Published on December 8th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
My Dinner with Tommy Wiseau
On the eve The Disaster Artist release, and a Roxy Theatre screening of The Room, I remember the time I had dinner with Tommy Wiseau.
Every once in a while, The Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon does a screening of the cinematic disasterpiece, The Room, about a man whose girlfriend and best friend are having an affair…or something like that. The Room is known as one of the worst movies of all time, and while I’ve seen way worse movies over the years, it’s definitely bizarre. If aliens came down to Earth and we explained to them what a movie was, and then told them to make one, something like The Room would come out the other end. I don’t want to describe it further — it really is something you should see for yourself (and The Roxy is doing a screening on Friday, December 15th — seeing it with an audience is a treat).
Writer/director/star of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, has had a fascinating air of mystery (and bullshit) surrounding him over the years, whether it be about his background, his accent, or where the money to finance the movie came from. In more recent years, he has sometimes retconned the notion of whether or not he was in on the joke about how bad the movie was. Actor and friend of Wiseau, Greg Sestero, wrote a book called, The Disaster Artist – My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, about their experiences meeting each other and making the movie. The story has just been made into a film called The Disaster Artist, from James Franco and Seth Rogan, finally dragging this midnight monstrosity into the daylight.
A few years ago, I had a chance to have dinner with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, a surreal proposition. The Roxy was doing a screening of The Room and Tommy and Greg were touring with the film at that time, so they were coming to Saskatoon. I had agreed to MC the event, introducing the film and doing a Q&A with Tommy, Greg, and the audience. The night before the screening, Jordan Delorme, the manager of The Roxy, called me and asked if I wanted to have dinner with him, Tommy, and Greg.
Oh my god, yes. Yes, I did.
I met them at The Rook and Raven and we sat near the back, Tommy wearing his signature collared shirt and vest, jeans, and crisscrossing Han Solo-style bullet belts. He also wore sunglasses at night inside the already dim bar. With his pale skin and long black hair, he looked like a vampire cowboy from the future.
Greg Sestero had more of a leading man look. That night, he was wearing the reversible jacket from Drive, the silver one with the scorpion on the back. He told me he bought it at a store in LA. I love this jacket in the movie, but it would have to be Halloween for me to wear it in public. Maybe Sestero could pull it off more than I’d be able to.
“Oh hai,” said Tommy when I was introduced to him. Then he laughed at his own joke, (something he continued to do throughout dinner).
Tommy ordered two dinners for himself (a sausage dish and fish and chips) as well as several plates of yam fries. Now, it seems a bit silly and gossipy to describe what someone ordered for dinner (as does a piece called, ‘My Dinner with Tommy Wiseau’) but I was genuinely surprised at how much food he was ordering. Though at this point, they had mentioned that they had done something like a dozen screenings in a matter of days. So it wasn’t shocking that they were tired and ready to grab a good meal where they could.
Sestero was a nice guy, pretty quiet — he kept asking me about Breaking Bad, which he was working his way through at the time. He was sort of stuck on that topic, but we were able to talk about story and cinematics on television, which was cool.
Tommy was a fascinating character. He was definitely weird, in an, ‘I’m wearing sunglasses in a dark pub and ordering enough food for six people’ sort of way.
But Tommy also seemed like a warm, genuine guy, and you could see the side of him that must have appealed to Sestero. Even though the book details how Tommy drove him nuts sometimes, it also paints them as good friends that bonded over acting and movies. Tommy was genuinely interested when he found out I was a critic that worked in radio and television, and he had lots of questions about media and the nuts and bolts of how I reviewed movies.
He was sort of shyly curious about what I thought of The Room. There was a certain measure of vulnerability to him, not what I expected from the myths. It was as if he cared whether I would think he was cool or not. I thought this was especially interesting, in that he must have had to develop a thick skin to deal with everyone that wanted to poke fun at him or the movie. There were a lot of online publications back then that would run tell all interviews with him, though they all ended in stalemate, because Tommy wasn’t giving them the answers they sought.
I wasn’t there as some member of a snarky pop culture site that had one chance to dig into Tommy, so I was pretty polite. I didn’t ask him any questions that were offside or asked just to get a reaction. I did ask him whether he liked Greg’s book, because I honestly wanted to know, and he told me it was about 90% true (I note this number came down to 40% on a recent Kimmel interview he and Franco did together). Without saying much, Greg would smirk at Tommy from time to time, as if he was amused by Tommy’s answers to certain questions.
As we left The Rook, he gave me a copy of The Room on blu ray, making me promise to write about it, and regaling me with the anecdote that he had shot on both film and digital at the same time (another peculiar detail of the movie’s production).
We walked down 2nd Avenue, Sestero throwing on his Drive jacket. Both of them thought it was strange, but neat, that we had a giant Gandhi head sculpture downtown. I thought it was surreal that I was discussing a giant Gandhi head with Tommy Wiseau.
The next night was the screening, where Tommy and Greg took the time to take photos with fans, myself included. Tommy also loaded me up, giving me a Tommy Wiseau clothing company bag and stuffing it with The Room swag, asking me if I’d had time to watch the blu ray yet (I hadn’t — it had only been 24 hours). He made me promise again to watch it and write about it.
During the Q&A before the screening, I noticed that some of the audience treated Tommy as if he were their jester plaything, to be abused for their amusement. To be fair, at the time, he was a strange pop culture character who was surrounded by a lot of bullshit, that people knew was bullshit, and he put himself out there, trying to capture fame. That comes with a certain amount of having to take what the public dishes out, I suppose. However, as I directed audience members to the mics, I noticed that many of them seemed as if they were four beers in and having fun at Tommy’s expense. They were mostly asking questions that everyone had been asking about Tommy at that time, like, say, ‘where did you get the money to make this film? Or, you made this as a serious movie, didn’t you? Do you see that it’s shit?’
The sort of vulnerable guy I had met the night before took on a different persona to do the Q&A. He now had an ‘I don’t give a shit what you think’ attitude, dismissing some of their questions and antics, making it funny when he matched their level of rudeness. Someone would ask a rude question, he’d wave it off with his hand and say, “Bah, next question,” and the audience loved it. I can totally understand why the dynamics of the Q&A were what they were, and it was entertaining, but it’s really too bad, because by treating Tommy as a ‘public figure,’ fodder for our whims, it meant the audience missed out on the weird, but sweet guy I had met the night before. A guy who had poured his heart into something creative, but had been in way over his head and hadn’t even realized it — until it was too late and he became famous for being a schmucky cinematic footnote.
Anyway, we’ll see how well Franco and company capture that sweet guy vs having fun at his expense — and don’t get me wrong, I’m not on a high horse — there is definitely some schadenfreude to be had with Wiseau’s story and persona during the making of The Room. I think a good movie would capture both sides of this enigma. We’ll find out right away, as The Disaster Artist just opened at the multiplex (and Dan tells us here in his review).
And if you want to hit a screening of The Room, bring some plastic spoons (these screenings are much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings, with call and response interaction with the film), The Roxy Theatre is doing one Friday, December 15th at 9:30 PM. Tickets are available at eventbrite.ca.
Special thanks to Tommy and Greg for taking the time to hang out. Now this guy hangs out with James Franco, so I guess Franco and I are sort of best friends by association. Right?
Thanks as well to Jordan Delorme and The Roxy for the opportunity. I’ve met and interviewed a lot of interesting people in my career, but this was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had.