Exclusive Interview: Greg Sestero
The Room has become a modern midnight movie with hordes of followers around the world. The writer/director/producer/star of the movie, Tommy Wiseau, has caught the attention of movie world, but it’s his close friend Greg Sestero who helped inspire him and ultimately get the movie made. In his new book The Disaster Artist Sestero explains how he became friends with Tommy and how the worst movie ever made came about.
Sestero is appearing an Luna Cinema in Perth tonight and tomorrow for a special appearance. This morning we sat down and chatted about the worlds best bad movie.
Enjoy the two parts of the interview in audio form or read the transcript (or both!). An explanation for the split in the middle is in the transcript.
G-Funk: We’re here at Luna Cinema in Western Australia with Greg – and I’ll make sure I get this right – Sestero?
Greg Sestero: Yep.
GF: I’m terrible with names. We’re going to be talking about your book ‘The Disaster Artist’ and your experience with The Room. How are you this morning?
Sestero: Very good. Glad to be here.
GF: I thought I’d be really funny and start with “how’s your sex life” but I got wondering…do you get that a lot already?
Sestero: Yeah, fans usually have a really good sense of humour about the movie and I kinda feel the same way so it’s a good joke.
GF: Do you get sick of it?
Sestero: No, I mean it’s not something that really annoys me because I’ve been in on the joke and always found Tommy (Wiseau) really funny so it’s par for the course.
GF: I’ve read the book, and this is a really good read. I enjoyed the back story to the LA section as much as the behind the scenes on The Room. The first question I had about the book…has Tommy read it?
Sestero: Yeah, he’s read it. He’s mentioned it a few times and he calls it ‘The Red Bible’?
GF: ‘The Red Bible’?!
GF: So he’s a supporter of it? Sestero: He says he supports it 50%.
GF: What’s the other 50%?
Sestero: I dunno, that’s just what he says. I guess coming from Tommy, 50% is a pretty good grade.
GF: That’s fair. He comes across as a very private person. Did he have any problem with you writing this?
Sestero: I interviewed him while I was writing it. We were on tour with the film so there’s parts of it that he shared with me and other parts that were a little private so I split the difference.
GF: I take it that you’re still in touch with him? Sestero: Yeah, yeah. GF: Still close friends? Sestero: I still see him every once in a while when I get the chance.
GF: What about the other cast members, such as Juliette (Danielle) who played Lisa, still in touch with them?
Sestero: Yeah, I put together a documentary for the book tour in which I interviewed all the actors. I recently saw them at the release of the audio-book, we’re all close friends.
GF: Have they continued acting or is this the be-all, end-all for them.
Sestero: I think they’ve dabbled here and there. Everyone has moved around and there’s still things here and there.
GF: You were very ambitious about being an actor prior to The Room – is that something you want to get back on track with?
Sestero: Obviously The Room – I made this thing and didn’t expect anything of it and here we are years later and it’s turned in to this cult phenomenon. The book was a start back into the game and getting into different projects. I recently shot a movie co-starring Patton Oswalt and Andrew W.K. from the creators of ‘5 Second Films’. It was really great to work on something new and I’m looking forward to doing more of that.
GF: Did you find that The Room was a hindrance or did it help get your name out?
Sestero: I think it helped get your name out. It’s not a movie that’s going to get you more acting work but it opens doors to the possibility of you doing something where you can prove yourself in a different way.
GF: This is a bit of an awkward question: how would you feel if The Room became your legacy as a performer?
Sestero: I think The Room is Tommy’s legacy because it’s the movie that he put everything in to. It’s the movie that he wrote, he starred in, he directed. You can tell when you watch the film that it’s his passion project. I was just a passenger…an accidental passenger…that didn’t want to be there, that really didn’t put any effort into the performance. I think it will always be his legacy. The book is the project I finally had creative control over, put everything I had into and I stand by. I think the roads a little bit more open to me in that regard, and The Room belongs to Tommy.
GF: You said that you didn’t put a lot of effort into your performance. Do you regret that now that people are watching it, ten years later still coming to cinema for it?
Sestero: No, because even if you did put effort in to the performance you’re still saying unsayable dialogue. The best actor out there, the most proven actor like Daniel Day Lewis or Liam Neeson wouldn’t have been able to say those lines without getting a laugh. It wasn’t about actor for me, it was about helping a friend make a movie. It wasn’t anything serious I could’ve seen. If I wanted to make it believable I would be doomed to fail.
GF: We are in Perth, in WA, and you’re from California. You couldn’t really get farther from home before you start coming back around to it. When did you realise that The Room was going to start taking you places?
Sestero: It started going, in about 2009-2010, overseas. I got to go to Ireland, that was my first international stop.
GF: You might’ve gone through my home town. Sestero: You’re from Ireland?
GF: Yeah, the North.
Sestero: No way! From Belfast?
GF: Yeah! Sestero: I’ve been there with The Room, there and Dublin. I got to tour that area and I realised that at that point that out of this terrible movie I got to travel the world. So I can’t really complain.
GF: That’s a positive. Do you regret it at all?
Sestero: When you think about it, what is there to regret? I’ve gone out for other projects – projects I could have gotten and never went anywhere. It’s best to have done a movie people love and still watch eleven years later than nothing at all. Again, if it’s something like a big director call and say “Hey, I would have put you in this movie but because you’re in The Room” I might say I regret. But at this point it’s allowed to write a book about the experience, that itself is going to be turned in to a movie. There’s been nothing but good things that have come from it.
GF: I have a lot of film students – would you advise young actors to get in to a project like The Room for the experience?
Sestero: You know, The Room is not something you could ever foresee. It’s one of those projects that 99 times out of 100 would have just sat on the shelf. It wouldn’t have been discovered, it wouldn’t have been watched. Just randomly, this chance that these L.A. film students discovered it, saw something there on the last day, the day before it disappeared and kept it alive. I would say the goal is to get experience but work on projects that you really believe in and strike a chord with you.
GF: 2009 and was when you realised that The Room was a genuine phenomenon. How did it go from that to the book?
Sestero: From the day that I made The Room I’d told stories to friends about it and they couldn’t believe that it actually existed and the journey behind it. I’ve had this great story in my mind for a long time. As it started grow and I got more and more questions and more people became interested I thought it was a great opportunity to share the story behind it. As bad as the movie was the story behind it was really hilarious and there’s some inspiring aspects to it and I thought it was the perfect time to tell it.
GF: You say it was inspiring, I really do agree. When you read the book you have the story of this character (Tommy) who is so passionate about being a film-maker and he gets out there and does it. It’s a real lesson for people who want to get in to the industry. Do you think Tommy gets a bit more respect nowadays for what he did?
Sestero: Absolutely more respect for his ambition and his relentless drive. The movie obviously is not Citizen Kane or Memento but it’s a film, and it’s a film that people are entertained by and enjoy. It never would have existed and he never would have existed if he hadn’t gotten out there and done it. You can’t really take that away from him.
GF: I would have had a lot of questions about The Room – why was this in there, how did this happen – but your book did such a good job of explaining it all. I know why there are spoons, I know how the flower shop scene unfolded…I did have one question about the book though. In the acknowledgements we have Brad Pitt, David Cross and other well known figures. Why did you chose to acknowledge these people?
Sestero: These are the people who, early on, saw something in the movie before anyone else did, and they promoted it. Without that foundation of people, the originals that didn’t wait for other people to endorse it and endorse it themselves. It’s a big journey: the actors, Tommy, those initial film students that spread it and the other people that endorsed it and other people who built the phenomenon – I felt they were a part of it from the very beginning.
GF: The book’s taking another step of evolution…we keep hearing about a film project.
Sestero: Yeah, it’s going to be a adapted into a feature, which I think was one of my goals early on. I saw a great film about a bad movie. When I was writing the book and researching I saw movies like Boogie Nights and Ed Wood and Sunset Blvd and I felt like this could possibly fall into that category of story.
GF: I agree, I think it’s a very cinematic story. Especially having the two narratives both being very strong on their own. Do you have much involvement in the project?
Sestero: It’s still early obviously. I’m still there to help make it the best possible film.
GF: Who do you think should play yourself and Tommy?
Sestero: As of right now James Franco is supposed to play Tommy and his younger brother Dave is supposed to play me.
GF: I actually imagined it the other way around. Are you happy with that casting choice? Sestero: You imagine…?
GF: I imagined Dave Franco would be Tommy and James would be you.
Sestero: Oh…I think James is a very interesting choice to play Tommy. Just based of his career and his interests I think he’ll be a very solid choice for Tommy.
GF: Are you concerned that it might go in to the realms of parody or…?
Sestero: No, and that’s one of the great things. James wrote a review of the book for Vice and I couldn’t be happier with the way he interpreted the book and his vision for it. I think it’s taken very seriously.
GF: The Room is often called the worst movie ever made…do you think it’s the worst movie ever made?
Sestero: I think technically it’s the worst movie ever made. All the decisions that were made in constructing the film are all what you’re not supposed to do. I think it’s a very bizzarre and watchable film. It’s a film that…you’re in to it and your thinking ‘what is this thing? What is it all about? It’s hurting my eyes!’ But you want to finish it just to see if it really exists. For me the worst film is the one you want to talk about after five minutes. It’s just painful and you can’t take it and you have to turn it off. I’m sure that does happen with The Room but you can’t deny that eleven years later people are still enjoying it and are passionate about it. It does something right and for that reason I wouldn’t say that it’s the worst movie ever made.
GF: Do you have a worst film?
Sestero: There’s a movie that I liked that was in the same realm where you want to watch it to see how it finishes or what it’s about. It’s Johnny Suede. It’s a Tom DiCillo film from the early 90s and it just…
GF: Oh…It’s got Brad Pitt in it?
GF: That was weird. Sestero: It was just…weird.
GF: I only remember the scene when he’s sitting in the bathtub with the girl, shaving her legs.
GF: He had that big pompadour hair. Sestero: It’s got some scenes that are a little strange.
GF: Odd. I’m coming to the screening tonight. I’m hoping this will will be my first time to get through the movie.
Sestero: (Laughs) Good luck with that.
GF: Do you still step out during those sex scenes.
Sestero: I step out for the whole thing.
Sestero: I don’t really watch the film. I’ll peak in every here and there to see certain scenes, but I don’t watch the film.
GF: Are you sick of watching it or you can’t watch it?
Sestero: I never really watched it that much. I always watched the behind the scenes stuff and a few clips but it’s not really for me to watch. It’s for the audience. I did put together a documentary behind the scenes that’s fun that I do watch.
GF: Yes, where can we see that?
Sestero: That’s screening tonight.
GF: Oh, easy. I’ll be here. I’m bringing some newcomers – what advice do you have for somebody who hasn’t seen The Room?
Sestero: Just fasten your seatbelt and good luck surviving it.
GF: Get ready to believe the unbelievable.
Sestero: Get ready to scratch your head a few times.
GF: While we’re wrapping up, do you have any plans while you’re in Australia?
Sestero: I started in Sydney, went to Melbourne. The people are great, the food is great so I just wish I had ore time to explore the country. I’ll definitely be back.
GF: The weather is so nice today – it’s grey and miserable and raining.
Sestero: This is kind of refreshing. In L.A. it’s always hot, you’re always hot, so it’s a nice change.
GF: Do you have any parting words for our listeners?
Sestero: If you can make it out tonight or tomorrow night it would be great to meet you guys and catch a glimpse of how crazy it was to be part of this film.
GF: Yeah, we’re looking forward to the spoons. Thanks very much for joining us.
Following the interview we wound up deep in discussion about adapting the book The Disaster Artist into a film, and we turned the tape recorder back on to capture an extended interview.
Sestero: Most people think because you’re an actor you have control, you can do this, you can do that – but you really don’t. You can be a great actor, you can do 20 films and you can do TV shows and people don’t care. As an actor you don’t have control. That was what was so great about the book, finally I had creative control over something. I can say we’ll do it this way, or I can tell the story this way. That was really refreshing to be able to do that. Now at least you have some sort of idea of how if I do a film people are now interested in seeing it and you can choose a little bit more. So with The Room, if you use it correctly you can be very creative. People ask ‘are you going to do any more movies’ but a lot of that is out of your control. When you accept that is when you’re able to look at things a little more realistically.
Another thing you asked about is the legacy. If you have something to offer…like with the book, if you have something to offer do you just follow the bad movie trail and do stupid cameos and continue to belay the badness of the movie or do you think ‘I’m going to write a book not just about the making of the movie or something great about something bad’. You design what you want to do, how you’re going to take the next step. That’s the way I look at that it, and I never would have had that if I didn’t have The Room thumping around. I would have been one of the other 10 million actors out there trying to get something. It’s a really odd dynamic and position to be in. I’m grateful to have something other than talking about The Room.
GF: We’re back with Greg and we’ve started talking about the potential of The Disaster Movie…sorry, The Disaster ARTIST (and I love the title)…as a movie and he’s asked me my opinion as to how I’d take it as a director with my very limited experience.
Funk’s take on The Disaster Artist as a film is included in the audio – but for the sake of brevity we’ll keep this written portion on Greg’s interview.
GF: (On a chapter introducing Tommy in an acting class performing A Streetcar Named Desire) You get that juxtapose between what it was and what it became.
Sestero: I like that. I think that’s the pinnacle moment of meeting him in that acting class.
GF: I could visualise that straight away. Sestero: Did you get a chance to listen to the audio book? GF: I haven’t yet. I read this just before I flew away.
Sestero: I did perform that scene in it, when he does the ‘Stella!’. It was great doing the audio book because I got to play Tommy.
GF: How did you get into the mindset of playing Tommy?
Sestero: I know…being around him so much I know how he thinks or what he’s trying to express. It was really a lot of fun to be able to play both roles.
GF: You play Tommy and yourself in the audio book…anyone else? Did you play Lisa and Denny?
Sestero: I played everybody, but the two main roles were definitely the Tommy and Greg. And my mom as well.
GF: Do you mind if I ask, how is your relationship with your mother? It sounds…strained in the book.
Sestero: I think it’s come to…at one point we agreed to disagree and there’s been some resolution, which is good.
GF: Did she ever have a ‘told you so’ moment, like ‘look at what happened’?
Sestero: Yes and no. When the film started to take off she was a little stunned and she’s a good sport about it.
Photographer Dann arrives on the scene sporting a Patriots’ shirt and is introduced to Greg.
Sestero: You a football fan?
Dann: Oh yeah, I play football.
Dann: I’m a huge fan.
Sestero: Right on!
GF: Did you put the shirt on because of this interview?
Dann: Yeah, I’m a huge fan.
GF: Dann is showing us his football tattoos on his ankle. He looses us geeks when he talks about sports. During the lull when the recorder was off and we kept talking about the casting of James and Dave as yourself and Tommy, and I thought Dave would be playing Tommy…
Sestero: Dave’s the younger brother so that’s why it fits. He has a youthful, kind, innocent presence. James can carry, having done the role in Spring Breakers, a more mature take on Tommy.
GF: Without getting into a farce.
Sestero: No, I don’t think that’s it at all. I don’t think the story really is a farce. The movie is, but I don’t think the book is.
GF: I think that’s the most important distinction that is made with this story. That The Room was this bizzarre thing but there’s a real story behind it. I think one of the great revelations was that everyone behind the scenes were looking at it the same way we look at it: that it’s insane.
GF: The assumption of the audience is ‘why are they doing this? Why are they acting this way?’ Can you put that to rest, that you were going with the flow that Tommy set up?
Sestero: With the film that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to challenge him or give him advice on how to fix the film. I was there to help him get it finished.
GF: Do you think you’ll work with him again? Sestero: This was such a crazy experience I feel like it’ll be interesting to go in another direction, try different projects. But you never know.
GF: The Room 2?
Sestero: If the right thing came along, and he has something to offer as an entertainer and a performer, so you never know.
GF: He’s totally unique.
GF: Do you think you can recommend myself as a director to James.
Sestero: (Laughs) Ummm…
GF: We’ve shot through our ideas for the film here…
Sestero: I think James is supposed to direct it.
GF: I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s a remarkably cinematic story.
Sestero: I’m really glad to hear that.
GF: I think it’s time to wrap up because there’s people with better equipment waiting for an interview.
Sestero: Thanks for reading the book.
GF: Thanks for signing it and for taking the time.
Sestero: My pleasure.