Little is known about 40-year-old Tommy Wiseau: He’s an American filmmaker with a vaguely Eastern European accent. He wrote the script for The Room, peddled it to big studios, then decided to scrape together $6 million to do the thing himself in 2003. But unlike his background or personal life, the movie—which Wiseau also produced, directed, and starred in—is known in close detail by its ever-growing cult following. It tells the story of Johnny (played by Wiseau), a regular guy from San Francisco whose girlfriend Lisa is cheating on him with his best friend Mark. Simple? Sort of. There are scenes dealing with drug use, job security, softcore porn, losing underwear, and tuxedo football. (At one point, one of the characters famously says, “I got the results of the test back: I definitely have breast cancer,” and it’s never brought up again; later, a character trips while playing football, then disappears from the film altogether.) The sets are haphazard, the camerawork is blurry, most of the actors’ IMDB pages are surprisingly barren; in short, midnight-movie audiences have been eating up The Room for years in Los Angeles. And other than his appearances at Room screenings, plus a role in an episode of Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Wiseau has remained in the shadows. He put out an independent documentary called Homeless In America in 2004, and began work on a TV pilot called The Neighbors, but that’s it. His film continues to gain exposure, though, and this week sees midnight screenings at the Music Box tonight and tomorrow. In honor of The Room's expansion, The A.V. Club reached out to Wiseau to talk about how he got into film, his unflattering view of women, and the decision to name a character Chris-R.
The A.V. Club: What film inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Tommy Wiseau: I don’t have one. However, I will tell you that the word “inspire,” it doesn’t click in my mind, if I may say that. I like The Guns Of Navarone—I don’t know if you saw this movie—and also a James Dean movie, Marlon Brando, or Citizen Kane, etc. I have a bunch of, really. I cannot say that this movie trigger interest. But the issues of acting, I used to want to be a rock star, to give you little secret. [Laughs.]
AVC: Lisa's role is important. What stood out, specifically, about actress Juliette Danielle's take on the part?
TW: I say this many times, and I think I respond to your question as well, that we always had duplication of actors. I learned this from—my background, again, is acting in the theater, from a theater production. So theater actors in the theater: You have two people, and you have some people understudy. We actually have three Lisas and four Lisas, and the fact is that people did not perform the way I want it. So we let her go, some of these people, and she did better job.
Let me tell you one thing, that not a lot actors can do that, by the way. We have big stars actors. Again, I’m not dropping any names—very famous actors—and they doing good job, but guess what? They will not deliver. Guarantee you 100 percent. It doesn’t matter how much you pay them. They will not deliver.
AVC: Why not?
TW: It’s very complex because human behavior is very complex. Where the director comes is, say… wait a minute, what is between actors, script, and director? Well, surprise, surprise—the audience. So how to please the audience? My job as a director is now not just to please the audience. No—to led them to think about it… I don’t ask you to like my movie, as long as you enjoyed yourself. And I think you have so many different dilemma issues, you may name it, you have there. So you may have some interest. And also the fact is—I’m just laughing because I think it’s funny, too—I can’t open certain door when you are very uncomfortable with it. Perfect example is scene with the love scene. A lot of people at the screening, they are uncomfortable, they go to bathroom, they are turning their heads. You can observe the audience. This is a fact.
AVC: Mark cheats with Lisa, but remains your character's best friend. As the film's writer, why did Mark cheat?
TW: I studied psychology. I might actually go back to school, believe it or not. So this particular observation, which you describe, is that sometimes you don’t have to say anything. It’s a certain feelings and understanding between two people. It’s the same situation when Lisa and Mark are kissing at the end. She says, "This is our secret." Now wait a minute here—what is this secret? You just kissed her. What’s going on here? Does secret continue, or secret remain as is, and we finish, we not do anymore? As you know, the film is progressing, and we have the same situation on the couch, even the party, still Lisa did not give up. This is the thing what drive Johnny crazy, you see. The intuition is there.
AVC: There's a lot happening in The Room: infidelity, drugs, cancer, job stress, etc. How do all these other plots fit in?
TW: I simplify as much as I could. Keep in mind that I have only 99 minutes to present all the obstacle life. And I think we did. From the pregnancy of a woman, if you really think about it, to cancer, to drugs, to behavior, to betrayal, to relationship between two is better than one, or three is better than two, or vice versa, two is better than three—you know, when Denny says, "I like to watch." Look at kids today. I have nephews myself. And I say, what are you doing here? “Oh yeah, I just want to watch.” In a very innocent way.
AVC: How old is Denny supposed to be in the film?
TW: He’s supposed to be around 16, 18.
AVC: What do you think Philip Haldiman brought to the role of Denny?
TW: I think he brought a lot stuff. One thing was people. Actually, he’s really retarded a little bit.
AVC: Is that how you wrote it?
TW: Indirectly, so he’s confused.
AVC: In an interview, you said that your favorite scene is the “tearing me apart, Lisa” scene.
TW: Yeah one of them, as well as the Chris-R.
AVC: No offense, but that Chris-R scene didn't have to be there.
TW: [Laughs.] No, you can say whatever. To me it’s compliment, actually. But the same time again, you have to understand that the concept with The Room is not just to present one particular issue, like the drugs, like the way you describe right now. No. We want to present the other thing. I’m surprised you didn’t ask me why I put dash next to Chris-R as a character. Because see again, if I call him only Chris, I say, "Wait a minute, it has to be distinguished." Because, again, he is a gangster, and his initial is R. That’s why we call him Chris-R.
AVC: Natural follow-up: The sex scenes. How did you shoot them?
TW: Good question. Let me tell you, the love scene, to do any love scene—and I don’t care who you’re talking in the future. Talking to them, they will tell you the same thing I’m telling you right now—is extremely difficult to do.
AVC: But do you actually do it?
TW: No, you don’t do it. You mean do you do the sex? No, absolutely not.
AVC: Do you wear, like, special underwear or something?
TW: Sometimes you have a certain dilemma how far you can go, but we are not doing any sex whatsoever. I’m very against that, because this is not a porno movie. Let me give you a little history here. I don’t know if you know the acting Stanislavsky method. We have couple actors in past history that they perform in the stage. And that was the thing, killing people, okay. The person actually did kill the person on the stage. That’s a fact. The reason for it is because the person was already in the zone—we call acting zone.
You see, Juliette, she did a good job. But speaking of Lisa, another aspect of her is you can see her female manipulation. You know the difference between guys and girls today? Usually girls say it’s no different whatsoever. But you see, a lot of girls, you know what they’re missing? They don’t understand that they are better than us guys. If you think about it, they are much more manipulative. That’s what Lisa is about.
AVC: Reviews of the film tend to work in some form of, "It's so bad, it's good." How do you feel about that phrase, as it applies to The Room?
TW: Well, you know what, you are the first person to actually say that. It’s a contradiction. I think The Room is something magnetic, a certain magnetism in The Room that is related to human behavior, and that’s why people relate to it. People who are too negative about it, I personal think they don’t know what they are talking about. Some people say, “They don’t laugh with Tommy, Tommy not laugh with them,” or something like that. No, on the contrary, I enjoy very much, and I wish I could attend all the screening in the world. It’s impossible.
Let me say five sentences, very conservative way. It is difficult sometimes to give credit to someone who is strange… I am a very simple guy. When people enjoy themselves, I like that. If they want to say it’s good, you have to see it. It’s fine with me. But, ["It's so bad, it's good"] is strange phrase. You didn’t offend me whatsoever.
To read more from this interview, visit our sister site The A.V. Club.