Tommy Wiseau is an independent American film-maker. In the last few years he’s become slightly famous (or really internet famous) for his movie “The Room”, which he conceived, scripted, directed, produced and starred in. The movie was entirely self funded, and the figure that gets tossed around online is that upwards of 6 million dollars was dropped on the gem, all out of his own pocket. It is unclear where he got the money, where he is from, or who he really is (it has been speculated that “Wiseau” is not his birth name but rather one he gave to himself because he thought it was French for bird).
I interviewed Tommy for a blog article on Viceland.com, but due to length restrictions the overwhelming majority of the interview was cut out. A lot of people have been asking me to post the transcript of the entire 40 minute phone conversation, so here it is.
The idea was to talk about the sketch he did with Tim and Eric, because it was current and I was interested in hearing his take on how he felt about transitioning from an aspiring dramatic film-maker to a self-aware producer of camp comedy, but that line of questioning folded pretty quickly as it became fairly clear that he was entirely unfamiliar with the type of comedy that Tim and Eric are associated with. The conversation quickly shifted to more familiar territory: “The Room”. Released in 2003, the movie itself is old news, but its been screened steadily in L.A. every month and has over the years built up a sizeable nerdbase of dedicated obsessives that includes hip comedians like Paul Rudd.
The know-it-by-heart fans yell, throw spoons, jog, and toss footballs around while actors onscreen inexplicably walk in and out of rooms to greet each other and name their best friends. While it was originally sold as a drama with the passion of Tennessee Williams, it was later remarketed as a “black comedy” after audiences laughed at everything.
Tommy talked a lot about acting, psychology and the human mind, and I learned a lot from his wisdom. He seemed like a really nice guy, and after chatting with him over the course of an hour I can say with confidence that the rumours circulating the internet that he is an exiled East European soldier of fortune who financed his movie with money he earned from assassinations are probably false.
If its all an elaborately crafted joke, he certainly does not seem to be in on it.
How did you get the idea for “The Room”?
Well the idea, (pause) its such a vague word “idea” to be honest with you… but to be very straight forward, I got the idea of “The Room” from life. The experience of my friends, you know, and I conducted a lot of research, detailed work about human behaviour, based on my environment. So I decided that I have this “concept”, you know, about human behaviour, and that’s where everything started, write a script, I decided to produce it, I did not approach any big studio because… I already did my own research. Ha Ha. No comment, lets put it that, Let’s be nice!
So what exactly did this research entail?
Well, you know, I observed people, you know, I did some P.R. work, talking to people about…just strangers ,what they think about relationships, different…ages . From teenagers to adults, etc. So it was very intensive work, you know, I concluded certain behaviour when people has a similar pattern, it doesn’t matter who you are. You know, you have to think of a question, when you approach strangers, how you talk to them, etc, you know, what kind of answer you get, etc. etc. It’s different you know, when you talk to people in coffee shops its different to when to talk to people in grocery stores you know, when you meet somebody at the gym or etc.
So you would just go up to strangers and ask them “Hey, my name is Tommy, can you tell me about your past relationships?”
Right, and a lot of people have obstacles of a relationships, but you probably know that–
One person would say this way another person would say that way but everyone is the same, I concluded that certain elements in “The Room” I had to put it based on what I had discovered.
Let us pretend that someone is skeptical about seeing “The Room” for the first time because they are used to mainly seeing bigger budget Hollywood movies and don’t really see too many independent films, what would you say to try to encourage them to give it a better chance?
Ha Ha Ha. You know what, I would say this way: “The Room” was made for people, and a slightly different format from the regular cookie cutter of Hollywood. It is a unique experience that you won’t forget. Everybody should see it, that’s basically what I would say. I’m not comparing myself to any movie, I mean people, choices, they want to see something different. And I think that if you see The Room, it is going to open doors that you don’t want to have open, or it may give you a little red flag, like , that TWO IS BETTER THAN THREE. Right? You know what I’m saying? Ha Ha. So its just, I’m not pushing for people to see “The Room”, I’m just saying again and again: that it’s fun to see it, bear in mind. I don’t have to convince anyone but eventually people will want to see it, because it’s something different. And it was done in an intentionally different way, it was not fast paced, but you would probably be surprised, if someone responded to your question straight-forward is that you would probably be very surprised that’s for sure. You may like it you may not like it you know what I’m saying. It’s up to you, but I’m not here to forcing people to see “The Room”, I’m just saying you can interact with it, and you can yell if you want! And you can play football! If you want to play football, be my guest!
So you have people playing football while watching the movie?
Oh yeah, sometimes they do, sometimes they jogging, we have regular, I don’t know if you familiar about the screening in Los Angeles, we have people seeing the movie 15-20 times. You are invited to our anniversary if you are in Los Angeles. We are show in all over the country.
That’s very impressive, I will try my best to be there.
Yeah it is.
You mentioned before that seeing “The Room” “might open doors that people won’t want to have opened”. Could you elaborate on that? What kind of doors?
Yeah well basically you see, you probably know about human behaviour, you know sometimes we are so ….
(DIALTONE. INTERVIEW CUTS OFF.)
Hi, this is Tommy again. Is there something wrong with your phone?
I don’t think so. Is it something on your end?
… It cut off.
What I was talking I was talking to the wall. Ha Ha.
Ha Ha. So, seeing “The Room” can open doors that you might not want opened.
Yeah well, the doors you see is linked to relationships or friendships, etc. etc. It’s very complex, but the bottom line is I’ll give you the example that if you have a friend that is your first friend, lets assume that you are 16 years old you with your other friend, and suddenly your friend betrays you with a relationship or just as a friend betray you, you know, go to another friend, whatever, steal from you, whatever, whatever, it could be so many obstacles, you see. You will remember this for almost the rest of your life. And my point is that the first friend or the first relationship could be girl could be guy, it doesn’t matter, you will remember. And it does hurt! So the room will maybe open certain doors that you don’t want to be there, you want to forget about it and that’s why some people maybe don’t like it, I don’t know.
Reopening old wounds almost.
Reminding you of past pains.
Exactly right. Past wounds and it sometimes could be years, you know, sometimes you may joke about it, and then the reaction could be different. Some would say “Yeah, I remember that, I could not do this again”. You know what I’m saying.
That’s why I’m saying is a red flag, you know? Realize that it is relate to life, “The Room”. And “The Room” connect people, you know? I have a lot — dozens — hundreds of e-mails –all positive. Lets put it this way.
So when people e-mail you, do they e-mail you looking for a mentor? Lets say they’ve seen something in “The Room” that they can relate to, do they ask you for advice, as an expert on human behaviour? I have this problem, lets see if Tommy can help me through it? That kind of thing? You said that you have done alot of research…
Right, sometimes, but mostly they just give me positive feedback. They must realize I don’t respond to every e-mail but I’m try as much as I can. Some people do, some people just say that: “Oh I saw something in “The Room” that I can relate to my life”
The back of the DVD suggests that “The Room” will challenge people to see a reflection of their lives, and you’ve talked about that a bit, has there been any way in which the movie has challenged you to see a reflection of your own life? Do you see a little bit of yourself in the character of Johnny? Are there any similarities between you and him? At all?
Let me digest your question, you know. I would say that Johnny is within any man in the entire world. That’s my answer.
I definitely think there is some of “Johnny” in myself, I think any man would agree. If there is a little bit of Johnny in every man, would you say that there is a bit of Lisa in every woman?
Absolutely. 100%. Cent-pour-cent.
So these characters are archetypes.
Yes, you may say that.
Without spoiling the movie for people who have not yet had the chance to see it, it seems as though the end of “The Room” leaves little chance for a sequel. Could there ever be a prequel to movie?
The story before the story, what happened to the characters before “The Room” that lead them to the interesting points they are at in their lives when the movie begins.
I understand what you mean by that and let me say: “No comment”. Let me say “The Room” is as it is. That is my answer for your question.
So if fans wanted to know what happened before they’ll have to guess, or maybe write fan fiction.
Well, I think they can see the trailer, which is a very good indication of what is “The Room” about, I think relationships — I don’t care what kind of relationships you’ll have– it will relate to you. And that is guaranteed 100% as far as I’m concerned, no matter who you are.
You mentioned in another interview that if you could reshoot “The Room” again, you wouldn’t change anything except that maybe you would get more famous actors.
Yeah, I said that, and “The Room”, like I said, people misquote me –maybe not what you read, but misquote me many times because a lot of people think that some of the football…that “The Room” is just accidents. Its not accidents. I did “The Room” you know, I actually did shoot “The Room” in a classroom workshop, like an acting workshop, and we rehearsed different scenes with football etc. etc. There are certain elements in “The Room” which are planned are no accidents — nothing happened by accident. Of course I agree that certain elements, it may because of environment you may change your mind, but accidents? Its too fetch, you know what I’m saying?
Uh…yeah. So lets say you had an unlimited budget, which Hollywood actors would you cast for “The Room”?
Well why not, if there are famous actors, you know, I don’t mind. Sure.
And are there any specific actors you would use, who might make a good Mark for example, or Lisa?
Actually no, because let me tell you my take on this is very straightforward. Lets put it this way without dropping the names: I know alot of very famous actors, because I talk to them, I go to parties et cetera et cetera, from legends to current. Lets put it this way. And let me tell you that some of these actors, they cannot give me what I wanted for “The Room”. You see I am concentrating, as a director I am talking right now, not as an actor, and I am concentrating about the emotion. Emotion is very important to me. If you don’t have emotion, you don’t have anything , as far as I’m concerned. Its very important. I don’t like to work with actors who are monotone. I don’t know if you know this word “monotone”?
That’s a good word. What I’m saying is: the actors… now keep in mind, with our regular casting — you’ve probably heard about it– we have dozens…actually not dozens, hundreds … even I would saying THOUSANDS of them. We changed the actors through a rehearsal process because some of these people could not deliver what I wanted to accomplish. One other thing is that on the 10th anniversary of “The Room” we actually will be releasing a new DVD… five years from today or whatever, that will be in French for your information, and also in German. Maybe we will be releasing earlier but you will see some behind the scenes. We actually have some actors what did not come out right. So that’s what it is acting. Acting is not people saying “You can memorize the lines and just say it”, its a much more complex process.
It requires alot of emotional depth.
Exactly. The emotions for me is extremely important because thats relate to.. you know I want to … I myself I think … I wanna be a …. I am an emotional actor, as far as I’m concerned, and I like the emotion, I want to share with that. And it doesn’t matter what emotion you do as far as I’m concerned. Of course, based on the script, form. It is again, so many different directions. Emotion is relate to human behaviour. It is again the same thing that we have been talking about.
What is your favorite emotion?
Well, you know, emotion… I don’t think I can say my favorite emotion because emotion is relate to—
What is your favorite emotion to act?
Oh. I like drama, but at the same time, you see, emotion is also reaction. To me definition of emotion is much more deeper. Ok? So its, you know, based on the words, it can feel a vibration. You see the … you can feel the electricity, you know? Between the actor, audience, or the screen. And for me, its very important, if I see this electricity through emotion of the actors, and I don’t care what kind of monologue they do. It could be one word, one sentence. You can feel it. Emotion, you can feel it. Its extremely different to describe because, you see, emotion is also relate to monotone emotion. And right now we don’t have time, I’m just telling you briefly; I can spend two hours talking about emotion, and also how to create emotion. And actors, for example –very quickly, one sentence– if they are monotone actors, which will from their own experiences, or from somebody’s experiences, they hiding their emotions, they create emotion. But you see, you cannot cheat it so much. You can cheat it so much, but then later on the director will say “Thank you very much”, because its not real. You want to be real, and thats the idea with the big guys, and thats what I’m… like with Tennessee Williams, for example. I am the same page with Tennessee Williams because we both work with emotion, I want to see that, I want … not so much SEE it, because you can visualize. But its again, its difficult too. Its not so much 1,2,3, you have to work on it some times.
Just to clarify, when you say an “electricity” between the actors, is that like a literal electricity, or is it more of a metaphor for something else?
It’s a metaphor, but you can feel it. We in acting we call it “The Zone”. You are in a different zone, you are in a different place.
So its like plugging in a lamp.
Right, and you are in Canada and I am here in Los Angeles, and you see I can be in Canada somewhat to a certain degree.
And that is acting.
Well, it would be hard to experience what I experience on the stage, maybe certain character, if I’m with a character, like a drunker or what have you. But you were in a different place–its like a dream. You may say that, its like a dream
Acting is like a dream.
So you mentioned just now Tennesse Will—
But let me say it this way, put a couple more sense here: its relate to realism. So you are not dreaming as a fantasy but you are a real person.
So you are dreaming a real situation that really happens?
Exactly right, yes.
Ok, so just to clarify — and tell me if I’m off the mark here. Let’s say that tonight when I dream, I dream of getting up in the morning and drinking a cup of coffee, eating some breakfast and going to work. Then I wake up, and lo and behold, drink a cup of coffee, eat breakfast and go to work. Would that be an accurate description of acting?
Well yes, but its more to it, to be honest with you. Straight forward.
Its more complicated than that.
The fine is different when you experience. You have to be physically and mentally there. So if you drink, lets say a hot coffee — tomorrow, and you have dreams that you drink it, you actually experience. What you experience, for example, the hot coffee could be hot, or you burn yourself, or you like so much that you .. right now I’m drinking juice, for your information, while I’m talking to you.
What kind of juice?
And I enjoy that. So enjoyment is also relate to reaction. And thats the obstacle that come out with any production, with anything. I’m just laughing at some of the — what’s your name? Even?
Avan. Right. I’m sorry but just laughing some of this now, because some of the people ask me questions that don’t make sense. But anyway, continue.
So, you’ve already mentioned Tennessee WIlliams, obviously a big influence on your work. What other writers have influenced you?
Well, wait. Wait. Wait a minute. I have never been influenced by Tennessee WIlliams. Tennessee Williams is connected to people and my work is connected to people, so we are on the same page and that is basically what I am saying here.
I really don’t have an influence. People push the word influence, its a big word. A lot of people ask me the same thing. I really don’t have it, I just think Tennessee Williams is one of the … Citizen Kane: the same. James Dean and others, you know? They did something which I can relate to it, but to influence? Its a big word in my life.
Who is your favorite actor, and if you could work on a movie with that actor, what would the movie be like?
Let me say to say no comments.
So outside of movies, what would you say is your —
Let me stress this about actors. I can work with any person in the world, if they want to work with me. Because you see, two actors: I cannot pick and choose as I have to direct and act to the actors. If you act with any actors –I don’t care– famous, not famous — but I am ready for any actors, if thats what you want to include. Any actors who approach me, if they have good project, well I am ready to go. Ha ha.
But if you had the opportunity to work with your favorite actor—
I have a few, but you see, I don’t want to print this because its a private matter.
What are your hobbies, outside of making films?
Oh. Well I have a, like I say, I didn’t answer well, my hobbies are sports, football, basketball, travel, fast cars — I love fast cars, and working out, and as well, you know, I study psychology, thats my hobby. And, you know, thats basically… I like to play tennis as well, so.
There’s a lot of sports in “The Room”, a lot of football, and jogging, and a lot of psychology in it too, as I’m finding out. So your hobbies, it seems, are incorporated into your art.
Thank you to say that, thats compliment to me the way you said it.
What would your perfect weekend look like?
You know what? I didn’t have one.
You didn’t have one?
No, no. I’m laughing because you know, each one — each weekend, is different. Its not the same.
What did you do last weekend?
I was busy. And this weekend, I’m busy and this week its busy. And I’m going as its going.
Work never stops.
No, it never stops. At this time.
Are you dating anyone right now? I ask because “The Room” is a film that is obviously very critical of relationships at their core. Is it hard to give love a chance, when you view life from this perspective?
Yeah, generally speaking I can answer. I am dating a girl, but no comments.
So do you have any advice for young budding film-makers out there? Like if an aspiring film-maker came to you and all they had was just the bare bones – an idea and 6 million dollars, what advice would you give them?
Well, you know, I always say the same thing, I don’t know if you ever attend my Q&A, which I am doing less and less, but my formula– for anyone– is if you think of 100%, lets say any project, and I don’t care it could be relate to movie , could be educational or whatever–so, if you don’t have 20%, forget about 100%. So in conclusion you have to start 20, 40, 60, 80 and finally 100. And the percentage of your project or anything you do has to be completed before your next increment and you have to be honest, you know, with what you want to accomplish and completing of any increment, like 20, 30 and so forth. And this applies to any situation in life et cetera. Now if someone responds to your question, your specific question, like if someone had money already, I would respond and say: well, let’s just make movie! Hahaha . That would be my answer! If the guy is honest, legit, you know –good film maker, then lets make a project!
So, has “The Room”–
That would be my answer, because I’m very optimistic, I think we have alot of people in the world and people they are very creative but sometimes they need extra help.
Has “The Room” always been marketed as a black comedy or is that something that started to happen after you started showing it in theatres?
Well let me say that the elements, and I’m talking as a director right now, the elements inside the Room, within the room, what you find, again, I want to use a distinct: was not an accident. Because I am as a director, it is a process of preparation based on the script, based on the environment, et cetera et cetera, I always ask myself: What do you wanna do? Is Johnny should be naked? Does Johnny should be this way or Lisa should kiss Johnny? Et cetera et cetera. Besides the reaction I wanted from the audience. I am as a director accomplish that but to respond to your question: We use the words black comedy based on the reaction of the people but at the same time, comedy always was in “The Room”. Because you cannot change this, when you record something you cannot go back and change the scene because somebody tell us. So basically the terms we were using, we used the terms “drama comedy” and later on we were using “black comedy” because black comedy is, again, as you know, black comedy is not melodrama! And people get confused with that, because alot of people think that black comedy is just (pauses) comedy done intentionally but its linked to melodrama, but its NOT melodrama, thats the point! But you see people get confused. We have people coming up to us and — don’t put this in your article, but just off the record, we have people come to me and say “Oh its a black comedy! How many black people do you have in there?” and I say “No!”
Not that kind of black comedy.
Not literally black people.
Exactly right, but I’m just saying, some of the people are not familiar with the terms black comedy. Again, black comedy: people confuse melodrama. Its a comedy which just go a little more than comedy. For example, I’ll give you one little one-liner: “You are tearing me apart Lisa.” And see we don’t usually talk like that, however, let me say this way, that, people sometimes, and i know a few of them that actually would talk like that. OK? But its generally terms. If you look at the research, you conduct many research, people say “No, this guy. We don’t talk that way.” But somewhat its applied to real life because some people actually do. My voice is very up, you know? I’m a very emotional guy. Some people are less. But, again, you can apply but its not like you are ok because you say so, no because that’s what a part of life is.
So that part of the movie, you may say its funny because you say “You’re tearing me apart Lisa” but Lisa is not literally tearing Johnny apart. She isn’t dismembering his stomach, right?
Yes and no, because it’s a different…based on the line, you see. emotionally. When you have a small kid, lets say 5, 2 years old, 3 years old kid, you take away from the kid a toy for example. The reaction from the kid, 99% of time reaction from the kid, the kid will cry. And this between Johnny and Lisa relationship is that emotion you dont see it outside but he is struggling inside in his mind…not so much the stomach, but the mind. Because the mind is relate to emotion and emotion relate to reaction et cetera et cetera. Again, she doesn’t realize what she is doing wrong, but then later on she does realize because we learn from the movie that she does everything intentionally, hiding the mark, she is pregnant, she is not pregnant. The whole thing leads to delusions and Johnny gets crazy and that’s what happened. But that is again, when you look at the room and look at situations in any life, any relationships, and I can have a big discussion — if you want to organize me and talk show about relationships I am ready for you in Canada.
I’ll try my hardest.
Absolutely. Because I get several e-mails from people in Canada, I just want to give you, for your information writing that, that actually they want to see “The Room”. So I don’t know what will happen? Right now we are actually showing it in 3 different cities in America, plus Los Angeles, but we get from England, from France , from all over the world right now. And you write the article, we’ll see what reaction we get, but we have a lot of interest. Again, “The Room” was made based on and for American people. Because I grew up here in New Orleans Louisiana, I was going back to Europe back and forth, but the fact is I never think that people from other countries would like “The Room”, because we have a lot of American elements: football, you know, and other stuff. We get people, you know, maybe making fun of it because they say “How you can play football 4 feet away?”
I say “Yes you can!” (laughs)
You can play football any number of feet away!
There you go!
WE could play football–well, I guess it might be hard for us to play football right now because we are SO far away, it gets to a point where its too far, but certainly you can play as close as you want. You can just pass the football to your friend and have a ball.
You know I used to play, I’ll give you a little quirky thing, I used to play on the street, you know, from side to side and hits some cars sometimes but you have to be careful.
Don’t tell the owners.
No, thats exactly right!
And you had another show you were making called the neighbours?
Yes, I have a sitcom, its in the can, its already completed, 22 minutes and you know I am working with the network people to actually… and again, I’m open. If you have someone from Canada, let me know I don’t care where we air it. Its one 22 minute pilot but you can go to the whatchyoumacallit neighbours.com we have a trailer and you can read the synopsis of it.
By the way, myspace is not my page for you information. I’m just trying to tell you because I got the e-mail from someone and it just ticked my mind right now.