RiffTrax Live: Interview with The Room’s Tommy Wiseau

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Tommy Wiseau (left) and Greg Sestero in a scene from The Room (2003)

Editor’s Notes: The following is part of our coverage of Cineplex’s showing of RiffTrax Live: The Room screening live on May 6, 2015. For more information, please visit their website.

Film is always representative of someone’s version of truth. If taken as a form of cultural anthropology you can strip film of all of the burdens of objective merits that impose expectations that prevent us from losing ourselves in the experience. Film allows us to see the world filtered through someone else’s interpretation of the way things work, and when the creator is fueled by earnestness and passion we will see something unique that possesses unquantifiable value. A film like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is idiosyncratic because it is a reflection of Tommy himself, an enigmatic character that pursued his passion and created something that audiences appreciate for different reasons than he would have expected or wished for, but the film has stayed in theaters for the past twelve years because audiences connect with soul baring earnestness despite any flaws it may seem to possess. If someone deliberately made a film like The Room without earnestness and sincerity it wouldn’t continue to find audiences for as long as Tommy’s film has and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Matthew: How did you get connected with the guys at RiffTrax? It sounds like you’ve got a great event lined up.

Tommy: The RiffTrax people send me a proposal and I was in the beginning I was pretty skeptical but later on I decided that they are pretty good people, they are pretty sincere and the central concept was entertainment, so why not, you know? It should be beneficial for The Room, more people will see The Room. That’s basically after their proposal and they bought the license and I told them I am not a fan of the Rifftrax but they put on the show and that’s the reason we talking today.

Matthew: And it seems to be a natural extension of those legendary midnight screenings in Los Angeles, which sound like a tremendous amount of fun.

Tommy: We screening once a month in Los Angeles and all over the country so I don’t know what city you are at but we can contact University schools for example and search for programs, whatever they have events that they organize. We have a situation at the school and sometimes clubs and organizations contact us and buy the license to screen The Room and they have fun with it. If they ever want to organize we are for it, you know. The license, people always is afraid it is couple hundred dollars, it’s not like millions of dollars, very reasonable. The people don’t understand, they think yeah, you know, it costs too much but we’re realistic. We are contacted by people like the library for example, sometimes they don’t have budgets so we give discount, we work with them, you know?

Matthew: Johnny from The Room that everyone knows and loves, he’s an earnest guy, he’s sweet and vulnerable and carries an innocence about him that people find endearing. How much of of your own personality is in that character?

Tommy: Well you know, I’m just a character from The Room as well. I don’t know if you know we released The Neighbors as well, in response to your question all the characters I took from my life, you know? I am talking very openly about if you know about the script and all that aspect of The Room because a lot online you find from some of the people which is completely misleading and a lot of people are little douche bags, but never mind about that. A long time ago I build buildings, construction, and I started studying people and acting, I’m a stage actor, you know, so original The Room was supposed to be a play but to transfer 800 pages to 112 script so that was a different version of that script, the final product was 112 pages. You can see very clearly what transpired behind the scenes on The Room DVD as well as the Blu Ray, which is something I am very proud of because you have CFL on it, it’s like combo languages on it, it’s my intellectual property. I exaggerate a little bit but I think you can actually learn Spanish or German watching The Room if you subtitle English and use Spanish or German at the same time which you have option to and I’m very proud of it so.

Matthew: I’ve been intrigued by the mysterious Tommy Wiseau for years, and I have no illusions that I’m going to be the one that unravels all of the more mysterious parts of your personality and your backstory, nor do I think I’d want to. I think that people undervalue mysteries in an era of instant data availability.

Tommy: Well, you know, I’m very open and pro freedom so I like when people ask question, again like when I approved the Rifftrax I think it’s something different and I like when people express themselves. I have regular screenings and travel across the country, like I say universities or special events. I would say, you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself but please don’t hurt each other.

…people enjoy my product and I would say don’t be too serious about it, you know, maybe it’s not 100% correct but you know what, have fun with it.

Matthew: That’s a great philosophy for life I think. I have enormous respect for people that don’t ask for permission to be what they want to be. I don’t have the classic qualifications to be a writer, but it’s my passion and I’ve never asked for forgiveness or permission as I follow that dream. You studied film for a long period of time and you went out there and you did it yourself. You made something that was unique to your personality and your own perception of the world.

Tommy: Well thank you, that’s very kind. You see in the beginning when we released The Room twelve years ago I think that Hollywood and people as well was not ready for different entertainment and that’s a lot misleading when people say “oh you know it happened by accident” and I was just laughing myself because I think nothing happens by accident. Like you say, you know, when you started writing, producing, when you are passionate about something you always go step a little forward. And again, you know, the work that I put in The Room, people don’t realize. It is what it is and at the end of the day people enjoy it. And they learned also from me, people enjoy my product and I would say don’t be too serious about it, you know, maybe it’s not 100% correct but you know what, have fun with it.

Matthew: There is no objectively correct way to make a film or to express your ideas, and a mainstream audience gets caught up in the notion that things have to fit into a contemporary pop culture mold in order to be “correct” or suitable for audiences. For me it’s about the artist exploring how they see the world and sharing that with others and that’s what’s important about art.

Tommy: Well thank you, I agree with you totally because I am preaching sometimes, all the time actually that people are ready for something different. You read it in magazines, all those Hollywood producers make the same thing over and over and now you have something different and people say this is too much sex stuff and I say this is not sex, it’s a love scene, never mind about that. So I never called The Room as a cult. It’s a movie, it’s not meant like that. Whatever people call it I’m happy with it because we survive for twelve years but we’ll see what happens next. Yeah?

Matthew: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to checking out some of your other work, I’ve read that The Neighbors pilot is quite interesting.

Tommy: It’s not a pilot actually. It’s a four episode series, we are on Hulu and we are based on the contract producing another four episodes. We actually had a big premiere in DC as well, London with The Room and The Neighbors together and people really enjoy it. And also I put in a lot of different kinds of stuff like the chicken. I would say that the chicken and football is like American symbol of survival as well as fun. Who doesn’t like football, you know, mainstream media I noticed for the last three or four years people seem to be liking Tommy Wiseau as well as The Room. Sometimes I’m not happy with some of the actors, what they promoting themselves and basically, long story short without bashing anyone and naming the names or bashing the script. I wrote the script based on my book and some people said the script did not exist and we actually put several trailers on the YouTube or you can go to theneighborssitcom.com or tommywiseau.com and you will see that the script actually exists because we have the footage, we shot behind the scenes 24/7 cameras were always rolling. And we were working very hard on The Room, we put in twelve to fourteen hours a day and we have two different units and people get a credit like director or whatever some guy comes up with a lot of ideas. So this is what I am very open about right now and the past few months actually and I say this is very disrespectful behavior, but you know what, that happened continuously, that happened to Orson Welles, and that happened to me just making fun of it but at the same token I speak about it, you know? Move on, next question. I always say I always enjoy myself, otherwise life would be empty.

Matthew: You have to laugh, you have to enjoy life, you have to have passion about something.

Tommy: I have passion about film structure, you know, The Neighbors is perfect example. When you see The Room you see The Neighbors you can see my little directorial touch and also flavor. I call flavor. I learned from my teacher, you know.

…I always say The Room has solid foundations like a building. So you can bash it, you can do this, you can do that, but at the end of the day at least one percent will affect you somehow…

Matthew: In watching The Room I feel that you have some personal interpretations of the concept of love. What is love for you?

Tommy: My philosophy depends on situation but if you look at big picture I sometimes go by example, if I say “I love you” or from the Q&A “I love you too” this is the love which is not physical love. Love for people or love for passion, as a writer, you interview me now, you make extra effort. I don’t know you but in your talking you creating something to share. You have passion and at the same time maybe you have love. Love is personal sacrifice. People don’t realize we have dilemma when we say we love someone it immediately goes for this ideal that it has to be physical thing or you have to have a girl. The bottom line is the love is coming with many different shape and form and I think society forget about it. And love also relate to respect, you know, how truthful are you as a person with another person? We are all manipulative people. I compare Lisa to Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor. Why I compare these two characters is because manipulation. You see, I would say to girls, don’t get no controversy about my statement, they don’t have to wear jeans to prove to men that they are better than us because they actually have much more power than we have. That’s my take on love. In this context she used the power of love for the process of learning. I think it’s education that is very important as well as the family. I grew up in family that you can speak very openly and you can criticize and you’re not punished for it because you’re honest. And that’s what the key is. Today’s society, we don’t have that, maybe little bit but not enough.

Matthew: I read in your recent Reddit AMA that Lisa was a representation of America. I find that she represents a cruel and confused with aimless ambitions America. Could you expand on your idea of Lisa as a representation of America?

Tommy: I don’t know if you remember the scene with Lisa and her mother teach her about guys and husbands, by the same token you see, I like it when people analyze characters and ask you your theories what you analyzed is very true. You can see The Room with four different chunks, and I always say The Room has solid foundations like a building. So you can bash it, you can do this, you can do that, but at the end of the day at least one percent will affect you somehow because it relates to basic human behavior and I did study psychology and again to respond to your question it’s manipulation by Lisa but the same time it’s also concern. In the end we learn what we learn and Mark said “hey, I don’t want to deal with you. You’re bad.” but she could correct it but she didn’t. So I would say The Room is like a red flag, don’t do certain way because later on you will hurt yourself, you know. I wish I had The Room when I was a little boy, you know . That’s my point, you know. So again you see we have a situation some of our parents actually encouraged kids, not kids but 16, 17, 18, whatever to see The Room and I’m very flattered that people actually find what I find, what I create will relate to human behavior and it’s very difficult, you as a parent or you as a kid to comprehend society. Especially right now, you know, with the Internet it all happens so rapidly, everything changes so quickly.

Matthew: That leads me a bit into my next question, which I see you have an upcoming work entitled The Foreclosure and I find that the title reflects a bit on recent times and the economic struggles that plague us. What is your take on the current conditions of America?

Tommy: I’m working on it right now, as we speak right now. You see, basically, I am American with accent and if they don’t like my accent, so be it, you know. But I speak very openly because number one it seems to me based on the email what I received people like my comments on the situation and some of this stuff I’m pretty quirky but people enjoy themselves, you know. Speaking about The Foreclosure I took this from life. You probably remember seven, ten years ago the situation with banks, and again I’m not here to bash anyone but I want to educate and I think some of the system should be changed. I myself got into trouble by the first loan I got for the car, long story short, I had to pay balloon payment. You have to pay immediately what you owe or basically they repossess your car. At the time I say “my goodness, I cannot believe I signed this paper”, you know. But again, this is one of the quirky stuff we are doing here. Move on, next question.

Matthew: How are things going with Greg Sestero after The Disaster Artist?

Tommy: Hahaha, yeah you cover everything. First of all I support this movie one hundred percent. Yes I’m in love with James Franco, hopefully it will be the best movie ever. We’ll see what happens. I’m not in charge, he’s in charge with James Franco and Seth Rogen and we’re still talking, you know, but we’re not on the same page. That’s the story.

Matthew: It was a great pleasure to talk to you and I wish you the best, you are truly a one of a kind.

Tommy: Me too, Matthew, and it will be May 6th and May 12th 700 theaters across the country will screen The Room, hopefully you guys enjoy it and go to tommywiseau.com. Thank you very much, I love you all and see The Room and hopefully I will see you all at the screening of The Room. Thank you very much.

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About Author

Behind me you see the empty bookshelves that my obsession with film has caused. Film teaches me most of the important concepts of life, such as cynicism, beauty, ugliness, subversion of societal norms, and what it is to be a tortured member of humanity. My passion for the medium is an important part of who I am as I stumble through existence in a desperate and frantic search for objective truths.