audience you have to go an extra mile.
But did you mean for people to laugh at The Room?
Laugh? Absolutely. I mean, you see, let me tell you this way, Clark. I usually have regular screening Q&A for the past four years. But just recently I’m extremely busy. But I usually attend at least two screenings for Christmas as well for the anniversary of The Room. But I would say, “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other.” That’s basically what I’m saying to everyone. I hope that answer your question.
A couple of the scenes are out of focus.
And people [in the audience] shout “Focus!”
[Laughs] I’m sorry I’m laughing, because you see, as you notice, I like laugh too, you know.
But that can’t have been deliberate, can it?
So, it was an accident?
No, it’s not an accident. I’ve heard this before in my Q&A. Let me tell you, The Room, any film, is no accident. You may do something by accident. But everything, as you talk to Greg or you can call other actors. if they’re honest, they’ll tell you the same thing, it takes a lot of preparation. I tell you, sometimes we have, like, 200 people on the set. You have to plan something. You have to have a certain vision. I’m very passionate, what I do. And I’m very committed. Yes, an accident may happen indirectly, but 99 percent will not happen because you already know what you want. And that leads me to your previous question, what you say, “Is it true that you have difficulty with crew?” The answer is, yes because they see different pictures, I see the different pictures. I say, “I am in charge here, that’s the way it will be, you don’t like it, you have to leave, very simple.” And that’s exactly what happened.
I just want to be clear on this. You deliberately shot some scenes out of focus?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
And why would you do that?
Because, you see, let’s assume we did everything perfect way. You will be asking this question? No, no.
That’s a good answer. I’m not sure I believe it, but it’s a good answer.
Believe in what you believe.
You are right, though. Were it a perfectly-made mediocre film, we would not be having this conversation.
Exactly right. So, you see, you have to understand that you have to plan. I was involved 100 percent with post-production. You have to screen dozen of times. It’s a very complex process. If, let’s assume, like you say, “Oh, you know, it’s just an accident,” we would catch this. I say, “No, we’ll leave it that way.” Because I approve everything, for your information. I have to approve all the films and I was very closely working with the DP and the others.
It was released for two weeks in 2003?
2003, correct. But keep in mind, we release not just in one theater, we release across the Los Angeles, five theaters I believe.
Was it originally advertised as a comedy?
Well, you see, we say, “See The Room, change your life.” It can’t be qualified as a comedy — drama-slash-comedy, that’s basically what we have here. It’s not 100 percent. It’s a part of it. It’s not from a beginning-to-the-end comedy, I would disagree with that. You see, it’s very complex if you are actually serious talking about it. Because everything is there. I don’t believe in an accident, to be honest with you, Clark, I believe in the hard work as well as planning. You have to plan what you want to accomplish. So, it’s a mix comedy and drama, if I may say that.
Where did the quotes [on the film’s original advertising materials] come from? Did you just make up the quotes?
I don’t know about that. I received dozens, actually hundreds from the beginning, almost hundred of emails about thank-you about this, thank-you about that. It was just overwhelming what people want from me, and that’s when I come out with this idea, I say, “Let’s just show The Room once a month, midnight screening, have a Q&A and I enjoy it very much.”
Was it popular when it was released the first time?
We had a mixed reaction, to be honest with you. Then we go across the country. We show actually in New York one time, we show in Florida, we show in Berkeley. And we got the same reaction and I was thrilled by it. Funny story, in Florida, the girl said to me, “We want to see again.” I say, “You have to talk to the manager, I’m not in charge here.” I was thrilled. I was on dozen of screenings, and I observed the audience, and I love it. I really enjoy it, the way they react, I really enjoy, I really really enjoy it. Because, you see, that’s exactly what I want. I was planning to provoke the audience and I did my job, you see. The movie’s not a boring movie, it’s just that you have to interact — if you want to, it’s not like everybody has to — but I think you can get something, you relate to it, that’s important to me.
Was it popular in the cinemas where it screened in Los Angeles?
I really don’t know. We released it. But people have interest from the beginning.
You distributed the film yourself?
Well, we distribute through our Wiseau Films, that’s correct. And later on, we try to distribute across the country, and then we concluded that, of the costs and everything, and I say, “No, we will do one screening through the festival, and that’s exactly what we do.” We go across the country like New York, Florida, even Las Vegas. So it was very exciting.
Is the billboard still up? [Note: For several years, Wiseau paid for a billboard in Los Angeles which advertised The Room and featured a photograph of himself.]
The billboard, we’re taking down, actually after six years. We are taking it down this month, I believe.
Why did you keep it up for [so long]?
I concluded that we got several phone calls. People call for RSVP and people have the comments about the billboard. So, it was working pretty well for us. Because people say, “What is this about?” Sort of curiosity.
It’s not a great photograph of you.
You may say whatever you want.
I’ve seen photos where you look more handsome.
Well, thank you. This photograph was done and I say, “Well, just put it in.” Because it’s different. And, again, this is the thing — otherwise you would not ask question. [Laughs]
You say the mistakes are deliberate. But lot of the people at the screenings seem to get a kick out of the fact that they think that it’s a bad movie. Do you mind that?
I don’t mind anything. I’ll be honest with you, Clark. People can criticize and it doesn’t bother me. I sleep pretty well. Contrary, I’m thrilled. Because, this way, they can talk about something and I think that it’s a positive thing. I still will say that, you know, it’s a good time spent in theater. Express yourself, you see. In America, as you know, we have less and less places to express yourself. And this is one of the things where people can express, and maybe meet some people, or whatever. I think it’s positive thing.
Is it true that the billboard was costing $3,000 a month?
Let’s say this way: I really don’t want to talk about money. But any advertising costs a lot of money.
Are you prepared to say how many DVDs you’ve sold of the film?
No, I cannot say that, I’m sorry. We are very happy where we are now and hopefully we will continue on this rollercoaster ride with The Room. That’s what I can say.
The budget was $6 million?
So, you can’t have made a profit out of it?
Well, like I say, I don’t want to talk about money. You see, I’m an artist, I really don’t like to talk about money. I just like to talk about the finished product, acting, filming etcetera.
You’re a very mysterious individual.
Thank you very much. That’s compliment.
Any plans to release The Room around the country?
We’re always open with big studios, you know. If somebody knock on the door, absolutely, I am for it 100 percent.
Has a major studio approached you?
We approached only one studio, and a couple of distributors and some of the terms did not work out so well. But we are open for big studio. They knock on the door tomorrow, we are open.
Greg also said that he’d like to make a sequel.
Well, it’s possible. On Q&A, everybody asking the same question. Everything is possible, you know. It’s just a question of distribution. Right now, we do better than expected, and I’m thrilled, and I’m happy with all my fans. And I have great respect for them. Some people see the movie 20, 30 times, I’m very happy with that.
Have any of the famous fans of The Room approached you to work with them?
Well, there you have it. The Room is for everyone. I’m open. I’ve met a lot of people, I don’t want to drop their names. But I met all the major stars and I’m open. I’m very passionate about acting. And, no, I did not have any contact yet, but I’m open. I love acting, be honest with you.
Did you enter The Room for the Academy Awards?
It’s a true story. And that’s why we release in theater. And I’m very proud of myself to do that.
What films did you enjoy when you were a kid?
I’ll tell you one of the stars of the movie, like James Dean movies, I enjoyed very much. Brando, of course. And other movies with Brad Pitt and others. I don’t want to name exactly the names unless you want me to…
But don’t put this under your article, can you promise me?
Let’s move on.
Okay, let’s just move on. Then people quote me: “Oh, why you like this movie?”
Why are you so mysterious about your background?
Let me tell you this way: I think private life should be private life, the professional life should be the professional life, and that’s where I stand, and I have right to do that.
Are you wanted for murder or something in some foreign country?
No, are you kidding me? I’m an American and proud of it, that’s basically where I’m standing. If you like it fine.
But you weren’t raised in America, were you?
No, I used to live in France, long time ago, then I moved to New Orleans. I have family there. Then I moved to Bay Area. Then I started film acting business. I was going to Laney College. I work for a hospital, I work for the city, I did many different jobs. But I always wanted to be an actor. I always have vision that doing acting is very complex. Not everyone can do it. For example, in The Room, we had regular casting. We had thousands of headshots, we go through all the headshots. We go through a certain process and I concluded that a lot of people cannot act. They say they can, but they cannot.
Where did the budget come from?
We have a couple of producers. People invest money. You have to create a budget.
How old are you?
Whatever you see. But again, it’s private matter. Again, we are going in the wrong direction at this time. The interview go wrong direction. I’m very open about some of the criticism, whatever. But The Room is a really special project, and a special movie, and that’s basically what we have here.
Watch the trailer for The Disaster Artist, above.
The Disaster Artist