In this week's Mercury, we printed an article about cult movie The Room ["Entering The Room," Film, August 13], with a brief excerpt of our interview with writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau, but we didn't have room to run the whole thing.
Set in San Francisco, The Room tells the story of Johnny (Wiseau), his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and their best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), who are trapped in a love triangle—as depicted by numerous and lengthy love scenes set to the swankiest music imaginable. Other characters drop in and out—including a man-child who may or may not be addicted to drugs, and a shrew of a mother who may or may not have cancer—as plot threads are introduced, then instantly abandoned. It's a really fun movie to watch, especially with friends.
I was a little nervous to speak with Tommy Wiseau, writer/producer/director/star of The Room. Wiseau is known for being secretive about the funding of the project—The Room was reportedly made for six million dollars, raised entirely by Wiseau without any studio backing—and for ignoring questions about the origin of his thick, Eastern European-sounding accent. He's savvy enough to understand The Room's appeal, and mentions it works best as a black comedy. His people asked to see my questions before our interview, so I dutifully sent off a list of polite topics. But then I got his responses emailed back to me, along with confirmation for our phone interview time, and I wasn't sure how our interview would proceed. Would I read my questions, and have him read his prepared responses, like a script?
Actually, Wiseau was remarkably friendly and candid, and willing to go off-book for our interview. I didn't find out where the money came from, or where he was born, but he was enthusiastic about both The Room and his upcoming projects. Here are both the email Q&A, and my telephone conversation with Wiseau. Thanks to Wiseau for taking the time to answer my questions, and to Mercury intern Will Radik for his huge assistance in transcribing our conversation.
MERCURY: The setting of the movie almost becomes a character itself. Why did you decide to set the movie in San Francisco?
TOMMY WISEAU: One of the reason was that the city of San Francisco offers diversity of people and scenery. Another reason was that I love the city, and the city has rich history and their people are productive like the characters in The Room.
The Room seems like it could be very personal story. Are there any autobiographical elements of your life that you put into the movie?
We have many Lisas, many Marks, many Claudettes, many Dennys, many Johnnys, and other characters from The Room in the world.
What other filmmakers are you inspired by?
I inspire myself every day of my existence. But, my creativity is connecting to the creativity of Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, and others, because we are on the same page.
I was struck by the use of symbolism in the movie. For instance, the red rose signifying temptation and betrayal, and the football signifying brotherhood. Was the use of symbolism deliberate?
Of course the symbolism in The Room were planned deliberately.
The Room was made in 2003, and already there has been a shifting political climate in these past few years. How do you think The Room comments on current events, like the Iraq war, the Obama election, the economic downturn, gay marriage, etc.?
The characters and the plot in The Room are universal, they will not change, regardless of the political climate, due to natural human behavior and consistency in any relationships between people, present and past.
Why do you think that members of the press have felt they can comment on the film, or on you the filmmaker, when they haven't even seen the movie?
You should ask them. However, they don't know what they are missing and hopefully they will see The Room.
Do you think that you have followed your dream in a way that makes some people jealous, even while it inspires other people? Lots of people would love to write, direct, and star in their own movie, but very few people have the chance to do it. What do you have to say to people about following their dreams?
First think about 20 percent of your project, than 40 percent, and so forth and you may accomplish your dreams. This simple formula can be applied to any situation as long as you are honest with yourself, and work at it.
What do you make of the response people have given The Room? It's very different from most movies. For instance, people come to see it again and again, and then tell their friends to come to see it. People also like to participate in the movie and act out the characters and scenes. Are you surprised by this reaction?
Because The Room is different, and I'm thrilled about the public response. It's connecting audiences and people have fun with it. "You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don't hurt each other." People should see The Room at least four times in the theaters, to discover other elements of the movie that connect people.
Why do you think the drama of the movie also works as black comedy?
In any movie you have to have different flavors, and it is up to the audiences how they react to them.
What is next for Tommy Wiseau? Will you be writing and directing another movie?
At this time I'm working on The Neighbors, a sitcom, and I'm open to any TV network which offers my production an opportunity to work with them. The 22 minutes pilot of The Neighbors has been completed. Also, I'm working on a vampire movie, and other projects.
WISEAU: I'm yours for half hour. By the way, did you receive the answers?
MERCURY: I did, yes. How do you typically do this? I have those questions, and you did provide the answers. Do you want to focus on those questions, or...
It's a free ride, it's up to you [laughs]. You decide what you want to do. You're the reporter. I don't give you rules! Except, this will help us just in case of typo or whatever, so that's the story.
You talked about using San Francisco in the movie. Was The Room filmed there, or in Los Angeles?
Both cities, actually. We had two crews. Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Did you ever live there?
I used to. Not anymore. I live here in Los Angeles right now.
I understand The Room was also written as a novel and a play. Which came first?
Good question. Yes, that's correct. Long story short, I wanted to actually do the play only, because my background is theater. You know, in America we have a situation where I did some studying, and my hobby is also psychology. Long story short, I concluded that number of people going to the theater and number of people go to cinema—theater, I'm talking about play theater—is much less and then I changed my mind and actually I produced The Room, the movie, the feature. And I did some research and I didn't want to approach any studio, which we never did except for distribution. Because you see, The Room is just... I wanted to do it my way, okay? My way or the highway, you know the story. So basically, I said, "No, I have to do it my way," and I don't know if you heard, [but] we had issues with the crew, etc., etc. So that's what I decided to do, and plus, The Room was shot on the two cameras at the same time: 35 [millimeter film] and HD... and for your information, on the DVD [special features] I say I'm confused. Let me stress that entire Hollywood was confused. It's nothing wrong to say that you were confused because, long story short with the cameras topic, the film is the film, that's the bottom line. But as you know in today's industry standard, we have HD and the film and usually we combine performance if we do the feature movie. The Room is the only one feature movie shot at the same time. Both cameras at the same time.
You mentioned an issue with the crew. Was that because of the dual camera setup?
Not so much. Much was related to the way I wanna film it. The way I wanna present the audiences, you see. And that was the dilemma. You know, long story short, to be nice, some people have a different point of view, let's put this way [laughs]. So, I wanna do my way that's basically... see, The Room is not the regular cookie cutter from Hollywood, as you probably noticed, and it's something that is different and I have a different approach in this particular project. Because right now I'm working on The Neighbors, for example, for TV stations. It's a totally different situation, you see.
Are you encountering difficulties with that, since TV is a much more collaborative medium?
No, not at all. You see, I'm a person that will respect your rules. Just tell me what your rules are. You see, you have to understand that TV—you probably know, I don't have to explain it to you, but—is you have certain rules, regulations, etc., etc.. It still depends, what do you want to do for cable, or regular TV, you know. Vulgar language, etc., etc. I don't have problem with that, because [with] The Neighbors I completed last year the pilot, and right now I'm negotiating with the some of the networks—well I'm still open, you know. And again, you see, it is what it is, you know, so more stuff, you have to be respectful toward the people who have certain rules or whatever, you see. The feature tells a different story because the feature you present it, that's why it's R rated, because of nudity and violence, etc.
Do you appreciate the freedom that you had making The Room? Is that something that's hard to walk away from as you're doing television?
Absolutely. I will tell you, I commend your question, actually, because you're right on the money. That's correct. You see, I think many filmmakers and directors—I'm one of them so I consider myself—you see... but I have to have vision before I started doing something and a certain environment will go against your, not so much wishes, but some of your creativity, you see. And I believe in pro-freedom. I'm pro-freedom, pro-expression. And we have certain limitations if you look at how you present certain stuff, and the big picture. If you control 100 percent, you present the way you want to present it. Otherwise you know you have different forces from different environments. So I'm happy! To respond to your question, I'm very satisfied. I'm thrilled about it basically.
It's amazing, too, that The Room is still playing in theaters and people are going to see it, even people who've seen it many times before. Why do you think that it's gotten that kind of response?
Well first, you know, I always say and I always will say for rest of my life, I guess, that on the one hand really people need to see [it] in the theater. It's not like, because I want to make more money or whatever. No, that's not it. The it is, that the theater environment and the big screen is slightly different when you actually have big plasma. Or I don't care what kind of screen you have. It's much different. And another thing you have to understand, you probably know that, that what you see in the theater 99.9 percent is 35mm film. So you have depth of field... the depth of field is slightly different than what you see on the DVD. It's a certain obstacle that I would say, see it in the theater first. But our other story what we have now, you probably know that, that people buy the DVD. That actually we have fans, a lot of fans actually they go to the theater anyhow, you see. We have the sixth anniversary of The Room in Los Angeles that was in June, so each June we have this, annual anniversary so the next one will be June. You invited, if you're around [laughs].
Well, it's playing up here in Portland, Oregon, which is where I am...
Right, well, we are excited and thrilled about that. We'll see what happens, I dunno... but I know one thing, I tell you one thing—that we have the fans in Portland, Oregon, too [laughs]. So I don't know what kind of extremes they will go, what they're allowed to do in the theater. But I always say, you can laugh, you can cry, but please don't hurt each other, that's all.
There are people here who are fans of the movie and haven't seen it in the theater yet. Do you think there's something important about seeing it with an audience?
Absolutely. I agree with you 100 percent! Right on the money, because you see again, it's not like I'm saying it's community showing... We all have a different take. Hopefully you have opportunity to maybe interview some fan or person who sees it for the first time, what the take they have of it. The reason I say to see at least two or three times, even four times, is because there is so many obstacle. If you be honest, objectively speaking, honest, there's no way in the world you can grasp all this stuff. There's no way. And I don't care how good you are, how intelligent you are. You may have a diploma from Oxford, whatever you wanna do. There's still, I will argue with you, there's no way in the world you can see all the obstacle and then fully analyze the movie—good thing, bad thing, whatever comes to your brain! And again, you see, I like when people think very sincere way, not just because they, "Oh yeah, well they hate the movie, whatever..." To me, entertainment is entertainment and again I don't care what people say as long as they see the movie. As long as they are sincere with their criticism, because there's nothing wrong to criticize. There's nothing wrong with that. But I'm against that—I don't wanna drop the name to you or your readers, but I'm against certain conclusion when some of the readers and writers in the past say that. I believe very strongly they did not see The Room based what I read. What the take they have on it. Because you see, you have to see it, and then say, "Okay, I like it, I don't like it, I hate it." Whatever your take is. And you cannot just grab different words from different people because I know you did not see it. Because otherwise, because you see... I studied psychology, as I mentioned to you. And I believe very strongly that these certain doors I can open. And some of the stuffs is very uncomfortable, for example the love scene, you see. But at the same time, you really think, objectively we are all involved from kids to adulthood, etc., etc. So, that's what the good thing is about The Room, because it does connect people and to respond to your comments about if people see it in the theater sometimes people meet people or whatever, and I think, they can talk about The Room. You know, positive, negative, whatever experience they experience at the time. Or the new people, or whatever. We have a lot of repeat customers, I must say that. In our audiences. And I like it. I love it, actually.
You go to a lot of the screenings; do you have anything planned for the Portland screening?
Well, wait a minute. I am not going to Portland at this time. I may attend one of them, but they just started. So, eventually I will, because you see, right now my schedule—again, I apologize to you, I was a little late to call you—but eventually I will... I was in Austin, Texas, New York, and my schedule is extremely booked right now. Like I say, I'm working on other project as well, but I love audiences and I will come to Portland, Oregon, and I don't care how big, how small the theater is, doesn't matter for me. Because I love audiences, you know, fans, especially fans of The Room. We got some email from, I believe, actually from all over. Portland, too. But this is right now the first screening so we see what the reaction is. We have to see, there is a lot different stuff going into it.
Have you ever been to Portland?
No. I was not in Portland, but I heard about it! [laughs]
It's a great city.
Yeah. You guys have a great city but you guys are sort of unique, I didn't realize that.
Can you tell me more about the vampire movie you're working on?
Well this we may shoot at Austin, Texas, but I am... well, it'll be something unique, let's put it this way. So that's basically it. I think that a vampire, generally speaking, is an equal survivor of human behavior, somewhat to certain degrees, which is prolonging the life, if I may say that. So but. Whatever people believe in vampire or I believe in vampire, that's irrelevant, because I think the topic is, it's much more deep which actually relates to human behavior if you really think about it. Of course, all that stuff, it's sort of assumption and a lot of fantasy go into it. But the probability is very high if you really think about it, how you can prolong your life—have different blood type, or what is the....
I think this technology, you look at around you, we go so up, that I believe 10 years from today we probably don't need a doctor. You will have your own doctor, computers will say, "Okay, your sugar level is too low, you have to eat this or that, etc., etc." You know what I mean. Actually, I want to make a movie about this one, too, something like that. But the vampire is a very exciting project that I'm working on currently, yes.
Is that something you're writing?
I already have two scripts for vampires—100 page scripts. We do one at a time.
Are there two separate movies?
Yes. Two separate movies.
Are they connected, plot-wise? Is one a sequel of the other one?
Actually, one is connected somewhat. And one, I give you one clue, that it's connected to all the vampires which you see in the entire world. So it's very deep in the depth. Okay? And, um, [laughs] yeah I have crazy ideas right now, but I don't... Okay, I will tell you anyway. It's too bad that some other people are very snobbish, people who produce vampires movie. Because my vampires are very much connected to all the vampires, let's put it this way. So, I'm not giving more to you [laughs].
That's fine. But are you interested in other genres? Because The Room is a modern-day drama/comedy, which is very different from the vampire genre, and you mentioned some science-fiction stuff too. Are you drawn to those genres even more than something like The Room?
Well. I tell you right now that I'm extremely adaptable and I think if you want to be part of entertainment... by the way, I don't know if you know, I did the documentary Homeless in America. Are you familiar with that?
I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it though.
Send me the email, just to my assistant. You talk to him, I mean, we know we talk to you. I talk to you now. Send us email, we'll be glad to send to you, free of charge, Homeless in America. It's totally different, you see. I did this because... actually that was in the screening of The Room I said to myself. "I want to find out what's happening with the homeless." You see, I'm very comfortable in my life and I've been working hard for it, but at the same time, you know, we are the biggest country, and the strongest I would say, and I think the best in the world. The fact is, we have the issue [of the] homeless. But the same time I give you only one sentence about homeless. We cannot eliminate homeless even if you want to. And if you look at the Egyptians from way, way back. From Egyptian to whatever, whatever era you put on the map, we always have homelessness in the world. But we were not honest, that's my point. So that's the reason I did Homeless in America. I'm very proud, we got a lot of emails. I didn't make any money on it, if you ask me about money, but I'm very proud of it because I think that people should know about it, you know.... And I bet you in Portland, you guys have a similar situation, or here in Los Angeles, or up north or whatever we are.
So I will be glad to send you free of charge, and you don't have to pay for anything, the DVD if you have interest. Any more questions? Two more questions, then I let you go.
Can you tell me about the novel of The Room?
Oh yeah. It's completed and I'm waiting for someone from publishing industry to contact us.
Is it the same story?
It's the same story but it's much more detail-oriented cause I... you see, you have to understand, the script was after the novel. So I have, I believe, over 500 pages. But we can condense based on the, you know, some of the... my understanding is some of the publisher, there are certain rules apply, I believe. Somebody sent us one time this email, I don't remember now, but they wanted 300, but not wanted 500 because of the cost, whatever. Eventually we will—see, everything in The Room was done awkward, you know. The book is supposed to be first, right? And we did the script after the book and then we now publish it. Eventually we will publish. I'm pretty sure, 100 percent. Plus I don't know if you ask me that already, but my goal actually is to do in the Broadway a show in New York, based on The Room. Because, again, this is an original idea what I have six years ago, to adapt, is a play. So sort of I'm working and directing on this, too, as well thinking about how we can put together. But eventually we'll have a play on Broadway: The Room.
My last question is what your dream project would be, if you could do anything in the world. Would you want to do a James Bond movie, or a spy movie? Or a big-budget Hollywood movie, or anything like that?
Well I tell you one thing, that uh.... Yeah, I'm open for any project.
Is there one thing in particular that you've always wanted to do?
Actually yes, but I cannot tell you, I'm sorry man. The reason for it is because you will print and you may actually... um. Okay, lemme tell you this way. I give you little hint. That's all I can do. It's related to Batman. Okay? And I rest my case.
And I think, I give you another... Well, since you're a nice guy I'll give you another clue. You're from Portland, you guys are very nice people. It's related to one of the actor who just pass away, and I think I give you enough clue. So actually, I did a little scene on the Comic-Con. I don't know if you're familiar with San Diego?
We have really great reception there! I enjoyed myself very much. I did this scene actually with two Batmans. I played the character, and again I don't want to say it. You do the research [laughs]. So no, I am open, seriously I am open for any kind of project. But the ideal is to work with big studios or independent project, too. You know, I'm open. I've got a couple first. I did the Tim and Eric [Awesome Show Good Job episode], I don't know if you know the TV show a little bit, but I am very serious about the drama, comedy, and again, let me stress, to wrap this interview, that I believe very strongly that the more colors—let's say you're producer, director, whatever you do with your project, especially entertainment—you have to be pro-audiences. So audiences decided if they want to see your movie or not and the more colors you have, and I think it's a little confusing about the black comedy, you know, because people don't realize that. I don't care what movie, name it one movie, and I'll bet you have at least similar what we have in The Room, but not in certain degree. And that The Room is not melodrama. When people sometimes say, "It's melodrama," it's not. Black comedy relates to different colors, certain stuff is exaggeration. "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" Etc., etc. But it's dealing with real life. And that's why The Room connects people. That's what I say. And I think some of the theater people don't understand. Then they are too stubborn to understand that let audience be what they want it to be, you see? And I notice that some of the theater people are extremely conservative and I think that's not the way it's supposed to be, as far as I'm concerned. You know what I'm saying, right?
Okay! Any more questions?
I think that's it.
Okay-dokey! Thank you!