Still from ‘The Room’/Image © Wiseau Films
Greg Sestero is an actor who has had his fair share of work. He had a recurring role on “Days of Our Lives” and he played the titular character in an entry for the long-running straight-to-video “Puppet Master” horror franchise. But Sestero is best known to fans and cinephiles for a single role – Mark in the 2003 film “The Room,” often referred to as the worst movie ever.
If you’ve never heard of “The Room,” let’s be clear: It is not a good movie. In fact, it’s considered by many to be the worst movie ever made, which is what people love about it. And in his newly released memoir, The Disaster Artist, Sestero recounts his relationship with the auteur of the most infamously awful movie of the past decade, Tommy Wiseau, and reveals the behind-the-scenes tale of just how “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies” was made.
“I agreed to be in it under a very odd set of circumstances,” Sestero tells me during a recent phone interview. “Mainly under the predicament that nobody would ever see this film.” He then laughs a bit. It’s something that often punctuates the conversation. The Disaster Artist just came out, so Sestero is promoting it, which means he’s talking a lot about “The Room” and thus he’s laughing a lot. Because “The Room” is funny. “For me, it’s all a big joke," Sestero says.
The humor of the “The Room,” which was written, produced and directed by and stars Wiseau, lies in its awfulness. It’s a badly written, badly produced, and badly acted film about a saintly banker named Johnny (Wiseau) whose fiancée cheats on him with his best friend, Mark (Sestero). Characters schizophrenically change motivation midscene. The dialogue is nonsensical and stiffly delivered. Major plot points are abruptly introduced and then never followed up on. (For example, one character tells another that medical tests confirmed she has cancer… and it’s never spoken of again). The overall production quality is amateurish at best. Oh, and there’s a healthy dose of gratuitous nudity, including Wiseau’s bare buttocks, via what are probably the most bizarre love scenes ever filmed.
But despite all of that, or better yet arguably because of it, “The Room” is a certified cult film with a dedicated fanbase that turns out in droves for festive midnight screenings, with fans dressing up as their favorite characters and interacting with the screen as the movie plays, a la “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“It’s a great time,” says Sestero, who’s attended screenings throughout the world (yes, the WORLD) along with Wiseau, as a special guest. “It’s fun to see through the fans' eyes just how many things are wrong with the movie. They find something new to mock at every show. I learn new things about what ‘The Room’ does wrong or oddly every time I see it with a crowd.”
For his part, Wiseau has made the claim that the film is an intentional black comedy, hinting that not only is he in on why fans love the movie, but also that it’s the true purpose of the film. It’s a sentiment not shared by Sestero, who confirms what most have always believed: The film’s comedic missteps and blunders were completely unintended.
“It’s almost like you had to do everything wrong to have this result and do it perfectly and [‘The Room’] did,” he says. “It hit every explosion that you could have expected or what you needed it to hit. And Tommy just has a way of finding it and then turning it into something people enjoy and people show up for.”
There’s probably no one better than Sestero to tell the story of how “The Room” came about. Along with his revisionist history on the film’s origins, Wiseau seems to enjoy projecting an air of mystery and thus demurs from answering specific questions about himself, such as where he’s from or how he earned the money to pay the cost of filming. And unlike pretty much everyone else who was on the set of “The Room” back in 2002, Sestero and Wiseau had a history that predated filming.
The Disaster Artist, which Sestero wrote with journalist Tom Bissell, is both a detailed account of the nightmare production behind “The Room” and a memoir of the personal relationship between Sestero and Wiseau. One narrative reveals the moviemaking mistakes and accidents that led to the celluloid ridiculousness of “The Room”; the other unmasks the complicated and emotional filmmaker.
“I wanted this to be much more than a book about a terrible movie,” Sestero explains. “It’s a character and friendship story first and foremost, and the making of a crazy movie second. There's plenty of ‘Room’ material in the book, but I really hope the story about Tommy's and my long, strange friendship is just as fascinating.”
Sestero and Wiseau met in a San Francisco-area acting class in 1998 and formed an unlikely bond over their mutually shared desire to be in the movies. Most people, including Sestero’s friends and family, wrote off Wiseau as a weirdo, but that didn’t seem to bother a young Sestero. “There’s an exterior and a kind of briskness to Tommy that I think people get skewed by or turned off by,” he explains, “and I was able to see this really nice side of him and a really nice spirit.”
In turn, Wisaeu was one of the few people who encouraged Sestero’s dream of being an actor, further cementing the connection. “I really appreciated his support and I think that struck a cord with me to stick by him when he needed help as well, in some ways maybe a little too much,” Sestero says. “It definitely set the foundation for a trust in him that I hung on to.”
Eventually, Wiseau would offer to sublet an apartment he kept in Los Angeles to Sestero to use as home base for his initial attempt to break into Hollywood. The arraignment ultimately morphed into a short-lived roommate scenario with Wiseau, who began writing “The Room” around the same time.
Based on offhanded comments from conversations throughout their friendship and clues picked up from the living situation, Sestero is able to give in his book what is probably the best analysis/examination/theory of who exactly is Tommy Wiseau. Yet, the man behind “The Room” remains something of a pop-culture enigma.
“The interesting part is that the more you find out about [Wiseau] … it’s almost like it turns over an answer but then another mystery comes up,” admits Sestero. “So you never really find out the truth of it …. There’s definitely a lot of things I think you find out and understand about Tommy. But there’s still this mystery of the other part of his life of who he is.”
The only thing that isn’t mysterious in The Disaster Artist is what exactly happened on the set of “The Room.” Sestero had originally signed on to just help Wiseau with pre-production for the film, acting as a de facto “Line Producer,” but was asked to co-star (and enticed by a large check) at the last minute by Wiseau. The dual role of working on the talent and production sides of filming gave him huge access and insight to the events on set.
The sections dealing with the filming of “The Room” are detailed in describing the disaster production. According to Sestero, Wiseau had ordered the filming of hours of behind-the-scenes footage to document the making of the movie and it somehow ended up with him – proving a valuable resource for when he was writing his book years later. “I figured as soon as we were done that I would have thrown it out, but I never did,” Sestero explains, adding: “That was great to peek back into … it was very quick to tap back into the experience and the memories.” Sestero also tracked down and interviewed his former co-stars and ex-crew members, a process made easier in the age of social media. “It was definitely fun to get in touch with everyone and reconnect and see where everyone else was,” he says.
The result is something of a how-to guide for making a movie, but one that highlights its points by following a film production with an almost endless series of mistakes and miscalculations; a filmmaker’s resource on what not to do, if you will. People are fired, people quit, time and money are wasted, sets are built then taken down and rebuilt, and more. It also answers many of the questions that plague even the most casual “Room” fans – the most obvious being how something so bad could have cost the $6 million that’s often bandied about, (Hint: Wiseau bought instead of renting his camera equipment, shot in both digital and film, and kept a billboard advertising the movie up in L.A. for five years.)
Sestero hopes that by writing The Disaster Artist, he’ll not only set the record straight on his involvement with “The Room” but also finally be able to move on to something else. “I was just someone who was twenty-four and got caught in this crazy situation and this crazy story and this is what happened,” he says. “Obviously at this point, ten years later, I’m looking to go off into a different direction with a new project that I’m passionate about. You know, just start a new page.”
Still, Sestero is quick to admit that there’s plenty of humor in the situation. He’s traveled the world, interacted with fans who were excited to meet him, been interviewed by various media outlets, gained some fame, and now published a book; just for co-starring in an awful film. “At the end of the day, it’s all pretty hilarious,” he says.