Ahead of The Disaster Artist‘s Blu-ray release on March 13th, I was offered a chance to speak with The Room‘s mysterious creator, Tommy Wiseau. Naturally, I took it.
I have a theory about the public’s ongoing obsession with Wiseau’s 2003 film, whose production and subsequent fandom spawned first Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s bestselling book The Disaster Artist, and its subsequent film adaptation. My theory is that, beyond the unintentional hilarity and comic ineptitude, The Room feels like such a revealing window into its creator’s psyche, an extended Freudian slip, that we feel inspired to delve and to discuss and to obsess. Meanwhile, The Room‘s actual creator, Tommy Wiseau, is a man so comically mysterious, so impenetrably strange, that you never get what you came for. The film whets an appetite you can never satisfy.
That one of the world’s most secretive people — early on in their relationship, Wiseau told Sestero “Don’t talk about me” — accidentally created one of its most revealing roman à clefs is a kind of poetic justice. The Room‘s Johnny is pure pathos (“Everybody betray me”). Meanwhile, Wiseau can’t be pinned down on the most basic of basics, like his real name, age, or country of origin. (You can find the most plausible rumors with an easy Google, but I respect Wiseau’s weirdness too much to repeat them here.)
On some level, we know that we can never know about Wiseau, and yet we can’t resist, trying to learn something, anything, more about this Red Bull-chugging self-described vampire — not the least of which the source of the estimated $6 million he spent making The Room. It’s a little more than an idle fascination for yours truly. I once recorded a 90-minute podcast with someone who worked for Tommy Wiseau for 11 years, and have spent just as long talking to Sestero.
Over the course of those talks, I picked up some intriguing nuggets. Like that Tommy has a brother who didn’t seem to speak English. That there was a former business partner named “Eli.” That he used to go by “Thomas” and would get mad if anyone called him something else. That, uncharacteristically, the famously capricious Wiseau was actually a pretty good boss, sending his best employees to Hawaii and occasionally making small talk about resorts and parasailing (the mind reels at the thought of Tommy Wiseau, he of the long dark hair, the multiple belts, the constantly full cargo pockets, parasailing).
It’s notable, of course, that none of these nuggets came from Wiseau himself. Still, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. You know he isn’t going to tell you anything you really want to know, but there’s always the chance that he might accidentally reveal something. Like the key to his whole, you know… deal.
Wiseau isn’t the only obstacle to learning more about Wiseau. This was to be a three-way phone interview, with Wiseau and Sestero, and perhaps the only thing harder than trying to understand Wiseau in person, with his mumble-prone delivery and unique grasp of English, is trying to understand him talking into a speakerphone. They ended up giving us 10 minutes, which is normally too short to even bother, especially with three people on the line, but hey, it’s Tommy Wiseau! All I really expected was a surreal experience, and to maybe make a transcriber quit in frustration.
The first was easily achieved, and the interview was about as much of a debacle as I expected, including my own screw-up, managing not to record the first four minutes of the talk. I had asked Wiseau about whether he had been a gymnast, and about his current workout regimen. As expected, he sidestepped the question of gymnastics completely. Of his current exercise routine he told me only that he spends 20 minutes a day thinking positively. “Everyone should try it,” he said.
I asked Wiseau how he financed The Room, the obvious question. “I answer your question with my question,” he said after a pause. “Do you work?”
“Yes,” I said, an easy one to answer when you’re currently on the job.
“Do you save?” he asked.
“Uh… I try to,” I answered, suddenly on the defensive.
“Well, there you are. Me, same answer,” he said, satisfied, as if there was definitive proof contained in the exchange.
The following is the brief phone interview we had once I turned my recorder on.