Over the weekend, we had an OE Spotlight event with actor Greg Sestero and Tampa Theatre’s James DeFord. For those of you who don’t know who Greg Sestero is or what he has acted in, he played Mark (no last name attached) in the 2003 film titled The Room. The Room–directed, produced and funded by a wraith of a man named Tommy Wiseau, who also starred in the film–has been time and again described as the worst film ever made. Yet over the last decade the The Room has continued to screen in theatre’s all over the world, gathering more publicity and fandom as it rolls down the hill of movie history.
I watched The Room the day before the event. It’s not good. It’s easy to see why it’s bad–hilariously shallow acting, glaring plot holes, multiple gratuitous sex scenes that play out like a low budgeted adult film. Ultimately, it’s just bad and there’s too many mistakes and oddities to write in one small description. Still, every movie buff has seen The Room and it has a huge cult following. I’m not so sure why it’s relevant, but it really does occupy a strange position. It’s filmed earnestly–Wiseau didn’t set out to create a comedy–and it’s like an a perfect reel of what not to do in film. Regardless, “The Room” continues to exude a strange, unnatural aura; where a mysterious core, now readily available for digestion for the entire world, still lingers–untouched and unblemished–not only in the actual unfurling of the film, but at the center of the whole enterprise, Tommy Wiseau.
Greg Sestero recently co-wrote a book with Tom Bissell called The Disaster Artist, about his own personal experiences with Tommy Wiseau and The Room. In the first part of the book, which Sestero also recounted on Sunday, he describes his first encounter with Wiseau at an acting class in San Francisco. He said that he was instantly befuddled by Wiseau eccentric look (long, black stringy hair and sunglasses) and undefinable accent. After Tommy recited, in full, a Shakespearian sonnet, Sestero was enthralled. Greg would go on to suggest doing a scene of sorts with Tommy and the two became friends. As he got to know Tommy, the less he could grasp of him. On their first meeting, scheduled at a Bank of America at the insistence of Wiseau, Greg sat around for about an hour before Wiseau drove up to in a brand new, black Mercedes-Benz. When pressed with questions about his job and financial security, Wiseau would coyly respond that he was a businessman. Eventually, as the two got closer, Wiseau would ask Sestero to play Mark in The Room.
I went into the event in hopes of finding more about Tommy Wiseau himself. Greg’s role with the film was easy to pin, a budding actor with nothing to lose. But Tommy’s whole persona lacks reference. He’s a complete enigma. Not much has been revealed about him personally. The mystery behind him and the film still persists, carefully safeguarded by both Tommy and Greg. First, he asserts that he’s American, yet he clearly has an accent and many researchers have claimed he’s from Eastern Europe. In interviews after the release of The Room, he hinted that he was born in the late 1960’s, yet in “The Disaster Artist” Sestero claims a friend was able to trace immigration papers stating Wiseau was born in the 50’s. The most bewildering aspect of the whole project is funding. The Room cost 6 million dollars to film. Despite Tommy’s insistence that he was a businessman, it seems unlikely he had that much to spend on the production of a movie. Wikipedia is full of conjecture about this. It says he sold toys to tourists on Fisherman’s Wharf, only to eventually purchase–then rent and sell–large retail spaces around the city. But how? I don’t think we’ll ever know. Another theory suggests that the movie was a front for a large, money laundering scheme for organized crime, but even Greg considers that doubtful.
Everything about The Room is confounding. It's a serious rendition of a dramatic movie that wavers so far away from its intention that it could almost be categorized as a comedy. I don’t know why it’s still relevant or why its cultivated a following or why, when watching it, you feel like it was made by aliens attempting to imitate human interactions. It’s bizarre through and through. And Tommy Wiseau is the strangest part of the whole thing. But The Room is there to see–so see it for yourself. Read The Disaster Artist. Ultimately, I don’t know if it’s even worth the time, but at least you can call yourself a member of an ever expanding club. I’ve seen The Room, and I’m learning that I know even less about it than I did before, collecting a set of questions that, if I had to guess, won’t get answered anytime soon.