"Right now, we're standing at the place where we shot this terrible movie ten years ago," says actor Greg Sestero, 35. "I haven't been back since. This is so weird." That terrible movie is The Room, in which he played the character Mark and about which Sestero has written his first book.
We're in the parking lot of Levels Audio, a post-production facility on Highland Ave. in Hollywood, California, where self-taught auteur Tommy Wiseau and his crew filmed the $6 million indie. The outdoor space served as the rooftop, alley, bedroom and apartment sets for what one critic has called "the Citizen Kane of bad movies."
Sestero book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, was co-written with Tom Bissell, a veteran journalist who penned an article about The Room for Harper's three years ago. It alternates between the story of The Room's production and Sestero's personal struggles, including his complicated relationship with writer-director-producer-star Wiseau. "We didn't want this to be a book about a bad movie. We wanted it to be a really inspiring story that's filled with humor, craziness and sadness and all the elements that make this journey relatable," he explains.
As we walk up the street, Sestero adjusts his shades and glances up at a large billboard. For five years, Wiseau paid $5,000 a month for an unintentionally creepy advertisement to promote the film here. Now, it heralds the release of The Disaster Artist, so things have come full circle for Sestero. He says proudly, "I think people will really enjoy this book, and now, this sign. I wanted to be creative and give an homage to the infamous billboard that scared the life out of all those people driving through Hollywood."
I laughed so hard reading The Disaster Artist that I cried. Is all of it true?
Yes. I interviewed Tommy quite a bit about his life. He opened up little by little over the years. I felt like I shared those bits that he was comfortable sharing and pieced it together. I guess when he is ready to share the rest of those gaps, well, that's his decision. I also changed a couple of names to protect people. It's as honest as you can get.
I was impressed with how much you recall of your 15-year relationship with Wiseau. Was it hard to detailing your experiences after all these years?
It was such an intense experience. It was so surreal, something that I could never forget. And I told many stories about it over the years of how crazy it was, so it stayed very clear in my memory.
Are you still friends with him?
Yeah, I still see him occasionally. He's kind of the off-beat cousin we all have in our family.
What made you want to write this book?
I felt really strongly about the story. The only way to tell how this thing went down – the good, the bad, the ugly and the inspiring parts – was to write it and explain how it all happened. Really, when you read this book you can walk away with a great laugh, which we all need these days. It's weirdly inspiring that Tommy had all the odds against him, but he didn't take no for an answer.
You were one of the only people to have seen the entire script for The Room during the shoot. Did you ever feel compelled to confront Wiseau about the glaring errors and plot holes?
[Laughs] I felt like if I tried, it would have taken ten years to fix it. I thought about it, but he wouldn't listen. There was no use in trying to fix or alter it, because he was making it from his standpoint. I just tried to support him getting his movie made. Also, I thought a lot of it was really funny, so why change a masterpiece?
Did you view the script as a joke? I don't think Wiseau saw it as one.
I thought the whole thing was very humorous and kind of endearing. I mean, it was one big joke. I always considered Tommy to be someone who saw life differently, and I appreciated that. I appreciated that with his script, too. I enjoy it the way everyone else does. It was interesting to see what was going to come next and why things happened the way that they did. I think he saw it as a searing, intense drama. And I think his life experience was like that, so if he put it down on paper, people would see and feel it that way. But intention and execution are two very different things.
How did you feel when you first saw your sex scenes? Did they seem over the top to you?
Well, at the premiere, I walked out before they started, because I didn't want to see what was in it. It's a part of the movie at which I always fast-forward or run for the exit because it's just painful to watch.
You didn't want to do the sex scene unless your pants were on. How come?
Tommy was out to make this, well, not "Skinemax" film, but he definitely wanted to show some flesh. I was like, "Uh, that's not going to happen with me." So, he luckily made the exception, so I could have my jeans on.
Did you actually think those scenes were sexy with that ridiculous R&B music over them?
It just makes it all the more baffling and embarrassing. The soundtrack, he is proud to say, is totally original. He found local artists and a composer who works at Loyola Marymount University. One of the guys, Clint Gamboa, was later on American Idol. I'm sure he didn't tell the judges about that. If Tommy had written the songs himself, man, I can't even imagine that.
Has the movie ruined your own sex life? Has anyone ever called you "Mark" in bed?
Not yet. Hopefully never. [Laughs]
You're also listed as line producer and "Assistant to Mr. Wiseau" in the credits. Other than acting, what were your day-to-day duties on set?
I did everything that needed to be done. I would help organize crew stuff, make sure everyone was paid and receiving meals. I was really the only one who could speak Tommy's language. To reward me, he credited me as much as he could. I told him, "Tommy, being an assistant isn't really an honor. Lead actor and assistant don't really go together."
There were two executive producers other than Wiseau listed in The Room's credits. You claim Chloe Lietzke was confined to a wheelchair and never was involved in the film. Even crazier, Drew Caffey died four years before the film was made. What the hell was that about?
Tommy was the main person in charge. He had friends supporting his vision, so he felt that they deserved credit somewhere in the movie. He has an interesting way of acknowledging credits.
Why was he so fearful of losing control of his movie?
He had a very specific vision of what he wanted this to be, and not many other people saw it. He wanted to do it his way. I think he was just careful to not let people convince him to do something he didn't believe in. There were a couple of scenes that editors and other people suggested be cut, like the scene in which I push the guy down with the football. They thought it made no sense and didn't belong, but he liked it. And more power to him, because those are the scenes that get the most laughs.
Was it difficult to be on set and watch Wiseau struggle so often with his lines, especially since he wrote them?
Yeah, it was tough. He had nerves. It can be really difficult if you haven't been in a movie before. You are trying to convey emotions and then are overtaken with all the other things with the crew. It's understandable.
Is that his accent in real life? Or could it all be just an act?
Oh, God, it would be brilliant if it were an act. It's as real as it gets. That's straight up how he talks. I know it's hard to believe.
One of the most recognizable lines in the movie is when Wiseau screams, "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" This was lifted from one of James Dean's lines in Rebel Without a Cause. It seems that you and Wiseau share a love for Dean. What about him fascinates you?
I like the legend behind him. James Dean symbolizes the young actor's dream. He struggled to get into Hollywood. He shot to fame at the age of 24, but only got to star in three films. It's kind of a fantasy of what could have been. I think for Tommy, he represents America and being cool. For him, I think that's important.
To this day, audience members throw spoons each time they see the framed photographs of spoons in Johnny's apartment. Why the hell didn't anyone think to replace the stock photos in the frames?
I think everyone was just trying to get through it. There was an empty table there, and they tried to fill it as fast as they could to continue shooting. No one took a second look. It wasn't noticeable until those film students in the Valley saw it and thought, "What the heck are plastic spoons doing in the frames?" They called it out and started bringing plastic spoons to the screening and throwing them.
Why do you think The Room is the greatest bad movie ever made?
It has everything you could possibly want. I think the best bad movies are not really genre movies like, let's say, Troll 2, because those are easy to mess up. I think when you make a genre or horror movie, you need a budget. When you skimp on blood and special effects and all that, it automatically looks cheesy. But a movie like The Room is psychologically bad, which goes a lot deeper than just technically bad. You know that there is something there that's profound, but the way it was executed went awry. So, it's enjoyable in a lot of different ways, and it's just really weird. It is so weird that you wonder, "What in the hell was this person thinking?" And you want to know, which makes it a great bad movie.
Did you ever think The Room would turn into a cult classic? When did you realize it was something "special?"
The Ziegfeld screening in New York in 2010. The place sold out 1,200 seats. I overheard someone say it was the first time a movie had done that since the re-release of Star Wars in 1997. At that point, I knew The Room had arrived.
How does it feel to know that this probably will be the role for which you're known for the rest of your life?
I think it will definitely be a part of my life. There's a lot of time left and a lot of movies to be made. I think I could have been in ten great movies that no one ever saw or cared about. When people show up to your work and enjoy it for years like the way they have The Room, what do you say to that? You accept it and think it's pretty cool.