We’ll be releasing our RiffTrax of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on Thursday, but it has been a favorite around the office for the past two months or so. (For an introduction to The Room see our beginner’s guide here.) We’ve watched it so many times that we started to have questions about it that couldn’t be answered from the usual sources. We had to talk it over with someone who was there.
Fortunately, actor Greg Ellery, who played “Steven” in The Room, was happy to talk to Mike and me and answer some of our questions. When he kicked off the conversation with a riff on his iconic The Room quote “I feel like I’m sitting on an atomic bomb waiting for it to go off!”, (currently #28 on the AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes list, just ahead of “You can’t handle the truth!”) we were relieved that he shared our sense of humor about the project. But how could you not?
“There was nothing at all normal about it’s development”, he said. Evidently, director Wiseau showed up on the Birns and Sawyer lot, found out they had a studio available and bought the complete Beginning Director package. That included the purchase, not rental, of a brand new film camera, as well as a new $30,000 digital camera to shoot the “making of.” Skeptical of course, Birns and Sawyer looked at Wiseau’s bank account, saw an appropriate amount of numbers in front of the decimal point and figured, What the hell?
Most of the shooting took place in an on-site studio, and when the action needed to move to the apartment roof, a green screen was set up in the parking lot. Ellery was on the set for three or four weeks. What was Tommy Wiseau like? “I tried to avoid him.” What was his directing style? “He didn’t really have any roundabout directors tricks, where he’d try to bring a performance out of an actor. He just said, do this this way.” Does Greg have any idea about Wiseasu’s notoriously vague past? His favorite theory is that he earned his fortune as a Bosnian Guerilla, but his guess is as good as yours.
A story which Greg wasn’t there for, but which remained legendary on the set throughout the shoot, occurred on the first day. Wiseau had a reputation for being “Sweaty and Smelly” on the set, and the cast watched in horror as he jumped on the actress who plays “Lisa” when they started filming their “love scene.” Lisa, who had pretty much “just gotten off the bus from Texas.” Oh, and she was 18. I believe our wincing was audible over the phone.
The major question we had for Greg was related to his character, “Steven”. Namely, “What the hell was the story with your character, Steven?” Steven first appears at Johnny’s Birthday party, which occurs 76 minutes into the 97 minute movie. He is never addressed by name, yet when he appears onscreen and starts interacting with the characters, it’s treated as if the audience is supposed to recognize him as if he’s been there all along.
Greg was able to shed some light on the issue. It turns out that Steven was a “bastardization of the character of Peter”, who has a somewhat more prominent role in the second act of the movie (he is a psychologist, gets dangled over the roof by Mark and plays football in a tuxedo.)
Oh, did that not occur to you, that Peter and Steven might actually be the same character? Maybe it was because this is Peter:
And there was no attempt made to to have the characters look alike, dress alike or even both wear glasses. Yes, in the kind of thing that previously could only happen in an Ed Wood movie, the actor who played Peter got fed up and quit the movie halfway through, and Wiseau decided to recast the part. After Ellery got the role, (following a normal casting call), Wiseau told him “Peter left. Now you are like Peter, but you are Steven.”
Welcome aboard Greg!
To the productions credit, Greg says “For an independent film, the checks were good and the checks were weekly.” We asked him if any footage he shot got left on the cutting room floor, thinking this might explain things such as the Breast Cancer diagnosis that is never mentioned again, or Denny’s run-in with a violent drug dealer that is never mentioned again. But not according to Greg. In his words, the loose ends were there just because “The scenes were not connected and had nothing to do with each other.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Ellery attended the first ever screening of the movie, a grand event at a Laemmle Theatre for which Wiseau rented limos and rolled out the red carpet. “From the very beginning,” he says, “it was apparent that it was a comedy.” People were already laughing during the first ten minutes and by the end they were “Rolling around and peeing in their pants.” He first learned that the movie had gained a cult following not too long ago, when a friend alerted him that the movie he had worked on, “You know, the one you described as the worst movie ever?” had evidently amassed a bigger audience than he had ever imagined.
Unfortunately, should The Room 2 ever see the light of day, the part of Steven/Peter will probably have to be reassigned yet again. Ellery has moved into directing, and is currently working on a feature on the East coast.
Pressed for any specific theories on the meaning of the film, or any of Wiseau’s specific choices (e.g., the “don’t worry about it” meme) Greg is at a loss. Though he did speculate that the film as a whole was autobiographical, that Wiseau was hurt by a woman once and the film was his response. “I think it was just one big ego trip.”
The last detail he shared with us was one that truly must sum up the experience of what it would have been like to work on The Room. On his first day on the set, Ellery approached Greg Sestero, who played Mark, assuming that he was the director. Noting the wild looking dude (Wiseau) standing nearby, he remarked “Real funny, you brought a crackhead in to mess with the actors.”
Personally, we would have just stuck with, “Oh hi, Mark”