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RiffTrax Interview with The Room’s Greg Ellery

June 12th, 2009 by Conor Lastowka · 20 Comments

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.

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.

“Steven” at the party with the beautiful “Lisa”

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:

“Peter”, who is the same, but different, as “Steven”

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”

Tags: Interviews · RiffTrax · The Room · movies

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Skenderberg on Jun 12, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Aren’t we all just a little like Peter, but actually Stephen, in our hearts?

  • 2 Eric Fell on Jun 12, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Oh, man… that explains it. I saw the movie last night, and when this guy showed up, I just kept asking “…and you are?”

  • 3 Matt on Jun 13, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Are we sure that this Wiseau guy wasn’t created in a lab by David Lynch from Christopher Walken’s toenail clippings or something?

  • 4 CrowTeeRobot on Jun 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    This whole thing makes my head hurt.

  • 5 Earl Fando on Jun 15, 2009 at 5:42 am

    The difficult question I would have asked Greg would be “What’s it like having your career jump started by such a hilariously wretched film?” My answer, were I Greg/Peter/Stephen, would be, “Fabulous, because I can’t actually be blamed for any of this, any more than Bela Lugosi can for his part in Wood’s films.”

    Of course, Lugosi was smashed on formaldihyde during those shoots, and dead during most of the last one, so maybe his excuse is a wee bit better.

  • 6 filkertom on Jun 16, 2009 at 5:32 am

    I am so looking forward to this. Last month, I watched this… thing with my lady friend (even more of a MSTie than I, and that’s saying a LOT), and we could do nothing but gape at the screen. I called her yesterday to tell her that Rifftrax was doing The Room, and she damn near wept with joy.

    I still want to know how they could possibly have spent $6 million on this, ’cause ain’t none on the screen. The weekly shipments of taquitos and Blue Nun alone must’ve bought SOMEBODY a car.

  • 7 Corn Job on Jun 16, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I wish you had asked him once and for all whether the film was ever treated like a comedy while it was being made. I think it’s hilarious that Wiseau now claims that the film was intended to be a comedy. It is so obvious to me that it was made as a serious film. I guess he’s now trying to take advantage of the movies ever growing popularity as a hilariously bad movie, and thinks he can spin it around so it looks like he is a genius who knew what he was doing all along rather than the reality of him being a completely talentless actor and film maker who had no idea what he was doing, and blew millions of dollars ($6 million all together) on the biggest turd ever made.

  • 8 Erik at RifTrax on Jun 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    It’s been said elsewhere that it was not produced as a comedy originally. Even the original press releases called it a drama with the “passion of Tennessee Williams”… so it is obvious that he is retconning its status as a “comedy” simply to try and explain why everyone keeps laughing at his “movie.”

  • 9 Kevin Schreck on Jun 19, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    This guy was the best character in the movie — other than Tommy, of course.

  • 10 Andrew Polino on Jun 28, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Finally! An interview with a comparitively innocent bystander! This is the stuff I really find interesting. Too many of these websites are interviewing the wrong damn guy! Interviewing Wiseau gets a couple of cheap laughs, but tells us what we already know: he’s a weird, vaguely European dope with an ego and a loose grasp of reality. I’d be a lot more interested in hearing from the actors and the crew that actually had to work with the guy. Get the actress that played Lisa to weigh in on the experience (assuming she’s finished her trauma therapy)! In a perfect world, someone would have been on the set from the beginning and shot a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie. It could have been more fascinating, funny, and painful to watch than the movie itself. What a lost opportunity!

  • 11 Jennifer Lill on Jul 17, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I can guess why were not able to interview the actor who played Mark. I hear he is really busy.

  • 12 Win Harrison on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    This is actually a solid piece of journalism. Answers a lot of questions about a movie for which real information is almost nil. Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes should have a link to this page…

    Good job, guys!

  • 13 Win Harrison on Aug 27, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Watching this film again, I was amazed to see that there are literally TWO confrontation scenes with Mark 15 minutes before the end. They do the same thing, but look very different. It’s almost like the director looped two versions of the same scenes to use up time.

    Bad movie.

  • 14 Michael on Dec 28, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    I had the same reaction when “Steven” made his appearance 2/3 of the way into the movie: “WTF??”

    But really, inconsistencies like this only point to the truth of THE ROOM: it is a science fiction film that takes place in an alternative reality with completely different forms of human interaction and even laws of physics (see Mark’s descent down the stairs after the infamous roof-top scene with Johnny).


  • 15 Kirsten Stade on Mar 8, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Lisa weighs in:

  • 16 Tom on Jun 28, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Oh hai, interview!

  • 17 The Room will have a view – in Quincy! – Hart of the Matter on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    [...] Read more about Greg’s experiences here on an awesome RiffTrax interview. [...]

  • 18 gravitywheel on Nov 28, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    “Yeah, I was hoping HE would weigh in on the matter. THAT guy.”

  • 19 4 Charaktere, die einfach abgeschoben wurden | dürftig und kleinkariert on May 2, 2011 at 7:44 am

    [...] Ellery in einem Interview erklärt, wurde ihm die Rolle vom Regisseur Wiseau so beschrieben: “Peter left.  Now you are like Peter, [...]

  • 20 蟻力神 on Jun 30, 2011 at 1:58 am