The Disaster Artist

Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

I kept my distance, as I always did at times like this, and waited for the inevitable moment in which Tommy spoke and the person to whom he was speaking tried to make geographical sense of his pronunciation, which sounded like an Eastern European accent that had been hit by a Parisian bus.

The hostess asked Tommy if he had a reservation. “Oh, yes,” he said. “We have table reservation.” “And what’s the name?” she said, slightly sarcastically, but only slightly, because who knew whether Ratt was on the verge of releasing a Greatest Hits album? Her job required carefully hedging one’s fame-related bets. “Ron,” Tommy said. She checked her list. “Sorry,” she said, tapping her pencil on the page. “There’s no Ron here.” “Oh, sorry,” Tommy said. “It’s Robert.” She looked down. “There’s no Robert here, either.” Tommy laughed. “Wait, I remember now. Try John.” The hostess found the name John near the bottom of her list. “John,” she said. “Party of four?” “Yes, yes,”

Whenever Tommy is in a restaurant, he always orders a glass of hot water. I’ve never seen a waiter or waitress do anything but balk at the request. Here’s how the Palm’s waiter handled it: “I’m sorry. Did you say a glass of—?” Tommy: “Hot water. Yes. This is what I am saying.” “A lemon maybe or—?” “Look, why you give me hard time? Do I speak Chinese? This is simple request, my God.

Many, many times. Tommy claimed that he’d written the part of Mark—who in the script betrays his best friend, Johnny (Tommy’s character), by sleeping with Johnny’s future wife, Lisa—for me. I was never sure how to take this.

“I think,” I said, “that Don is already playing Mark.” The actor’s name was Dan, but Tommy always called him Don, so I had to call him that, too.

Tommy was now stopped at a green light with his brights on. I motioned for him to drive, but he was busy being incredibly determined to convince me to play Mark. “Just listen what I say; forget these honking people.

Writing a random little boy a note of encouragement was merely a small, dashed-off kindness on Hughes’s part, but at the time it meant a lot to me. It still does. In the intervening years, I’ve learned that many people can afford to be that kind, but of those who can, most don’t.

I went back downstairs and sat on his couch, where I found a note from him to me that said: “You will receive majority of candy (95%) when completion of production. I’m not Santa Claus.” “Candy” was Tommy’s unusually creepy slang for money. It was typical Tommy behavior to delay revealing an agreement’s fine print until after the handshake.

Tommy was insistent that the entire cast, even those who weren’t shooting that day, be on set, all day, every day of filming. He loved to spontaneously include actors in scenes they were not originally written into. If you were an actor on The Room, every day was a surprise.

The first scene we shot for The Room was on the remarkably fake “alley” set that Tommy had built in the studio space. Tommy’s rationale for choosing not to film in the real alley that was literally right outside Birns & Sawyer’s door? “Because we do first-class production. No Mickey Mouse stuff!”

Dan’s audition for Tommy was his first audition ever. Not one to phone anything in, he read up on Stanislavsky and Uta Hagen beforehand, on the mistaken assumption that Tommy knew something useful about either.

Dan had some questions about Chris-R. We all did. Why the name “Chris-R,” for instance? What’s with that hyphen? Tommy’s explanation: “He is gangster.”

What about this drug business, which never comes up either before or after Chris-R’s only scene in the film? “We have big problem in society with the drugs. Chris-R is gangster and Denny takes drugs. So he must be rescued.”

Raphael chimed in to say how strange it was that a guy the size of Chris-R, who’s holding a gun to someone’s head and is presumably prepared to fire it, could be jumped on and disarmed so easily. Tommy told Raphael not to worry, that when they got “more emotion” into the scene, it would all make sense.

To my—and, I’m sure, everyone else’s—astonishment, someone stood in the back row. It was the pirate from the previous week. Today he was wearing black pants, an ostentatiously studded belt, and a gleamingly pearlescent button-down shirt. He had a slightly hunchbacked posture, and when he walked his arms barely moved. He was also taking his sweet time getting to the stage. He went backstage and slowly picked around before returning with a foldout chair, which he snapped open and slammed down onstage, so that its back was facing the audience. He straddled the chair, legs spread wide, and pushed his long dark hair from his face. It suddenly seemed possible this guy was actually sort of great. No one who wasn’t great could afford to conduct himself like this.

“You just have to do your best,” I said. “No, I’m sorry, young man. May I correct you? You have to do more than that. You have to be the best.”

Going off book turned out to be a bad idea. Tommy couldn’t remember anything, not even lines made up of nothing more than “Yes” or “No.” When he couldn’t remember his lines he waved his hands around, shouted, made up new lines, or did all those things at once.

Of course this guy loves Brando and Dean, I thought. They’re captivating actors because they know exactly when to yell, when to floor it. Tommy believed you had to floor it for the duration of every scene.

He looked like an aging metrosexual commando.

Sensing she wasn’t going to win this argument, she turned to grab her camera. “I need to get a Polaroid of your outfit for continuity.” “Continuity,” Tommy said, stopping her, “is in your forehead.”

These Tommy v. Sandy discussions occasionally became a little surreal. During Tommy’s scene with Philip, Sandy suggested they get a fan to create the illusion of a windy rooftop. Tommy said that wasn’t necessary, because it wasn’t too hot out.

Sandy’s hand was plastered to his forehead, as though he were trying to keep the weirdness from penetrating his mind.

That’s when I realized why the scene meant so much to him: In that monitor, at least, Tommy was young and had a fun life and many, many friends.

“I have my own James Dean story, you know.” A long time ago, he said, when he was “just a kid” in France, he’d been in a car accident. It happened during a “joy ride” with a friend who did “tricky stuff.”

I’m pretty good in the business but not so good with the love. Girls can be very tricky, but that’s life. You know the expression: ten seconds pleasure, ten years hatred.”

Tommy said he would recite to me the security code he’d written down earlier. While he recited the numbers, I was supposed to type them in. The security code was this: 1-2-3-4. I asked Tommy why he bothered writing that down. Tommy responded that he wrote it down because he could never remember it.

For Tommy, “bigger” and “more spectacular” meant green screen. The green screen was like a portal into Tommy’s imagination and having it as an option gave him a scarily limitless range of possibilities. A few days before, Tommy had pulled Raphael aside and told him his latest big idea. “I want my car,” Tommy began, “to fly off the roof and into the sky.”

“Why,” Raphael said, “do you want to do this, exactly?” “It’s just possible side plot. Maybe Johnny is vampire.”

Even though we’d moved out of the alley set, Tommy still wanted Denny to open the scene dribbling his basketball. The Rooftop, I probably don’t need to point out, had no basketball hoop. Sandy tried to talk Tommy out of this, but Tommy saw no logical issue with Denny practicing his dribbling on a condo rooftop. “He plays basketball,” Tommy said. “Let Denny do what he want! You can play basketball without hoop. I do it all the time. It’s fun!”

Tommy balked at replacing Dan’s eighty-dollar Skechers. I later learned that Tommy’s decision to reshoot the Chris-R scene—a scene, I should note, that had no impact on the film’s plot—cost the production over $80,000.

That phone number is still working, incidentally. It now serves as the Room hotline. Feel free to call it if you’d like to hear Tommy personally invite you to a screening: (323) 654-6192.

she was a scrotum-tighteningly intimidating figure.

I missed Tommy’s return call. When I played his message, I heard this: “Why do you have so many rings on the phone? It should only ring three times before message. Change this shit, dammit. I hate this stupid beeping. No one likes the Mickey Mouse stuff.”

“I’m not interested in money.” She smiled. “You’re not allowed to say that ever again.” She reached into her desk and pulled out a thick knit hat. “It’s cold as hell in Romania. You’ll want to wear this. Also: Don’t fuck your leading lady until the shoot is over and remember to take your vitamins.” She patted me on the cheek and sent me out.

Later that day, Tommy sent the ur-Lisa a fax with a world-record number of misspellings, terminating her contract.

Tommy’s idea of directing an actress during auditions was to push her in front of a camera and emotionally terrorize her. “Your sister just became lesbian!” he’d say, and wait for the “acting” to kick in. If that didn’t work, he’d yell: “Your mother just die!”

A few hours later, at 10:00 p.m., Tommy was surveying a lineup of eighteen non-prunes in the Birns & Sawyer parking lot. There was no time to book an audition room, so they all had to perform to the camera in front of one another in the parking lot. In terms of filmmaking, this was the very definition of amateur hour, and they all knew it.

I knew this scene—in which Johnny melts down in front of Lisa—had at least one incandescent mistake in it. This mistake concerned Johnny’s biggest line in the film: “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” That’s not what the original script said, though. The line in the original script read: “You are taking me apart, Lisa!” Tommy stole—or, rather, tried and failed to steal—the “tearing me apart” line from Rebel Without a Cause, spoken by James Dean’s character, Jim Stark, who is drunk and lashing out at his parents. Naturally, Tommy loved this scene. The power and sheer balls-out emotional savagery of it. It’s a moment where viewers don’t really know whether they’re watching a movie or an entire generation coalesce. Occasionally I wonder if The Room was not conceived and written just so Tommy could have this elemental, unbridled moment of performance. Which makes it even weirder that Tommy still managed to fuck up the line in his script.

Tommy took command of the situation and sent the art department down Highland Avenue to a framing shop. A little later they returned with sample frames, all glorified with stock photos of spoons. Tommy, over Sandy’s and the art department’s objections, told them to use the framed spoons, for the simple reason that he wanted to get on with filming.

Whenever we talked now he’d say he had to go; he wanted to keep his line open in case anyone called about his “available” acting services. He’d say this, mind you, when he called me.

For my first Bay to Breakers, I walked. In sandals. It was actually a very pleasant stroll. I even made a pit stop at a race-side house party. Tommy was waiting for me at the finish line. He greeted me with: “You know I beat your ass, I’m sorry to tell you. I made top ten thousand. I will be in newspaper tomorrow. You will not.”

Tommy looked down at the floor. “Whatever. I don’t care.” He was, I think, trying not to cry. Whatever had just happened here, it was obviously way more complicated than a random doorbell ring from someone I barely knew. This was about Tommy’s fears about being discovered, about being valued, about being admired, about being lost, about being young, and about being alone.

Even though Raphael had mentioned this to him many times, Tommy looked up with total surprise. Tommy had ninja skills when it came to ignoring things he didn’t want to hear or act on. When you’re able to see only what you want to see, it’s remarkably easy to live in a problem-free world.

Tommy directed his metal fork at me. “We have Greg,” he said, as calmly as a magician might say “voilà.”

Carolyn liked to remark that every one of her scenes in The Room amounted to the same thing: “You should marry Johnny—he’s the perfect man! Also, I hate this person and that person. And now I have to go home.”

This day’s particular scene, however, had Lisa admitting to Claudette that she was—in the words of Tommy’s original script—“doing sex” with someone else. Also in the original script, this scene opens with Lisa answering the phone to talk to her mother. While writing the scene, Tommy forgot, at some point, that Lisa was on the phone, so he ends the scene with Lisa walking her mother to the door and saying good-bye. It’s the most wonderfully surreal thing I’ve ever read.

Carolyn was quiet and, I think, a little embarrassed as we drove to the hospital. She laughed when she told me what line she said right before she fainted: “If you think I’m tired today, wait until you see me tomorrow.”

At issue was the fact that Lisa begins the scene talking to her mother on the phone and ends by walking her to the door. Yet, somehow, their entire conversation gets recorded on Johnny and Lisa’s answering machine?

You don’t need to have Johnny record anything. You already have him overhearing the conversation.” It was an undeniable point. Johnny hears his future wife admit she’s having an affair. Does he now need proof he has proof?

from then on, I hung up on him if he ever put me on speaker. Then he became paranoid that I was taping him. Whenever we were on the phone, he would repeatedly ask me, “Does anybody listen this conversation?”

Tommy had to say: “How could they say this about me? I don’t believe it. I’ll show them. I’ll record everything.” Yet again Tommy’s humble, self-scripted lines proved too much for him. After an hour of blown takes, botched lines, and Tommy’s calls for “Line!” Graham asked someone to write the lines down on a large piece of paper and hold them up so Tommy could read them. If you watch this scene carefully, you can see Tommy’s eyes scan the impromptu cue card being held up before him.

Once we finally got the shot, Graham turned to me and said, “He wrote this, right?” “He did.” “Just

I didn’t point out to him that Juliette and Carolyn managed to film their conversation in less time than it took to film Tommy walking across a room—and that included the time it took Carolyn to visit and return from the hospital.

“Makeup artist!” he said, turning from the monitor. “I need you here. Look at this scene. I don’t want to have the lines on my face. See? What is this thing on my face?” Amy, the makeup artist, looked at him. I’m pretty sure she wanted to say, “That’s called reality, Tommy.”

Kyle held his ground. “Tommy, I told you about this. You knew about this months ago.” Tommy sat there, sneering and breathing. “You know what,” he said, after a moment, “that’s fine, you leave, don’t come back. We don’t need you anyway. It’s your loss—you and your stupid Warner Bros. They spit on you at Warner Bros.” The project Kyle was leaving for was, in fact, an indie film. Kyle had never said anything about going to do a film for Warner Bros. He worked for Warner Music, though, which a confused Tommy had obviously latched onto.

Kyle was obviously upset and off his game, and while blocking the scene he smacked his head hard against one of the spiral staircase’s low-jutting stairs. Blood gushed from his head, which caused Tommy to panic once again. Many people have wondered why Kyle blinks so much during this scene, and why he reaches out to touch so many props. The explanation is that he had a concussion and his depth perception was a mess. It’s impressive that he was able to perform at all. He does not, however, make a very convincing psychologist.

Tommy parked across the street and left me with these parting words as I started toward Corey’s house: “Be careful. The gigolo business doesn’t work how you think.”

Taped to the wall was a piece of paper, scrawled across which was one of Tommy’s more mysterious mantras: “I, me, you. Voice. Body. Mind. We all have that!”

“I’m not going out tonight,” I said. “It’s crazy traffic everywhere because of the Golden Globes.” Tommy shrugged. “Golden Globe? So what. I’m not invited. Who cares. Let’s go eat. Go see feature movie. Something different. Find some chicks or something! I’m bored in this apartment. I can’t be in cage all day long. Why you keep me in cage? I think I will get married soon.”

“I know the name of your character now,” Tommy said, looking at me. “You will be called Mark—like this guy Mark Damon.”

Tommy was sick with a cold and his voice was almost cartoonishly froggy. To combat that, he had drunk half a bottle of NyQuil. To combat the NyQuil, he’d drunk about seven Red Bulls. As a result Tommy wasn’t making much sense.

It was supposed to be shot with me sitting in a car, so I suggested we use my Lumina. Tommy didn’t want that: not fancy enough. Tommy also didn’t want the scene shot in his Benz. Absolutely not. “License plate issues,” Tommy said. I reminded him that the shot would be entirely of my profile; you wouldn’t even see the car’s steering wheel or tires, much less its license plate. Tommy didn’t care.

Tommy had lost Kyle Vogt, who was playing Peter. Rather than assign the rest of Peter’s lines to other, established characters in the film—Mike or Denny, say—Tommy created an entirely new character, which I think might be the most fascinating artistic decision he made while conceiving and making The Room.

Unfortunately, Tommy’s emotional honesty didn’t help him with his lines. Tommy had to say, “I’ll kill you! Get out of my house before I break every bone in your body!” But in Tommy’s exhaustion-altered state, the line became, “I’ll kill you! Get out of my body before I break every bone in your house!”

Tommy had begun to write. Sometimes he spent the whole day on his computer, behind his black velvet curtains, using two fingers to peck out his . . . play? Script? Whatever he was writing, his description of it changed day to day. Occasionally he’d call out things like “Prepare yourself physically and mentally!” or “How many pages does normal movie script have?”

“Your cousin is so sweet,” Rena, one of my scene partners, said to me. It turned out that she’d called one afternoon when I wasn’t there and wound up talking to Tommy for twenty minutes. “He’s a bit out there, though, isn’t he? He asked me a lot of really intense questions about acting.” (Tommy’s version of this: “I talk to your friend the Rena! We have great conversation. Don’t be jealous!”)

It was hard to give that advice, because I didn’t believe it myself. But then again, I realized, how was my disbelief in Tommy any different from my mother’s disbelief in me? Who was I to know what was best for Tommy?

he was cradling a Kinko’s-laminated script, seventy-four pages long, the title page of which bore the words THE ROOM in 144-point font size, with three separate copyright notices below it. “Remember,” Tommy said, “it is copyrighted.”

The happy news was that whatever Tommy had been running from, he’d managed to turn and face it down in his script. Instead of killing himself, he wrote himself out of danger.

The interesting thing about Mark and Lisa’s phone-tapped conversation is that The Room’s audience hears the original conversation they have in real time, on-screen; however, when Johnny plays their conversation back a few seconds later, the recording is different from what the audience just heard—and yes, that difference is actually in the script.

The Room’s original script tells us that Johnny, in the middle of going nuts, finds a “sexy nightgown” and, moments before killing himself, does something highly inappropriate with it. To quote the script itself: “HE REACHES IN AND PULLS OUT MORE OF LISA’S CLOTHES AND THROWS THEM ON THE FLOOR. HE LIES ON THE CLOTHES, UNZIPPING HIS ZIPPER. HE IS BREATHING HARD AND WRITHING WITH PELVIC THRUSTS. WHEN HE FINISHES HE SITS UP AND PICKS UP THE GUN.”

What parts of these stories are true? What parts of these stories are plausible?

As in all things, the simplest explanation is probably the right one. However, this is a man whose skin Occam’s Razor cannot cut. The enigma of Thomas P. Wiseau is that there never seems to be a simplest explanation.

Tommy’s tantalizing offer: He would give the women twenty dollars in exchange for a dozen roses and their permission to film in their flower shop for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t expect them to go for these terms, but to my surprise the women looked at each other and said, “Sure! Why not?”

Tommy also insisted on recording dialogue for a PG-rated version of The Room, which he hoped would be suitable for prime-time television broadcast; lines like “manipulative bitch” became “manipulative witch.” He didn’t seem to consider that a much bigger roadblock to his prime-time broadcast version of The Room might be its eleven minutes of sex scenes.

Tommy’s mantra during the editing process: “I repeat, nothing will be cut.” Nevertheless, a portion of every editing session involved Eric trying to convince Tommy that various scenes either needed to be shortened or lost entirely. “This slows down the film,” Eric would say of one scene. “No, it doesn’t,” Tommy would respond. “This scene has no relevance to anything whatsoever,” Eric would say about another scene. “Yes,” Tommy would counter, “it does.”