There’s something simultaneously charming and alarming about Tommy Wiseau. His claim to fame is being the director-writer-producer-star of The Room, a truly bizarre film whose WTF word-of-mouth through Hollywood quickly vaulted it to cult status. It’s a film that is basically impenetrable. Lemarchand’s box. A dream-like soap opera whose mysteries and flaws reflect some fractured version of the American Dream that is perhaps, in spite of itself, an American classic.
He’s just released four episodes of his gonzo sitcom The Neighbors on Hulu and is developing more episodes and other feature projects as we speak (“24/7, several days a week”, as he would say). While The Room was a drama turned into accidental comedy, The Neighbors — which is not getting much critical love at all — is comedy played unfunny to the point of becoming serious allegory. Or something like that. It’s fucking weird.
His handler asks if I wouldn’t mind meeting at The Cheesecake Factory at The Grove in Hollywood. I find the setting ideal, maybe even too good to be true. The most American restaurant nested inside a faux-European city-mall where I would be speaking with one of the most inscrutable English accents in Hollywood. Amateur internet sleuths have recently traced Wiseau’s origins to Poland. At some point after immigrating, he ended up in Chalmette, Louisiana and then to San Francisco, where he allegedly made his small fortune in developing property. It’s estimated that he spent $6 million of his own money to produce The Room, and over a decade later, the cult film has become his international calling card. Part of Wiseau’s allure is that his biographical details are so foggy. His turns of phrase are so off-putting-but-endearing. It’s like he’s from some uncanny valley of Americana where they specialize in accidental poetry. And he’s a burgeoning underwear magnate.
When he arrives (shockingly) late, he’s wearing at least two belts, maybe three. He’s joined by Andrew Buckley — the actor who plays stoner Troy in The Neighbors and acts as the project’s producer and publicist. As we walk up The Cheescake Factory’s broken escalator, the line between the absurd and the real gets pretty fuzzy.
Why should people watch The Neighbors? Who is it for?
It’s American culture as far as I’m concerned. We have everything. We have black, we have white, we have purple, we have everybody there. On purpose we composed a cast — because I want to present it to people that we have a culture in America where people can get along et cetera. So, as you know, in The Neighbors, the stuff is exaggeration, but we get a good reaction. So why would people wanna watch The Neighbors? Because it’s fun. I think it’s fun. You learn about characters. It’s a new generation or new entertainment, you know. So it’s not the same as The Room, like some people say. Not at all. The Room is The Room. The Neighbors is The Neighbors. I don’t think mainstream media… they don’t give us enough credit, like they put in The Onion magazine. This is ridiculous. This is all original material that people really enjoy. When we screen The Neighbors — you know, I’ve had tours in London, Liverpool — people enjoy it. The entire world enjoys it. We have sometimes bad apples in America trying to bash it, discredit it. I think we have very talented actors. Maybe they’re not so famous, but I think they do a good job.
Are you conscious of the influence of any other sitcoms?
I love I Love Lucy and others, you know. I watched several Friends [episodes], but our show’s different. I think The Neighbors…we suck the audience.
You what the audience?
You suck the audience [in, presumably?]. Like Philadelphia [the character who always appears in a bikini]; why do you judge her? Maybe she’s the nicest person in the world, you know? We want to provoke the audience. We want them to enjoy themselves. What drives me crazy sometimes — [critics] do the review, they don’t ask the [right] questions, they don’t understand that it’s original material. That it takes time to develop the characters. When you see episodes 5, 6, 7, and 8 [coming out June/July] it will be a bit different when we introduce what the characters are about. And we have some surprises as well. If people say negative stuff, let it be. It’s easy to criticize, you know? Like, “Oh, I don’t like this bread.” “Oh, why don’t you like this bread? What is behind the bread?” You know what I’m saying? If you it in a sincere way, it’s OK with me. But if you say it in a hatred way, it’s wrong. But we need critics. There’s nothing wrong with saying bad things if you say it in a sincere way. Say whatever you want. It’s fine with me. If I make you laugh, and you’re laughing at me, I did my job. Next question.
Are you developing other projects at the moment?
I’m working on Foreclosure. It’s a feature movie. One of the characters is Richard. The bank takes over his house; long story short, Richard takes over the bank. [Laughs] Hopefully, we’ll release it in September if we’re lucky.
It seems like a lot of your work —The Room, The Neighbors, Foreclosure — all reference living situations.
Yeah, I like living situations. [Laughs,] You know, they gave me a voiceover job recently for a cartoon project. I forgot the title of the project. So I do all kinds of different projects. I like variety.
Have you ever gotten in a fist fight?
Yes, I did. Absolutely. A long time ago, in elementary school.
Are there any myths about yourself you want to dispel? People want to know where you got the funding for The Room, and I’ve never heard you answer concretely, so people speculate…
You work in America. You work hard. I built a building a long time ago. What’s your question?
Where did you get funding for The Room?
Like I said, you work very hard. How much money do you have?
Not $6 million.
Then maybe you’re in the wrong profession. Maybe you should work 24/7 and save money in the bank and then do whatever you want to do. Been working in America for a long time.
Do you think you’re an example of the American Dream?
You know what, you decide. People will judge me. From the beginning, I’ve said there’s nothing wrong with criticizing it. It is what it is. They don’t understand that there’s nothing wrong when someone laughs at you when you create something. As they say, ‘They’re laughing at you. They’re not laughing with you.” That’s completely nonsense. I studied acting for 20 years, and film as well. I studied with Jean Shelton and Stella Adler. I discovered what is acting through them. We create original material. It’s the same when you build a car. You build from a foundation for building. The Room had a great foundation, and The Neighbors seems like it does too, depending on if we get support from the TV networks. I know who I am. I am who I am, you know the expression? Entertainment is about enjoyment, not just this sadness, you know?
Who inspires you creatively these days?
Yeah, I think I cannot tell you. It’s a secret. I have to keep something for myself.
What was your first encounter with Playboy?
That’s a good one. Hahaha. Wow. I was a kid. No, I didn’t get it from my dad, definitely not. We were from a very — how would you say — conservative environment. I discovered your magazine through my friend. It was accident, actually. It was before the internet. It was physical. I was very excited when I saw some of those beautiful girls — and why not, you know? I remember situations but I cannot per se remember you know exactly the picture. I know the picture, but I don’t think we can describe this at this time.
What’s the first pop song you knew all the words to?
Rod Stewart. “Maggie May” was good but the other one. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” — this is it. I like that. I used to want to be a rock star or whatever. A long time ago. I used to play a little guitar. Sometimes songs just hit me the head, you know. Now I write my own material, so I can recite the entire script of The Room…"How’s your sex life?“ etc. or whatever. Next question.
What’s the first thing you bought with that first BIG check?
I bought a guitar, actually. I used to work for General Motors a long time ago. But my first, first check…I bought a guitar.
What is your biggest regret?
Well, I don’t really have regrets. But I’ll probably never do a movie with two cameras in different formats like, for example, in The Room. Long story short, Panasonic Corporation offered me publicity if we use both cameras — that was the story…everybody doesn’t understand that using two cameras was doing research. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I rest my case.
What’s the most interesting thing a fan’s ever said to you?
"Will you marry me?” Several times…three times. And I say, Number one, I ask them “How old are you?” Number two, I tell them, “You know what, let’s take a shower and see what happens.” It’s a compliment. I always enjoy myself.
What’s your favorite book?
A Streetcar Named Desire.
That’s technically a play, but I’ll accept it. Let’s say you’re on death row. What’s your last meal?
I would not eat anything. I would just pretend I’m acting. I don’t eat when I act.