Anyone who has seen Tommy Wiseau's directorial debut, The Room (screening tomorrow at Bryn Mawr Film Institute), can attest to his status in cult film culture. Sure, audiences may mock him and deride his film — along with his accent — but Wiseau is a folk hero to many admirers. On the phone from L.A., the writer/director/producer/star chatted with City Paper about The Room. His answers clarified some things, but obscured others. Wiseau’s style of speaking is not unlike his film — earnest and from the heart, but full of non-sequiturs and fascinating digressions.
City Paper: Oh, hi, Tommy!
Tommy Wiseau: We have half an hour. Ask me what you want. Doesn't mean you'll get what you want. Let's start it and have a groovy time.
CP: OK! I’ve always wondered, why is your film called The Room?
TW: Let me give you background before I respond to your question. A title has a special place in my heart. So that’s why I called it The Room. What I emphasize is: It's not A Room — it's THE Room. It's a special place you have — in your heart or your home. It could be in your basement.
CP: I like that, because The Room has a special place in my heart. What was your intention in making this film?
TW: My intention was to … the process was I wanted to be a rock star. People have the wrong assumption. I studied with Stella Adler, a pioneer teacher of acting. I have a background in theater and business. I put [the idea] on paper, first in a novel, then, based on research, I wanted to do it like putting on a play. I'm crazy about theater. I like [the] live experience. It's hard to understand until you actually do it. When you put it on paper, you try to execute the words based on the situation; they are two different things, production of film versus a play. I used to live in New Orleans, La., and I like to travel, talk to people, I concluded it was a big effort [to stage it]. More people go to cinema, I myself like to see cinema. Plays are small productions people can see only one time. But it's extremely difficult, so I did some tests. I did research into studio system, and they would not produce my movie, or distribute it. Now [executives] come to me and say they'll help me. You have to challenge yourself. I'm proud of it. The marketing strategy is paying off. Move on, next question.
CP: There's been a great payoff. How do you feel about the film's success?
TW: The public can do what you want. If you sticker my project [as] the best/worst, whatever … it's flattering for me to hear it. But I always feel good about it, I have a good spirit about it. Am I surprised by [the success], the answer is yes! I shot seven, eight years ago. We have 1 million fans. I travel all over the world. Move on, next question!
CP: To what do you ascribe to the film's success?
TW: I believe very strongly, that whatever you do in life — if it's something original and you believe in your project, and it comes from your heart — you can be successful. You can apply this to anything if you have something original to offer. What I like about The Room is that [people] enjoy themselves and have a good time. A lot of people discovered The Room after all these years, and I really like it. The theater [we premiered at] in L.A. is out of business, but we're still [screening] it. I'm very sincere about what I’m saying. I'm naïve, the [film] business/industry is very difficult. You try your best and work very hard. Move on, next question!
CP: How did you develop the story? Is The Room based on a relationship(s) you had?
TW: I studied psychology but I'm not a shrink, but I [study] behavior of people, their environment and being respectful. It's too bad in America the school system is a little behind schedule. It's coming from real life. The Room is real life. You have fantasy, and there are special effects, but people are surprised about the characters throwing a football, but go to any park and people throw footballs. I see them [throwing footballs] at studios at CNN. To provoke the audience, I did my homework and I wanted to put as much info in The Room based on human behavior and American culture. People really enjoy it. You have to see The Room a few times — not because I say so — but because you enjoy it. Move on, next question!
CP: Can you discuss the editing? The sex scene with rose petals — nice touch, by the way — is repeated throughout the film.
TW: We call it a love scene, not sex scene. Some people understand [the] filmmaking process. We shot [one scene four times]. It looks the same, but it's not the same. Editing, I decided to leave it alone. I was involved from the beginning through post-production, the editing, the music, the establishing shot [of the Golden Gate Bridge] in San Francisco. The formula [for an establishing shot] is 5 to 7 seconds, but my idea was to do longer ... I want people to look at how special the Golden Gate Bridge is. It survived an earthquake. I want people to see how beautiful it is — the structure. They use a special paint [on the Golden Gate Bridge] that doesn’t harm environment. [I did] the ... love scene ... because it's based on human behavior. I notice people have relationship problems. Move on, next question!
CP: I have to ask, where you/your accent is from.
TW: I grew up New Orleans, La., but I used to live in France. My uncle used to work in petroleum. Now I am an American and proud of it. People say I exaggerate my accent, but you hear me, you can judge. I like sports.
CP: Do you appreciate the fact that people mock you/The Room?
TW: You can laugh, cry, express yourself, but please don't hurt each other. I personally believe The Room eliminates certain crime in America. We screen across the world at midnight, which is when most crime is committed, so that's what I believe. I've been in situations where I encourage this. You don't offend me whatsoever, zero, zip. It takes years to upset me. We have to shout — it’s part of human nature. We need this as a people. I think we forget this in America. When we see football or basketball, people shout and have a groovy time. They crave this kind of environment. I think it’s fine to express this way, but be respectful of others, and do not hurt them. I’m not touchy about it.
CP: What is the strangest response you’ve heard/had?
TW: Great question! "Can you marry me?' "Can we do something sexual?" And I've had some good responses, too. I've been asked to go for coffee, and sometimes I do. "Marry me" was pretty weird, actually.
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