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July 30, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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In The Room With Greg Sestero

If you haven’t seen The Room, you have surely heard of it. It is lovingly called “the best worst movie of all time” by its legions of fans around the world, who know every word of its script and who, in a time of Netflix and torrenting, still pay money to see it on screen at cinemas, over ten years after it was first released. It is a movie so jarring and detached from filmmaking and storytelling conventions that it is impossible to turn away from, and it has made cult icons of its stars: writer, lead, and general enigma, Tommy Wiseau, and his straight-man co-star Greg Sestero, who first met Wiseau when he was just 19 and was caught up in Wiseau’s hurricane of an existence. Now, 15 years later, they are back together in their new offering Best F(r)iends, and Sestero visited New Zealand for the very first time for the film’s premiere at The Roxy in Miramar.
In Best F(r)iends, Sestero is Jon, a homeless man who lost his family in a tragic accident, who is taken in by eccentric mortician Harvey (Wiseau), who makes masks and prosthetics for cadavers who were disfigured in death. As red flags pop up hinting that his new boss may have a murky past, Jon comes across a money-making scheme that could have him off the streets for good… but things are easier said than done. On presenting the pitch to Wiseau, Sestero — who wrote the entire script in four days — said Wiseau had only one request: that they be the same height in the film. Wiseau commissioned six inch platform heeled boots for filming, and despite his additional request that the shoes not be visible in the final cut they are gleefully present throughout. While Best F(r)iends is very much a different film than The Room, in pacing, writing, and production, The Room itself is so much an extension of Tommy Wiseau and his psyche that it is hard for hints of it not to come out in the new film; along with simply seeing Sestero and Wiseau reunited on screen, in one scene they play basketball in an alleyway; in another Wiseau greets a character with, “Oh hi!”
While the film is an opportunity for Tommy Wiseau to embody a character perhaps more suited to his range, as opposed to the leading heart-throb he aimed for as Johnny in The Room, for Sestero it feels like the natural next step in a surprising career that he could never have seen coming when he first met Wiseau at an acting class in 1998. After his role as Mark in the cult classic, Sestero wrote a memoir of his experience during filming, the critical and commercial success The Disaster Artist. Aside from winning several literary accolades, it would go on to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards for the the film of the same name, that starred brothers James and Dave Franco as Wiseau and Sestero respectively.

Best F(r)iends is comprised of two parts — “It’s kind of like Kill Bill” — and the premiere of Volume One was followed by a Q & A session with Sestero — at which I may have, in front of a large audience, asked him who killed JonBenét Ramsey — and a traditional screening of The Room, with full audience participation and plastic cutlery provided. The Roxy shows the 2013 classic every month, continuing on a now-worldwide cult tradition initially started by a group of film students who caught the film’s early run and coined its riffs, in the independent screenings financed from Wiseau’s mysterious and seemingly bottomless bank account. We waded through a floor thick with spoons and forks on our way out of the cinema when the evening wrapped up just after midnight.
Earlier that day, I smoked three cigarettes, ate five mints, and met Greg at The Roxy for our interview. He was very personable and forthcoming even though I was openly nervous. He also thought my name was Candy the entire time and signed my copy of his book as such.

Katie Meadows: Well, I wanted to say: Greg, it’s great to be in the room with you.

Greg Sestero: A new room.

The Room is infamously known as “The Best Bad Movie” or “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”. Art itself is subjective in nature, yet I feel a lot of people have very objective opinions about the film: Do you think it’s fair to call it a bad movie, considering the context of it? 
I mean, on a technical level — if you watch Inception, and then you watch the execution of The Room, then yes. But if you break it down to an entertainment level, then The Room is like going to the drive-thru at In-N-Out Burger or McDonalds and getting sloppy late-night food, it’s an easy sell. You can just invite your friends back, “Let’s get hammered, let’s watch this movie that is completely insane,” and it’s a great night. So in that sense, it’s not a bad movie, it’s great entertainment, but if you’re trying to put it in the same category as these films that are very well made, like Gone Girl, then yeah, it lives up to its reputation.

I think there’s definitely a difference between a movie being “good” and a movie being “enjoyable”.
Yeah, because there’s movies that I’ve seen that have a budget of 50 million, are shot beautifully, and there’s stars in them, but I can’t finish them. I’m just not into it, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t grab me. So I think the worst movies are the ones you just wanna turn off after ten minutes. I think The Room gets that [bad movie] rap because of… many reasons; when you’re watching it you laugh out loud, because you’re like, “Wait, what is this about? Why did they make that choice?” so I get it in that regard. But I think for entertainment purposes, if you have the right sense of humour it can be something just as good as Inception, but in a backwards way.

I think we could say it’s better than Inception. Do you think that The Room qualifies as outsider art?
Yes, I would say it does, because it wasn’t accepted by a big studio, or developed by “professionals” per se, it was just made by one person who saw the world a different way. It was a cry out for help — “Hey I’m a star! I’m a great actor! Watch!” so it’s very much outsider art.

I would say it’s one of the most successful pieces of outsider art in that regard. 

Yeah, it got embraced by the people, which is kind of what we all want to do. So ideally, it’s embraced by the people because it’s a phenomenal film, but I guess there’s just different ways to affect people.

You’ve only watched The Room a couple of times yourself. Do you just tap out of it when you go to the screenings?
I think it’s so much fun to watch with a crowd but yeah, I’ve watched it very few times and almost every time it’s been with a crowd.

How do you feel when you watch it?
I get a kick out of it but I think it would be a lot harder if I made this movie and I had thought it was gonna be great, and you really put your heart and soul into it, and people are laughing and you feel like you’re being laughed at. But for me, I think when people watch the movie they can tell — “Poor guy, he’s just going through it.”

The very first time you watched it, when you went to the premiere, what was that like?

 

It was a different time in the industry, 2003, so a lot of people weren’t [ready]. It was a cult film, it was a premiere, a publicist brought a bunch of people thinking they were coming to see A Streetcar Named Desire dramatic film, and people were just like “What the fuck are they doing, what is going on.” So yeah, I thought that was it and that was as far as it was gonna go.

Do you ever feel like [in press junkets] that people were patronising Tommy, or didn’t really know how to talk to him?

It’s a weird situation, because I think when you’re different and misunderstood people are enamoured and have their own way of dealing with it. So I think everyone’s pretty much good natured, but that’s the thing when you put out a movie or put your personality out there and it’s really different — you’ve just gotta expect a lot of different reactions, y’know? I think overall there’s a lot of love surrounding it. I dont think its coming from a negative place, and I think over time people have come to just appreciate it.

Was everyone respectful during the filming of The Disaster Artist?

I’ve never seen so many people look so happy to be part of a movie. They worked so hard, it was contagious. So there was a lot of love and passion that went into making that film.

Did you have any say in the casting at all?
No, well, I figured, James [Franco] did a really good review of the book and I feel like it was interesting to me to let him see what he loved about the book, and do his thing. Writing it I was like… Javier Bardem as Tommy, Ryan Gosling as Greg, and I had this whole list of people, so that was the pipedream. Like, hey, let’s make a great movie about what people call the worst movie.

At the Golden Globes when James went up, and then Tommy went up, and then he got cut off [from speaking], what was your reaction to that?

Well, Tommy didn’t want to go up on stage initially and so I was trying to force him to go up there, and he was pushing me back, and I’m like, no, go! He was trying to drag me up there, and so at the last minute I pushed him to go up. I didn’t really see him reach for the mic because everything was kind of chaotic, but I watched it later and [thought] this is incredible, what a perfect cap off of this whole thing. It became the most talked about moment, him reaching for that mic, but I think you have limited time up there; James was just trying to keep it all together, you don’t know what Tommy was gonna say, so he was probably just like, “Woah.”

Could you give me a little bit of background on the new movie [Best F(r)iends] and how it came about?

So Best F(r)iends is the first movie Tommy and I have made since The Room. I didn’t ever expect to work with him again, for a lot of reasons. I wrote the script in four days after having an edible, and I was inspired by a road trip we took up the California coast in which he thought I was gonna try kill him. So it kind of evolved [as a] mish-mash of our real life experiences, with noir films and weird TV shows, and Nightcrawler which is a film I really like, so it was a mix of things. I pitched it to him and surprisingly he wanted to do it, and a big goal for me was to write a part and make a film with him in a lead character in a role that fits him, because I feel like all these [other] parts are just exploiting him in a way, like “Wacky Tommy” and I [wanted to] let him really be a character he can take seriously, and see what happens. A couple of friends that saw it said it’s “David Lynch, filtered through The Room, divided by The Disaster Artist”.

Was it a natural process to have more of an equal role with Tommy when making the movie?
Yeah, this was a much more enjoyable experience. I think with Tommy as an actor, it was more fascinating to me because I could enjoy his quirky qualities and really try to get a performance out of him, where he didn’t have to be in charge of this happening and that happening. So him just showing up and performing I thought was a better fit, in my experience. I’d also had some experience writing the book so I kind of knew what it was like to put the project together, and I enjoyed doing all the behind-the-scenes work in this case.

Do you have a favourite conspiracy about Tommy, and do you know the one where he is DB Cooper?

That’s addressed in Volume One.

Oh my god, I love it. That was one of my favourite conspiracies to read about. Especially because the only evidence was that he kind of talked weird and he was tall? I think that was it. 

Well, Tommy’s not tall.

Oh, well I guess that one’s out the window then. Or out the plane, so to speak. 

I think that was my favourite for a long time, or that he’s a Transylvanian vampire.

Well, I think he’s definitely a vampire. It’s alright, you can tell me, if he is a vampire…

I have pretty good reason to believe so.

Do you think this is who you are now? The guy from The Room

No, I mean, I made The Room 15 years ago and then the book ended up becoming its own movie, and now it’s just about making new things. You gotta start somewhere, it’s about being smart, because I wanted to do a bunch of different things, but I think it was important to do another movie with Tommy and try to do something really different, and I think it’s a good start for going in a new direction.

It’s sort of your retribution, because you don’t want to just be known as the people from that bad movie. 
Yeah, I mean exactly, but you gotta be in something that people see and from that you can evolve from it. If you don’t have The Room then you don’t really have a starting place.

Well, I guess when Tarzan doesn’t work out you gotta go with The Room, right? [Some time before The Room, Greg was hired for a three-day promotional stint in Vegas dressed as Tarzan handing out muesli bars.]

That is true.

I have no idea why you though that being Tarzan would involve wearing a full costume.

I have no idea. I imagined just a big suit or something.

But just a loincloth.
So, by the way, the girl who hired me all those years ago saw The Disaster Artist, and said “I thought you looked familiar!” and had pictures of me, as Tarzan, so you’re gonna see. I was like, “go away.” [leans over and shows the photo on his phone]

Oh my god, you’re so shiny.
Oh, I didn’t think of that.

Did they oil you up for it?

No, I don’t think so. I guess that’s why I was meant to be Tarzan. She kept these photos! I was like, nobody saw this, thank God, I escaped. It was just standing on a fuckin’ convention floor selling granola bars. I remember I went to the bathroom and I was almost about to cry, “Now I have to drive all the way home, and back out of this job, and they’re gonna be really upset.” And there was a really weird reaction — have you heard of Thunder Down Under [an all-male strip revue from Australia]? There was a manager guy there, and he walks up to me and he could see I wasn’t happy about being Tarzan, and he looked at me and he was like, “You’re so straight.” Well, yeah, but where the hell are you getting that? He asked if I was from Thunder Down Under and I [thought] this show needs to end, I need to get out of here.

Well, again, that’s nice – they thought you were a professional Tarzan. 

I started to think about where should I go, do I pursue Tarzan? But life goes on.

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