If you’ve seen the film The Room then you’ll recognise Greg Sestero. He’s the actor playing Mark, who has an affair with Lisa (Juliette Danielle), fiancé of the film’s banker hero, Johnny (Tommy Wiseau). Adding insult to injury is the fact Mark is Johnny’s best friend – not something you could possibly miss, as the film’s characters mention it at least four times.
Released in 2003 to withering reviews, The Room is a romantic drama with a script so clunky and acting so bad it has to be seen to be believed. Writer-director-star Wiseau, with long black hair and a face that looks like it has survived botched plastic surgery, delivers his lines in a strangulated Eastern European accent. “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” he exclaims in one famous scene that brings to mind an ageing Muppet trying to do James Dean.
“I think my reaction was like a lot of people’s: one of disbelief,” says Sestero, 35, about meeting Tommy Wiseau for the first time in an acting class in San Francisco in 1998. “He was performing a Shakespearean sonnet and I just thought: maybe this whole thing is an act. And I found out it was just Tommy being Tommy.”
When Wiseau somehow raised $6 million to make a movie, Sestero agreed to help produce it, even though the script had obvious problems. “Every character talked like Tommy, and that made a lot of the scenes really hilarious. If you tried to fix it, it would have been, you know – just another bad movie.”
Initially, Sestero declined to act in the film. The night before filming was due to commence Wiseau made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The next day, Sestero found himself in the “very, very awkward” position of acting in scenes while the original actor cast as Mark stood by. “I’ve never heard of something that ridiculous happening on a movie set, especially on the first day,” he laughs.
Production was shambolic. Wiseau had trouble remembering his lines. A vampire subplot was axed. Anyone who disagreed with the first-time filmmaker was shown the door, and the camera crew was replaced twice. “At one point one of the crew members said, ‘I wish he would fire me,’” Sestero recalls. Most dialogue had to be redubbed.
The film grossed just US$1,800 in two LA theatres, but word of its unintentional hilarity began to spread. Wiseau retrospectively began promoting the film as a black comedy, and it’s now a cult classic, with late-night screenings on the first Saturday of every month at the Cinema Nova.
Sestero has co-written a book called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, which Seth Rogen’s company has optioned with James Franco attached to direct and to play Wiseau, and brother Dave Franco playing Sestero (a casting decision that indicates that when it comes to The Room, no idea is too weird). The author will be appearing at the Nova this month to present a new behind-the-scenes documentary and answer fan questions.
One thing Sestero says he can’t fully explain is how Wiseau got the money to pursue his flawed vision. “I think he was a successful guy years ago, involved in real estate. You know, at the end of the day, your guess is as good as mine.”