On signing the Union guestbook in handwriting that turned out to be as incomprehensible as much of his later discussion, Tommy Wiseau — writer, director, and star of the cult train-wreck of a film that is The Room — inadvertently gives perhaps the most insightful glimpse into his world that we are to receive all afternoon.
It is the first and only time that he removes his trademark black sunglasses, and we get a glimpse of tired blue eyes and an ashen face. He has the resigned and slightly haunted look of a man endlessly accompanied by the laughter of a joke that he doesn’t quite understand. Appropriate then, that the above description perfectly explains the cult of The Room.
The Room is a drama (although, in light of later ridicule, it was later reclassified by Wiseau as a dark comedy) that has come to define him. On paper, the film is the dramatic romance of three young San Franciscans trapped in a love triangle. On screen, it is the baffling product of haphazard attention to technical detail and narrative, a visibly frustrated cast, and a clumsy script that puts Wiseau’s own fondness for questionable syntax and non-sequiturs into the mouths of every (non)character. It is endlessly quotable, an endearing object of easy ridicule which is made easier still by Wiseau’s steadfast conviction that it is a film rich in symbolism and in sage commentary upon the human condition.
Its release provided perfect bait for the burgeoning online trend for online video-clips, memes, and chat forums, and as a fan-base coalesced, his avid followers lifted The Room to cult status in the years following its release. Even so, Wiseau decries the “internet Hollywood” that helped make him, instead choosing to associate himself with “real, old Hollywood”. His absolute conviction in this questionable concept is partly endearing, partly pitiable, and entirely fitting with this curious man’s persona; he is a man of whom we know very little beyond his contradictory and childishly charismatic media persona. His blatant deflection of any enquiry into his past has become characteristic of any of his public appearances.
Greg Sestero — co-star of The Room and Wiseau’s long-time off-screen friend — is also here, presumably to publicise the book he co-authored last autumn chronicling his experience working on the film. It tentatively hypothesises that Wiseau’s younger self was a naive idealist, infatuated with a romanticised America sparked by his childhood exposure to Disney’s 101 Dalmations; a man who uprooted himself from a dark past somewhere in the Eastern Bloc to finally settle in America with a new name and an innocent but dangerous desire for acceptance from the Hollywood elite.
His work in the acting industry and the dubious acquisition of an implausibly large $6 million budget for The Room provided a foot in the Hollywood door for the man who now proclaims himself comparable with the likes of Orson Welles. We ask Sestero what it’s like to play the Carraway to this self-styled Gatsby. He responds, “When I wrote this book, I tried to make it much less about the making of a bad movie and more about the reinvention of someone who never really found himself and tried to create a persona of someone so much different from who he really was.
“That’s what makes him so interesting and mysterious. You don’t know who this guy is. The journey of finding out who this person is and why he does what he does.”
In light of the endless barrage of ironic requests for director’s tips and ‘classic phrases’ Wiseau received during his Q&A, we ask him if he ever feels that people try to intellectually underestimate him. “Yeah they do, actually. They put you down sometimes, but you have to accept it. Think in a positive way, you know. I always think people should express themselves.”
We ask Wiseau if, having such a large fan base which is nevertheless very detached from his persona, he ever feels fame leads to loneliness. “You just accept it, you have to adjust yourself to the situation.”
In light of such overt (and, if we have it his way, also symbolic) reference to space in the film’s title alone, we ask him what his favourite place is. “I will not tell you, haha! We all have special places. It’s like a real private place, so you decide what you wanna do, where you wanna be etcetera etcetera”.
He has said that he is keen to understand people, and yet there is something shamefully vulnerable about his unwillingness to answer anything which attempts to pry behind his public persona. His trademark slightly absent laugh signals the end of the interview, and we file out of the Union. “That was everything I wanted it to be”, we overhear from amongst the amused crowd as they leave the room that was, for a brief hour, Tommy’s Wiseauniverse.
Wiseau seems most comfortable when we do not expect or allow him to provide anything more than what he offered – a compilation of ‘classic’ catchphrases and misguided, naive or incoherent monologues. Nevertheless, it is hard to decide whether this justifies or conversely makes more tasteless the increasing demand for such formulaic public appearances.