When it comes to enigmatic works of cinema, a frequently heard argument claims that a film loses its artistic impact if the director outright tells the audience the answers to all their questions. Would “2001: A Space Odyssey” have as much of an impact if Kubrick told everyone right away what the Monolith represented? Do we really need to have David Lynch explain away his insane films in DVD commentaries?
And would “The Room” be as big a cult hit if it didn’t provoke questions like “Who on earth is Tommy Wiseau?” and “How did he write such a bizarre script?” Greg Sestero, who starred alongside Wiseau in the infamous film, doesn’t think so.
“Even having known him for 20 years, I still find out new things about him,” Sestero told TheWrap. “But the key to Tommy and ‘The Room’ is the mystery. How did the money come together? How did he make it? It’s those questions that keep the movie interesting.”
Now, nearly 15 years after “The Room,” Sestero’s story is back in the spotlight after his book about the making of the movie titled “The Disaster Artist,” was turned into a critically acclaimed film by James Franco that will hit theaters nationwide this weekend.
While much of the movie is dedicated to the disastrous shoot for “The Room,” the core of Franco’s film is the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero, played respectively by Franco and his brother, Dave. Much of it is shown from Sestero’s perspective, as he tries to figure out who Tommy is and why he doesn’t want to talk about his personal life. For Sestero, that’s a mystery he still can’t completely solve, but he stumbled upon a clue into Tommy’s mind while at his San Francisco apartment: his personal tapes.
“I just found this open drawer, and it was filled with tapes with my name on them,” he said. “He had recorded all these phone calls we had, and I was really upset about it, but then I found one labeled ‘Hollywood 94-95,’ and I knew that was his because that was before we met.”
Playing the tape, Sestero was treated to an unfiltered side of Wiseau that he never heard before, discussing his frustrations with Hollywood and vowing to one day create a film that everyone would remember. When he found out Franco was filming “The Disaster Artist,” Sestero gave the tapes to him to help him gain a better understanding of Wiseau’s inner workings.
“This was a side of Tommy no one had seen before, because you could interview him for years and he would never open up properly. They were really fascinating and touching,” he said.
And indeed, Wiseau fulfilled his promise and created a movie that no one who saw it would ever forget, as “The Room” has evolved into a midnight movie hit with the so-bad-its-good reputation of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and the audience participation of “Rocky Horror.” But while the reaction to the film at its premiere was similar to how the film depicts it, and it had become an inside joke in L.A. film circles, Sestero says it wasn’t until five years later that he realized just how big “The Room” had become.
“I got a call in 2008 from Entertainment Weekly asking to do an interview about the movie, and the article was six pages about the cult of the film and how it had celebrity fans and I couldn’t believe it,” he marveled.
It took off from there. At the Laemmle Sunset 5 theater, “The Room” was shown at midnight on all five screens, and every theater was packed. The film was featured on ABC World News and CNN and suddenly Sestero was gaining worldwide notoriety for a film he once thought would never see the light of day.
“This whole journey I’ve taken ever since I met Tommy in that acting class has taught me lessons about life, and it’s so much more than what I would have gained by just being a bit actor in a TV show. It got me back in touch with my first passion, which was storytelling, which was what led me to write ‘The Disaster Artist’ in the first place,” Sestero said.
During the first round of limited release screenings for “Disaster Artist” at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, the seats were mostly filled with 20-and-30-somethings who could quote all of Wiseau’s most renowned scenery-chewing scenes. But Sestero, who says he’s seen the film seven times, says he’s most moved by the people who didn’t know “The Room” existed and yet were taken in by his story.
“‘The Disaster Artist’ isn’t really about ‘The Room.’ It’s about friendship and how dreams can come true. I know older couples who hadn’t seen ‘The Room’ who went to go see this film and didn’t really feel the need to go see ‘The Room’ afterwards but just enjoyed this journey and were very touched by it.”
Last year, critics and audiences were swept away by “La La Land,” a film about preserving to find your dreams. Sestero hopes people will find the same message in “The Disaster Artist,” calling it “Ed Wood” with a much happier ending.
“Ed Wood ended up as a drunk in Hollywood,” he said. “But with Tommy and ‘The Room,’ people are still discovering it and will continue to discover it as they see ‘The Disaster Artist,’ and I think that people will love the message that if you have a dream and your heart’s in the right place, even if you’re misunderstood, you can change people’s lives.”