How I came about interviewing Tommy Wiseau is an odd story. The man himself, often noted for being a tad odd, has been one of my favorite filmmakers since seeing him and clips from his dark comedy The Room on Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. I searched for The Room and eventually saw it at a friend's house. We sat, mesmerized by the film. Laughing hysterically at the joyful silliness and absurdity of some of the characters.
When news of the Blu-ray hit, I scrambled to buy a copy. On Wiseau's website, there was a special Holiday bundle of the Blu-ray along with a t-shirt and beach bag. I needed that t-shirt. In the description, it stated that Wiseau would be autographing copies of the Blu-ray, which more or less sealed the deal for me.
I waited (not long, mind you) for the package of happiness courtesy of Wiseau Films to arrive. When it did, the shirt was the wrong size, and the film wasn't autographed. Depressed, I emailed Wiseau-Films, to inform them of the mistake. The shirt was certainly high-quality, but, being a portly (and impossibly good-looking) fellow, I would need a 2X, which is what I requested.
A person named "J" emailed me back, saying they'd send me out a replacement shirt and an autographed Blu-ray insert. Perfect! I could frame the insert!
On a lark, I figured I'd throw caution to the wind and ask if Mr. Wiseau would be interested in doing an interview regarding the Blu-ray release?
I waited. My autographed insert and shirt arrived. "May all your dreams come true! Love, Tommy Wiseau" scrawled across Wiseau's intense look over the Golden Gate Bridge.
A response asking for my credentials came. I provided them. Now, typically, when you interview someone, you don't ask them. They ask if you're interested and your editor says yes or no. Not the case here. "J" asked for my phone number.
The next email asked if I was available at 1:15 pm ("Los Angeles time") for the interview. Hours passed. Day turned into night. Finally, my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Wiseau. Excited, I picked up and below is my interview with visionary writer/actor/filmmaker Tommy Wiseau. Or, as a friend put it "Rob Ottone vs. Tommy Wiseau."
I’ve been alive for 28 years. In those 28 years, no one has ever said my last name correctly. Even after I tell them the proper way my last name is pronounced (not the bastardized “Oh-Tone” many assume), people still butcher my last name. Tommy Wiseau got it right on the first try. I’m Italian, as is my last name. Wiseau picked up on that and knew exactly how to pronounce it. That kicked the interview off nicely for me.
“Have you had a chance to watch the Blu-ray?” Wiseau asked, right out of the gate as I set up my digital recorder. When I told him that I thought the film looked incredible (far better than the DVD cut I watched years ago), he responded with “Oh, thank you!”
I inquired a bit more about the development of the Blu-ray version of The Room, knowing that the conversion and development of a film to Blu-ray can be a time-consuming and costly process, especially for an indie film. “Yeah, it’s very complex, people don’t realize. In our case, with The Room, everything you’re seeing is digitized 35mm, not the HD camera. We used one of the first HD digital cameras to shoot The Room. We went through the original 35mm print, had to deal with color correction as well as the development of the disc’s menu. We have a special feature on the disc that allows viewers to watch the film in multiple languages. The Room is the only featured film in the digital format that allows you to watch a film in multiple languages, even combining two to create an all-original experience.”
Having devoured every aspect of The Room on Blu-ray, I found myself pleased with the number of extras. I asked Wiseau what the response had been to the Blu-ray cut of the film has been like thus far. “It’s been very complimentary, a lot of people have been surprised, especially some people who’ve been in the industry for quite a few years. It’s been very, very positive. Some people admire the hard work it’s taken to create this.”
The behind-the-scenes material is especially fantastic. I was intrigued to see Wiseau working with his team to construct the two-camera mounted rig that the film was shot on. For film tech junkies like me, it was interesting to see how such an innovative and drastically-different approach took shape. “The complexity of using two formatted cameras, in this case, one HD, one 35mm, you have some issue with angles. The Room DVD, for example, is different from the Blu-ray cut, because I’ve got so much footage that we shot on the two different cameras. At the time, Hollywood was against HD, the entire business was very pro-35mm, due to exhibition, distribution, etc. Today, we have newer technology which I’m very familiar with. The advances are close to 35mm, but it’s not 100% the same. That was probably the most difficult aspect, that the digital (at the time) wasn’t as close to 35mm as it is now, you know?”
When asked if Wiseau had plans to shoot his next film on 35mm or HD (the long-rumored vampire film or his take on the current economic climate), he told me that he plans to shoot entirely digital. “In this case, I would transfer from digital to 35mm, but even so, we’re losing some pixels in the process. 35mm has been the industry standard for a long time now. When working with digital formats, you have to restore every five years, create a new file. Eventually, with 35mm, the film degrades after multiple screenings. As you probably know, the industry is completely different than it was thirteen, fourteen years ago. It’s very costly, it’s not quite as easy as people think. Restoring from scratch to create a new digital format is not easy, it’s expensive. There aren’t really any short cuts. There are steps that you have to take during the conversion process that result in a good project.”
While on the topic of projects, Wiseau was quick to address a rumor that I found while doing some digging on the man. That rumor, of course, is whether he’s involved in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla film, which has undergone a few shakeups the past few days, something Wiseau alluded to days before any actual news broke. “They supposedly have some job for me, but I’m not really sure, to be honest, at this time. I talked to one of the producers, one of the co-producers. I don’t know if they want to hire me at this point. I’m an actor, you see, but at this time all I can say is ‘we’ll see what happens.’ I know that Godzilla is going to be a big feature and they’re working really hard to have some people be a part of it. I like the Godzilla comics, I’m very familiar with Godzilla, but of course, Japanese style and American styles are two totally different takes. I’m always open to projects with people, you know?”
This led to Wiseau and I chatting about The House That Drips Blood on Alex, a hilarious horror/comedy that needs to be seen by everyone who appreciates the genre. “Well, they hired me as an actor because they saw me on Tim & Eric and enjoyed my work. That was a good project, so was The Tommy Wi-Show.”
Being JustPressPlay’s resident Tim & Eric fanboy, I admitted to Wiseau that my introduction to his work was through them. Wiseau elaborated on how that collaboration came to be: “Well, you know, they’re nice people. They were fans of The Room from my understanding. It’s a shame they didn’t bring me onto the feature film they did!” We shared a laugh and he continued, “They’re nice people to work with, so I auditioned for them and that was that.”
If there’s one thing that’s obvious about The Room, its that it certainly seems like a film destined for the stage. It started out as a play, as Wiseau is a trained theatre actor. Having studied at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting (who also boast talented folks like Mark Ruffalo, Clifton Collins Jr. and Benicio Del Toro among its alumni) and various other acting labs and workshops, Wiseau prides himself on versatility as an actor as well as a writer.
When asked if there was a chance The Room was going to make it to the stage any time soon (the play’s been workshopped and had live readings with Wiseau reprising the role of Johnny), Wiseau was quick to dive into a response: “We had some success in Canada with another play for the stage, not The Room, but we did The Room live at the AFI Silver Theater. We had two shows of the musical on the road, both very successful, my approach was to work with someone who wanted to develop The Room for Broadway.” When I told him I was a New Yorker and that I’d be jazzed to see it on-stage, Wiseau laughed and said “Yeah! It’d be very different, you know?”
A bit more brazen at our back and forth (which, to this point, had been full of laughs as Wiseau is a genuinely funny and charming dude), I asked about some of the crazy stuff written about Wiseau by fans and other journos in the past. Wiseau paused and asked “What do you mean?”
I don’t often get intimidated or nervous when I interview or talk to people. I’ve interviewed WWE Superstars, movie and TV actors, musicians, etc. I never get flustered. Tommy Wiseau flustered me. I didn’t want to offend this guy. But I felt I had by asking such a silly question. I rephrased my question as “Well, plenty of folks don’t have a firm grasp on where exactly you’re from, for example. They make up wild theories.”
“Well, you know, I’m pro-freedom, people know me. Some people make up stories as they go and, you know, I grew up in New Orleans, I graduated from Laney College, I’ve studied the Stanislavski method of acting, I’ve got plenty of influences, like everyone else. I know who I am, you know? I always wanted to be an actor and a rock star, I like people, I live by the motto ‘express yourself, but please don’t hurt eachother,’ that’s my goal. I travel a lot because of The Room, so, I get to visit a lot of different countries.”
We talked about people in other countries discovering The Room. “I’m always surprised, I never knew that the film would still be going this long. That tells me that it’s better than I expected. You know, we’ll move onto Broadway and I think people get the message behind The Room. This didn’t happen by accident. I know a lot of people say that this was all an accident, that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m sorry to say, that’s b.s. I’m very fond of the fans of The Room, I love them so much. That’s why I like to travel, meet new people and just have fun.”
It was nice hearing Wiseau stand up to the nonsense that the film’s success hasn’t been a fluke. It works as a meta-criticism of modern Hollywood tropes found in every domestic drama. The Room takes a satirical stab at the social nonsense of our everyday lives. Watching the film, you can see a bit of yourself in everyone and its simple to see characteristics in friends or ex-lovers that match up with the tropes found in The Room.
I asked if Wiseau’s next project was going to have a similar satirical angle to it, and one look at the trailer for The Neighbors, his sitcom, answers the question, but he elaborated, “The Neighbors, you see, we did the pilot a few years ago. It’s made for TV, I think it’d be very successful, we just need someone to come in and get it ready to go. I always say when you have original material, I always believe in that material. It’s important that people have fun with it.”
To close, Wiseau and I discussed the Broadway adaptation of The Room again. I was curious if Wiseau had plans to take the stage every night to play Johnny or if he would take a step back and watch others adapt his material. “Great question! You’re creative, I love it! When we did the readings and run-throughs of the play, I was able to explore the character of Johnny more, to play around with it, people didn’t really expect that. Basically, yes, I’d like to have at least 12 shows where I’m not playing Johnny, because it’s a lot of singing, you know? Personally, I think that if The Room doesn’t reach Broadway this year, it will definitely happen in 2014. I strongly believe that. That’s my goal.”