After appearing in the film universally hailed as the worst movie of all time, there are two ways you can deal with the situation: keep your head down and ignore the noise about it to the best of your ability, or you take complete ownership of the situation and handle it all with good humour.
The second approach is how actor Greg Sestero has dealt with the fallout from his participation in The Room, Tommy Wiseau's auteurist attempt to be cinema's Tennessee Williams. The Room airs this week on SBS VICELAND.
Sestero, a friend of writer/director Wiseau, also served as a producer on the film - helping Wiseau bring his vision to the screen. Following the release of the film and its evolution from box office dud to unexpected cult sensation, Sestero co-wrote a book detailing his relationship with Wiseau and the production of the film. In 2017 the book was adapted into the James Franco movie The Disaster Artist.
Sestero was in Australia recently for the release of The Disaster Artist when he spoke with SBS editors Dan Barrett and Nick Bhasin.
Nick: Do you call [the book The Disaster Artist] a memoir?
Greg: I guess you can call it a memoir. A survival story? [Laughs]
Dan: What led to the writing of the book? Were people asking you for it?
The Room came out in 2003, really to crickets. Nobody showed up to see it. It made $1800 at the box office. Everyone assumed it was going to disappear. Tommy was hell-bent on this thing being seen. He kept a billboard up for five years, tried to have free screenings that college kids would show up to. It screened once a month for a while.
Dan: Was that paid for by Tommy?
It was. He literally would show up to 20 college kids that would just ask him ridiculous questions during a Q&A, like how did he get so ripped? And how did he fund The Room? It caught on a few years later. There was a big article written about it and it started to screen around the world. People would ask me all these questions like ‘how did you get involved with it?’ ‘Why did you stick around?’, ‘what is it about?’. I truly believe that the story behind The Room is more fascinating and bizarre than The Room. It was a story that I felt could be one of the most unique Hollywood stories that people hadn’t heard yet. Tommy and I had known each other for four years before we made The Room. We were roommates. We were opposites following our dream. I felt like it could be a great movie about a terrible movie.
Nick: While you were making the movie in The Disaster Artist, it looks like you were going with it, giving it your all. I don’t know if naive is the right word, but I don’t know if you realise what other people are saying about what’s going on and their reactions. In order to write the story, it looks like you had to know what, say, Seth Rogen's character, what his perspective was. That scene at the bank... Did you interview everybody?
That scene at the bank… Sandy showed up on set one day and Tommy was late. He was usually around 3-4 hours late. So we had a lot of catching up to do before he showed up.
Dan: Because Tommy is a nighttime guy...?
He’s a vampire, so…
Sandy showed up and he was stunned. He was telling everybody there that the cheque cleared and the teller told him that it was a bottomless pit of an account. Everyone got more and more intrigued because they thought it would close shop in a couple of weeks, but the production just kept going. My angle on set - I was really there just to help Tommy make his film. I knew it wasn’t going to win Oscars, obviously. But it was intriguing to watch Tommy interact with all of these Hollywood people. I understood him more than the people there. I was trying to help him. Was I hopeful that the movie would go anywhere? I don’t think anyone believed it would go anywhere except for Tommy.
Nick: How much time did James Franco spend with Tommy to ‘create him’?
Not too much. It’s a funny story - years ago Tommy, I didn’t know it at the time, but Tommy would record all of our phone conversations. When I was living in his apartment we’d talk for hours about auditions and what we both want to be. So, a few years later I was up in his condo in San Francisco and saw a drawer filled with hundreds of audio tapes. They had ‘Greg - October 1999’, ‘Babyface - September…’ So all of these conversations were recorded.
Dan: The tapes were all just you? Or is he recording all of his conversations?
What I saw was all just me. So, I took this box out of there, because I didn’t want all these conversations on tape. And in that box I found a tape that said ‘Hollywood, California - 1994-1995’ and it was Tommy recording himself while he was trying to make it as an actor in LA, driving around in his car at night talking about his frustrations, spilling his heart out in a way that he didn’t think anybody would ever listen to. When I listened to the tape, I was fascinated. It was heartbreaking in a way. It was inspiring in a way. I held onto it, so when I worked on the book, I revisited it and there was so much interesting stuff in his character, so when James was preparing to play Tommy, I gave him this tape. He said he drove around in his car listening to it and it really helped him build the character of Tommy. I think that was the foundation of finding that voice.
Nick: How do you explain this phenomenon?
I don’t think it’s anything we have ever seen before. You had one man who was misunderstood by the entire world. But he had the means to make something and put his voice out there with nobody to tell him no. I enabled him to really be himself and tell the story. I don’t think we’ve seen that before. We’ve had bad filmmakers, but I don;t think Tommy is a bad filmmaker. I think he’s such an eccentric character that you just want to see more. He put himself in his dream role where he’s a banker, he has a fiance, he’s a leading man. You could take the ten best filmmakers to try to make something this strange and I don’t think it would have happened.
To listen to the entire conversation with Greg Sestero, listen to the SBS Playlist podcast:
The Room screens on SBS VICELAND Wednesday night at 8:30pm and will be available at SBS On Demand for a limited time.