“America is the best country in the world.” — Tommy Wiseau
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Tommy Wiseau, the director of the cult hit, The Room and the man behind the online series, The Neighbors.
In a perfect world, everyone would get to spend 30 minutes talking to Tommy Wiseau. For someone who has watched The Room over a hundred times, it was at first overwhelming to hear that famous accent and that equally famous chuckle over the telephone. Once you start talking to Tommy, it is hard not to get caught up in his energy and his enthusiasm.
During our conversation, Tommy frequently returned to the theme that, as he put it, “America is the best country in the world.” Both The Room and Tommy Wiseau are American success stories. Along with writing and directing The Room, Wiseau also starred as Johnny, a banker who lives with and loves his “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle). What he does not know is that Lisa is having an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Meanwhile, Johnny’s ward, Denny, is stalked by a drug dealer, Lisa’s friend tries to find enough privacy to make out with her boyfriend, a guy that nobody has seen before suddenly shows up towards the end of the film and somehow knows about everything that has been going on, Mark nearly tosses a man off a rooftop, and Johnny and his friends spend a lot of time playing football while wearing tuxedos.
When The Room was first released in 2003, it played in two theaters and it easily could have gone the way of many other forgotten independent films. However, through word of mouth, people started to discover The Room and now, in the tradition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Room has become a midnight movie success. Fans come to showings dressed like their favorite characters, repeat the film’s dialogue, talk back to the characters, and throw plastic spoons at the screen. (Go to a showing and you will understand.) Co-star Greg Sestero has written a book, The Disaster Artist, about the making of The Room. (When I asked Wiseau how accurate he felt the book was, he replied, “40%, no more than that.” He also told me that, despite what some people in the media may be claiming, reports that he was no longer talking to Greg Sestero were totally incorrect.) I was first introduced to The Room by Lisa Marie (not to be mistaken for Lisa, Johnny’s future wife) and we have both lost track of how many midnight showing we have attended at the Inwood Theater.
As The Room has become better known, so has Tommy Wiseau. When I asked him if he found all of the fame to be overwhelming, Wiseau told me, “Not overwhelming. Because it’s fun. You have to believe in what you want to create.”
Wiseau has another reason to be excited, because the guys from Rifftrax will soon be bringing The Room to a whole new audience. Rifftrax will be hosting a showing and live commentary at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17th and then Rifftrax Live: The Room will screen in 700 theaters across the United States and Canada on May 6th and May 12th.
The Rifftrax guys are Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. They are probably best known for their previous work on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In many ways, MST 3K is as much of an American success story as The Room. If you grew up in the 90s, it is likely that MST 3K shaped the way that you viewed everything from culture to politics to entertainment to whether or not it was okay to talk during a movie. Rifftrax presenting The Room feels like the perfect marriage of two phenomenons of American pop culture.
There are a few famous stories of actors and filmmakers who did not appreciate having their films screened by the MST 3K guys. On the DVD for MST 3K‘s take on Time Chasers, Mike Nelson mentions that the film’s producers had a party to view the show and that some of them did not take the ribbing as well as others. The internet is full of rumors that actor Joe Don Baker is still angry over what was said about his performances in Mitchell and Fatal Justice.
However, Tommy Wiseau is encouraging everyone to see Rifftrax Live: The Room. When I asked him how he felt about Rifftrax, he replied, “They’re very nice people.” He went on to explain that he’s very excited and enthusiastic about the Rifftrax presentation of The Room and he’s looking forward to a whole new audience discovering the film.
Wiseau is also hoping that people will continue to discover The Neighbors, his online series that is currently available on Hulu. When I asked him what had inspired The Neighbors, he replied that it was based on a true life. In regard to one character who is obsessed with a chicken, Wiseau explained, “My aunt used to have a chicken.” He went on to explain that, like the characters in The Neighbors, “We are all human, we are all multicultural.”
We also talked about Wiseau’s first film, the documentary Homeless in America. Tommy Wiseau really impressed me with the obvious passion that he felt for the topic. “I wanted to know about what was happening,” he explained as to why he had made the documentary, adding that not all of the homeless are mentally ill and they not all of them are criminals. “You cannot eliminate the homeless,” he said. Homeless in America can be ordered from Amazon.
When asked what movies he would recommend that aspiring filmmakers should watch, Wiseau immediately said, “Citizen Kane.” “Citizen Kane isn’t cookie cutter from Hollywood,” he explained. “If Hollywood had made The Room, it would be a totally different story.” Tommy also suggested watching Giant and “Clint Eastwood movies.”
As for the future, James Franco is currently working on an adaptation of Sestero’s The Disaster Artist but Wiseau can not talk about the production. However, he did say about Franco, “He likes James Dean, I like James Dean.” Wiseau is looking forward to more filmmaking. He’s currently working on a new film called Foreclosure and, in June, there will be four more episodes of The Neighbors on Hulu.
And, of course, Rifftrax Live: The Room will be in 700 theaters on May 6th and May 12th.
I asked Wiseau if there was anything he would like to say to his fans.
“Yes,” he said, “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other.”
Those are words to live by.
(Thank you, Tommy Wiseau, for taking the time to talk to us!)