Over the last couple of decades I’ve sat in the driver’s seat for more than my fair share of terrible, train crash interviews. Many – perhaps most – of these occasions degenerated due to a mistake on my behalf, in one way or another. But some I am still shaking my head about years later – as if they were my own, completely mystifying, lived-in episodes of The Twilight Zone.
One day Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic creator of The Room, featured in a starring role. When I told him that the sex scenes in his film felt like watching clumps of dead flesh pressing against each other, his response included:
“You know, we are part animals, part vampires. You see, human behaviour in certain situations – I say to myself, Tommy be nice – in certain situations we like to act in a certain way, OK? And this is why I like your statement. Except some of your assumptions are incorrect. But great observation because you see we act what we are.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and increasingly felt that he had no idea what I was talking about either. Wiseau was infuriatingly elusive and the whole thing came and went like a very strange dream.
This was not my only bizarre interview that I still can’t make heads or tails of. Take, for example, my sit-down with comedians Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which I kicked off with a harmless, ice-breaking joke about how – if push came to shove – Australians could drink English people under the table. Not my finest attempt at humour. But hey: I figured they’re comics; give them room to do some shtick.
That pair of sanctimonious goody-goodys then proceeded to lecture me, deadly serious, about how alcohol consumption is no laughing matter – and should not be “hoisted upon the shoulders of society and applauded.” Sure, sure. But I should mention that this interview took place when they were in Australia, on the PR circuit to promote their rambunctious comedy The World’s End: a movie about an apocalyptic pub crawl.
But perhaps the strangest interview I have ever experienced was when I spoke for 45 minutes in 2010 with Wiseau, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in The Room, a shambolic love triangle drama and cult movie famously described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”.
This week a film about Wiseau and his, er, masterwork, The Disaster Artist, opens in Australian cinemas. It was directed by James Franco, who also stars as the man himself.
All the evidence indicates the actor has delivered an impressive feat of mimicry, nailing the speech and mannerisms of a person who, it seems, regularly infuriated his colleagues. This is highlighted in one scene when Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) spits the dummy, trying to get a straight answer from the elusive Wiseau on matters such as his age, where he got his money from, and where he was born (the filmmaker says he was born in New Orleans, but speaks with a Eastern European accent).
That scene brought back memories of my own experiences with the man. I wasted five minutes of my interview attempting to ascertain where his accent originated from. Much of his response to that question – and in fact to almost every question – was borderline incomprehensible. Looking back on the interview, I am surprised the eccentric filmmaker did not wrap our conversation up earlier, or simply hang up on me.
With hindsight I may have been a little impolite in the phrasing of my questions. I believed, however, that I had a good reason for being so. I had pretty much convinced myself that Tommy Wiseau, if indeed that was his real name, was a complete fraud: an American performer putting on an accent and pretending to be this weird, foreign-sounding eccentric, successfully manipulating a ridiculous persona in order to help sell tickets to his stupid movie.
And boy is it stupid. Anybody who has watched The Room (or The Disaster Artist) will know that the entire project beggars belief; it is almost impossible to accept that somebody actually thought they were making a serious piece of art.
Back then I was spending a lot of time hanging around the Melbourne stand-up comedy scene. One evening I was discussing with my friend, who was running a comedy room, a comic I liked, called European Man, whose shtick was daggy jokes performed with a big smile and a thick accent. My friend broke the news to me that European man was as European as a coolabah tree: just some Aussie bloke putting on a voice.
I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that Tommy Wiseau was pulling a similar ruse – and that everybody in the world had fallen for it. I didn’t directly accuse him of this during our interview, but that theory underscored everything I said. Filmmaker Rick Harper, who made a documentary about The Room, titled Room Full of Spoons, subsequently assured me that I was wrong: Wiseau was born in Poland, he said, and The Room was very much an earnest attempt to make a good drama.
For your morbid amusement, here is a selection of questions and responses from my interview with Wiseau (you can read the full – or full-ish, given much of it was gibberish – transcription here). If Wiseau is reading this, I belatedly apologise for my forthright demeanour (though he did appear to be enjoying himself at all times – and actually made a point of extending, rather than cutting short, our interview, as if he found the argy-bargy in some way rewarding). Let me make one absolutely clear, though: it will be a cold day in hell before I apologise to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Me: I found, Tommy, that watching the performances in The Room is like watching a train crash at an excruciatingly slow pace. Did you direct the actors to act bad, or are they just bad actors?
Wiseau: Well let me tell you, I will also add to your statement if I may, it’s a roller coaster ride…you can name it that, I don’t know. The way you said it, I think there is nothing wrong with that. If you ask me, there is nothing wrong whatsoever. I’m just like whatever, you know? I have nothing to say except I will say it is a roller coaster ride. I am glad you say that because it is a good comment as far as I am concerned.
Me: The sex scenes in The Room are very strange….Watching the characters’ bodies connect is like watching clumps of dead flesh press against each other. When you were looking at the footage in the editing room, did you realise this? Or did you think it looked sexy?
Wiseau: In the editing room we decided to reshoot some of it, believe it or not, because it was too polished. I said wait a minute we don’t want it too polished! Let me say to your statement, you know, we are part animals, part vampires. You see, human behaviour in certain situations – I say to myself, Tommy be nice – in certain situations we like to act in a certain way, OK? And this is why I like your statement. Except some of your assumptions are incorrect. But great observation because you see we act what we are.
Me: When you are on the screen you look and sound most of the time like you’ve been drinking heavily. What were you drinking when you were filming The Room?
Wiseau: In documentary made behind the scenes you can see very clearly that I was drinking Red Bull, for your information…On the set we didn’t actually have any whiskey, any vodka, whatever people say. It’s nonsense. You see, we actors in Hollywood, of course we drink! But not on the set, you know?
Me: My theory is that you guys deliberately made a really bad movie with the intention of marketing it as one of the worst movies of all time. That’s what you did, isn’t it?
Wiseau: That is a wrong statement. I will 100 percent disagree with you because again The Room is based on my work. 12 years of work. Very intensive research. I studied psychology. My background is partially psychology, partially film production…Let me also stress something else here, since we talk about The Room. I submitted The Room to distribution to big studios. A big studio starting with “P” – I will not give you the name but you can discover what the studio is, there is only one in Hollywood starting with P – and they say “thank you very much Mr Wiseau, maybe next time.” I say thank you very much, no problem. I submitted the film to the Academy Awards. These are the facts…I disagree with your statement, but I appreciate your theory.