A Conversation with Greg Sestero
Interview by Austin Frape
Have you ever heard the catchphrase “Oh hi Mark”? That belongs to the 15-year-old classic, The Room, a film that has since achieved cult status and was infamously called “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”. Recently, I got to talk with Mark himself, Greg Sestero, who wrote a biography with author Tom Bissell that chronicled the behind the scenes of The Room in 2014, The Disaster Artist, which was recently adapted by James Franco into an Academy award nominated movie of the same name. Greg Sestero is touring Australia with his new movie that he wrote and starred in, Best F(r)iends, the first collaboration between him and the writer, director, producer and star of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, in 15 years. We talked about the process of making Best F(r)iends and we also discussed The Room, The Disaster Artist, midnight showings, and the man of mystery himself, Tommy Wiseau.
To start with, what do you think is the appeal of movies like The Room or The Rocky Horror Picture Show and having them be more of an event than a standard watching experience?
It’s just something that sparks your imagination, in a different way. You go to certain movies where everything will be right and you will be invested in the story, but a movie like The Room affects you instantly and you are left with asking questions. You’re almost like a part of the movie as its not doing what it’s supposed to do and you become one with the film and you say what you want. Like when you’re watching Indiana Jones, you’re rooting for the hero, but here, you’re just in the mess and it makes it a lot more communal and you participate with it. It just strikes a much different chord in a sense of enjoyment. That’s the beauty of it, people can call it the worst movie ever, but each movie has a different function, it sort brings this wildness in a movie that doesn’t work and you just participate with.
Just to bring context for those who do not know, what got you involved in being a part of The Room back in 2003 and how did you meet the writer/ director/ producer/ actor, Tommy Wiseau?
I took an acting class about 20 years ago in San Francisco and in one class, I watched this mysterious man who looked like a vampire walk on stage and perform this INSANE scene and everything about it was off, but I found it really mesmerising. So I approached Tommy to do a scene together and we became friends and I told him I had this kind of pipe dream to move to LA and become an actor and my mom was very against it and I didn’t have the money to do it, so he told me he had a place in LA and he’d rent it to me for $200 a month and we’ll see what happens. I ended up going to LA, getting an agent, landing a couple roles and everything kind of started there. So yeah, Tommy and I shared the same dream and we struggled in different ways. One night I took Tommy to see The Talented Mr. Ripley in the night of the Golden Globes in 2000 and something about that movie sparked his imagination and he said “Hollywood won’t accept me, I will make my own movie and I’ll SHOCK the world.” 18 years later at the Golden Globes, James Franco won the best actor award for portraying that exact journey.
What was your reaction to The Room eventually being found as a cult classic midnight movie and did you expect it to become what it is today with its place in pop culture and the eventual release of The Disaster Artist?
Yeah, it’s crazy, today [28th of June, 2018] is the 15 year anniversary. It premiered, and it was a movie I didn’t think anybody was going to see. There’s a lot of good films that are made with big name stars that never get seen. So I thought The Room was going to have its premiere and that was going to be it and we would just move on, it was what everybody involved in the movie thought. But then people started seeing it and talking about it and it sort of became this guilty pleasure that circulated. It wasn’t until 2010 when it started screening around the world and more and more people talked about it.
What led to you and Tom Bissell collaborating on writing The Disaster Artist and re-telling the bizarre story of making The Room and your friendship with Tommy Wiseau?
As The Room became bigger and bigger, I thought the story of making the movie and showing people who Tommy was, and all the troubles making it, could be a great movie within itself. What’s called the worst movie ever could spawn a great movie and that’s when I wanted to write The Disaster Artist and Tom was very helpful and very passionate in telling the story. My goal was for it to become its own movie like Ed Wood, The Social Network or Foxcatcher, and three weeks later, James Franco called, who had never seen The Room before, he was reading the book and was interested in making it.
How did you feel about James Franco and Seth Rogen being interested in adapting your book into a movie and having all these A-listers playing out your life?
Yeah, I think they’ve done so many great things like Superbad or Pineapple Express, they’ve had a voice in cinema for quite a while and they’ve done it on their own, which I think is really impressive. I thought adapting The Disaster Artist was an interesting step for them because it’s a story that’s a lot more serious in a way. It’s funny, but its more serious than their usual movies. What’s cool is that Seth Rogen had seen The Room years ago before anybody really knew about it. Like I said before, I thought it was interesting that James became interested through the book and he was able to relate to the story without seeing The Room. So I was intrigued by the idea and I think they were at the right point to make it and I think they did a really great job.
What was your favourite part of the Disaster Artist movie that captured your real life experiences and what do you wish was brought into the movie that was left out?
I thought they really captured the spirit of the book and I really liked the scene in particular where Greg and Tommy go to the James Dean crash site, it was a really pinnacle moment in the friendship both in real life and it captured it really well. It’s not an easy story to adapt because while there’s a lot of humour, there’s a lot of darkness and it’s tough to balance both. I thought they did a really great job of telling the story and the friendship in a way that’s really relatable while still quirky and I think you understand these characters and by the time they make The Room, you’re a lot more invested and you understand them.
So fast forwarding to now with your new movie, what was the inspiration for writing Best F(r)iends and what made you want to work with Tommy Wiseau again?
The Disaster Artist gave me a great taste of telling a story and making a project and with Best F(r)iends, I had realised that all these years, since I had met Tommy, he wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and he never really had the opportunity to show himself in that light. So he casted himself as this banker/computer salesman guy in The Room that people laughed at and no one took seriously. I love LA crime stories and noir films like Nightcrawler and A Simple Plan, so I thought that what if you took a movie like that and put Tommy in the lead role that fits him and you can actually watch it where if you didn’t know The Room, he could be seen as an interesting actor. We wanted to make a serious film and tell a story that would be engaging, so I started writing this idea, not knowing what was going to happen and in 4 days, I wrote the whole script.
What was Tommy’s reaction to the idea and the final movie?
When I finished the script and pitched the idea to Tommy, he really liked it and was ready to work on it. It was a lot more of a positive experience working on Best F(r)iends than The Room, he was very collaborative and wanted to try a bunch of different things. But yeah, he liked the film, he said I did a good job and I think he’s proud of his performance and people have even come up to him and told him that he was actually great in it.
Lastly, what do you feel Best F(r)iends brings new to audiences in comparison to The Room? Is it a similar movie in vein or did you want it to have its own identity?
It’s a very different movie, I think the key is to surprise the audience, especially those who have seen The Room a bunch of times. If they came in expecting The Room 2, they would be very surprised and would find the feeling of the movie very different and I think it’s important to keep your audience guessing. But yeah, it was important for Best F(r)iends to do its own thing because you can’t recreate The Room, that was sort of an accidental success and I wanted that aspect to be out of my vision for Best F(r)iends and even The Disaster Artist, I wanted to make something totally authentic and different. The movie is its own experience and I think if you like The Room, it definitely gives you the quirkiness, but it kind of does things differently, which is where I think you need to go.