Note: This interview originally ran in 2015, ahead of Tommy Wiseau’s TV series, The Neighbors.
Tommy Wiseau’s accidental cult hit The Room was a supernova of non sequiturs and overacting, jamming plots about infidelity, drug use, breast cancer, underwear, tuxedos, friendship, betrayal, and elaborate pizza orders into 99 cult-inspiring minutes. The film found a legion of loyal fans and a plethora of celebrity endorsements, earning its place in great-bad-movie history. In the 12 years since The Room’s release, Wiseau has made numerous appearances at public screenings—usually at midnight, and full of fans donning tuxedoes of their own and ready to play catch with the man who holds the passion of Tennessee Williams. Wiseau’s new project—a sitcom pilot called The Neighbors—carries the same level of spectacle and audience camaraderie as The Room. It tells the story of a building manager and his kooky tenants, one of whom wears a bikini the entire time. It’s as glorious a mess as The Room, only this time there’s a level of self-awareness that’s not so much a wink as it is a violent windstorm. (For example, most of the characters wear visible underwear with the word “WISEAU” across the band.) The Neighbors is fun, but it lacks the surprise and all-in vibe of The Room. Still, the screening I attended in New York was packed with fans eager for anything Wiseau might care to show them.
By the time The Neighbors pilot was done, audience members had coordinated a dance to the interstitial music (which sounds like something the Seinfeld bassist might come up with while on ADHD medication). So what is it about Wiseau that remains so fascinating? I caught up with him the day after the New York screenings to discuss his motivations behind The Neighbors, his view of today’s America, and what I thought was an innocent running joke about what I thought was his nonexistent assistant, John. Things ended poorly.
The A.V. Club: I enjoyed The Neighbors…
Tommy Wiseau: Which part, if I may ask?
AVC: I enjoyed how you incorporated some of the elements from The Room, like the chicken, basketball, and underwear. Did you mean to draw those parallels?
TW: Not really. I don’t see it that way. Because this is for TV, number one. How many times did you see The Room before?
AVC: A lot.
TW: It’s my style, you know? I want to present something. I want to impact everybody, you know? All of America, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know if we accomplish that, it seems to me people enjoy it. And the reason I use basketball is because I like basketball. Actually I put the hoops in my house. I wanted some little sports, you know what I’m saying?
AVC: There are a lot of similar themes, too, like infidelity and drug use.
TW: Well, you know America is changing right now, right? Marijuana? I don’t know—do you still live in Chicago?
AVC: No, I live in New York.
TW: Okay! So maybe you can promote The Neighbors. Don’t believe what you read and what you hear, especially about this interview yesterday that I had. Never mind about that. Anyway, continue, Steve. I don’t see [The Neighbors] the same as The Room to be honest with you, because the pace is different, number one. The relationship you have with friends, what’s the difference between betrayal, and you have friends who are fighting? You know what I’m saying?
AVC: The Room goes to such extremes. There’s an extreme drug scene and there’s an extreme scene with all the fights. This pilot was kind of the same way.
TW: I want to present that different relationship, like you have a black, you have a Chinese, you have a pregnant, you have this, you have that, et cetera.
AVC: There’s a gay character, too.
TW: Yeah, there’s Don. Actually he’s bisexual. And you see, that’s the society way of right now. Let’s say we talk about 10 years ago, people would not accept it very openly. Because you talk about Chinese, you know, rednecks, and all this crap. We live in America, one of the good things what we have with all the people is we have dialogue. So that’s my message a little bit, you know? So, don’t be a redneck, don’t be this, but you know what? We have that. So I’m contradicting myself right now because this eventually will get better. As a whole, you know what I’m saying?
AVC: Were you thinking about racial diversity when you were casting?
TW: Yeah, absolutely. We were very discriminatory about who can actually present a certain way, America, a person who maybe didn’t have so much acting experience, but you can feel the commitment. You can feel the sincerity. And that’s what I like with actors, you know? You may have actors who make 20 million dollars, but it doesn’t mean that they can deliver what I want them to, you know what I’m saying?
AVC: What part of America is represented by the women who are in bikinis the whole time?
TW: Okay, I will tell you that. Very simple. What about Venice Beach, Los Angeles? We have some neighbors who actually go to certain extremes. I used to live in New Orleans, actually, I know a dozen people like that. Certain people like that who are very open, they’re yelling, and they’re talking, you know?
AVC: What made you decide to play two characters?
TW: Challenge. One actor doing two characters. And I had the support from my team.
AVC: Why is now a good time for you to bring The Neighbors out?
TW: Why is the sky is blue? Two reasons. One of the reasons is the fans of The Room, they always ask me and I promised them. And number two I think it’s a funny show and I think people should see it and I think it could be the best TV show. The question is, does ABC or CBS say, “Hey, we can work with you,” okay? And you know, Steve, I don’t have to explain to you politics in entertainment. So we’re very optimistic and we do have an audience, as you know. Every show is sold out, almost 1,800 people will show up. So I’m very happy.
AVC: There’s a lot of curse words in the pilot, and I was curious as to how you would adapt it for a network.
TW: We could adjust that. Everything can be adjusted based on requirements. We’d go by whatever rules they like. Give me an example. I know this already. But, continue. I’m listening.
AVC: I was just curious, because you—
TW: Give me an example!
AVC: Of what?
TW: Anything! Which words you’re talking about.
AVC: A character says “fuck” at some point.
TW: Okay, so we have substitute for it. We don’t say that. We say “F you,” that’s it.
AVC: Sure, but you’re the kind of person who likes to have creative control.
AVC: So what would it be like to give up creative control?
TW: You have to be realistic, that’s how TV works. You have to compromise. I’m a very compromise person. I do not control freak.
AVC: But you didn’t have to compromise with The Room.
TW: Once again, The Room is different. It seems to me some people don’t understand that. See, this is the thing, what people don’t realize is that I don’t need the credit, but as you probably notice [with The Neighbors] now everybody’s saying “What? What is this?” It’s based on the TV industry standard. They have a certain standard—each scene should have something to offer, you know? You talk about Cici [a character from The Neighbors] looking for chicken, “What is chicken? What is symbol?” And I say, you know, it’s a lot of stuff. It’s not just my definition. Because what represents you as a person watching? So I think, TV, they should be happy to work with me, but I don’t know, it’s up to them.
AVC: What is it that you like about working in TV versus working in film?
TW: I did the Tim And Eric show, but I think that we have better possibilities to reach more people. That’s the only reason I did that. The TV format—I know TV format, I studied it, so it’s different when you create the film. The Room is totally different. Because you see if I go, as you probably know, I’ve said this many times, but the script, The Room, if I brought it to Paramount Pictures or Universal they would say, “What? Are you kidding me? That’s not the way we do it.” And now they come to me and say, “Hey can we distribute?” Well, it’s water under the bridge, I asked you 10 years ago! But at the same time, I have a respect for them.
AVC: There are film studios that want you to make another movie?
TW: I have, yeah, in the—partially, yeah.
AVC: And why wouldn’t you want to do it?
TW: I am doing! But that’s a different thing I won’t talk about today. But I just gave you the example that sometimes I go extra miles, and people don’t understand that you have to also understand the picture.
AVC: Are there parts of The Neighbors that are autobiographical?
TW: It’s come from the life. I mean, you ever have a neighbor like Cici? A crazy neighbor?
AVC: Not really.
TW: I did. I live in a place and have crazy neighbors. Sometimes I do research, too, I just observe people, how they react. So we have a lot of stuff where the people will relate to it. So, you mentioned bikini girl you know? Again, girls like to express themselves.
AVC: I was also curious because, as you probably know, I read The Disaster Artist and I work with [The Room star and Disaster Artist author] Greg Sestero sometimes planning promo events for the book. It talks a lot about your personal life. People used to ask you lots of personal questions. And then his book gave a lot of the answers.
TW: I don’t think he gave the answers. You may ask yourself, is that the correct answer? I think that would be the question. But, continue, I’m listening.
AVC: How do you feel about the fact that a lot of your personal stuff is out there?
TW: It’s 50 percent fact, and 50 percent is not. So if somebody wants to be famous because he wrote some stupid book, whatever. I don’t refer to Greg but generally speaking, you see. We live in America, they are pro-freedom so I am pro-freedom. I’m not bashing people because somebody bashed me. I’m better than that. I know who I am. So, some of the stuff was not factual, so, in this case James Franco will have problems because it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, you know? [Franco is set to direct and star in an adaptation of Sestero’s book .—ed.]
We have agreement with Greg that he was supposed to send me the transcript before he published, and he used some of my pictures without permission is illegal, number one, and number two, you know, even [co-author] Tom Bissell, that’s what he’s called? What he did is wrong, too. I would say that he’s a very disrespectful person because he has experience writing books. He never called me. He just said whatever Greg says, that’s the statement. So I don’t know how James Franco—I’m involved with his project, somewhat, so I don’t know what would be the spin.
AVC: Are there parts of your life that you still want to keep personal?
TW: Yeah, but I’m just saying that’s up to them. Like I had this stupid interview two days ago, so you see, again they spin it positive, but this is part of entertainment.
AVC: The more famous you get, the more people know about you.
TW: That’s part of it. To me it’s a little ridiculous, to be honest with you. Because on the one hand, yes you spin negative or positive, fine, that’s okay with me. But the other way, sometimes you became the fool because you don’t know me and I present myself the way I am. Yesterday, some people apologized because they called the radio and did some crazy stuff, but this is the thing what The Room is about, you know? I have a dozen examples, I go to school and people apologize to me and I say hey, don’t apologize, it’s okay.
AVC: What do they apologize for?
TW: They sometimes ask stupid questions, or they criticize The Room, for example. Too deep. And they don’t understand. That’s why Greg’s book is misleading. Let me give you an example. The doggy scene [from The Room], right? Are you familiar with that?
TW: So I actually knew the owner indirectly. What [Greg] put was that we just go there and say, “Hey, I’ll give you 20 dollars to do this scene.” Are you insane? Nobody will allow this kind of stuff, including myself. Even doggy was paid. We paid a hundred bucks to doggy, for your information. Because she said, “No, you cannot use my doggy unless you pay.” Plus she was Chinese and you know how they are! [Laughs.] This is from The Neighbors now, just teasing.
AVC: I know.
TW: Okay, Chinese, whatever, don’t put that. Well, you decide. But anyway, this is the thing. You have to organize. I have two cameras. So are you telling me I grabbed the camera, “Okay, everybody out, I’m coming here and give you 20 dollars, let’s just do it, come on, guys, let’s just do it. Get out everybody. I’m the God.” Are you insane? This is laughable. Who’s believing this garbage? Seriously. Do you have the Blu-ray?
TW: Okay, cool. So look at the behind the scenes of the Blu-ray. So you can see it very clearly what transpired. How production was. We feed everybody. I hear the story, this is a good one. This is going to make you laugh harder. “Tommy Wiseau did not have a wardrobe person. Oh, no, he cannot afford it! Oh my God, he built his own bathroom.” Well Brad Pitt can build his own bathroom but Tommy Wiseau cannot! Oh my God.
AVC: What do you think he has to gain by fabricating things?
TW: I don’t say he fabricates, but I would say he exaggerates. It’s two different things. I still consider him as my friend, so I’m not bashing him, but by the same token, some of his production is ridiculous. “Tommy say hundred times, or six, eight times, whatever.” I’m a director. My job is to think how I want to present it. If I want to say [lines] eight times or 10 times, a hundred, it’s my choice. I have a certain vision. If you don’t have the vision, you don’t have the story, you can’t be interviewed… And Greg doesn’t have vision, and he doesn’t understand when somebody has the vision. And the jealousy eventually will come out. That’s what is proved by The Neighbors. We have a vision.
So like I said yesterday to someone, is a very difficult job. It’s not easy. But I enjoy it. I studied acting for, what, 10 years, 15 years? So I enjoy it. But I would never write the book… Some fans of The Room encourage me to write the book, it’s called Disaster Artist by Tommy Wiseau. [Laughs.] So you know what? I may even do it, you know? But I would present it based on the facts, so actually you can verify stuff. Okay? It’s not a fantasy, so, next question. What is your question? I give you a little comedy here. [Laughs]. You just sat there.
AVC: I’m also interested in the characters you play. Like Johnny in The Room, Charlie in The Neighbors, they’re both—everybody in The Room agrees that Johnny is a really good guy. Everyone in The Neighbors agrees that Charlie is a really good guy.
TW: Well Ricky’s not, actually. [The other character I play] is a bastard.
AVC: We only saw a little of him in the pilot.
TW: You will see next time, in episode two. Because we are shooting episode two one way or the other. I’m a very stubborn guy.
AVC: What draws you to write those kinds of characters?
TW: From life. I know somebody that was a landlord.
AVC: You mentioned vision. What is your vision for The Neighbors?
TW: I think I should be on the TV, number one, number two, the theaters, and that we should maybe do Netflix thing, because The Room is on Netflix, so I think if eventually somebody give us a hand, they say, “Hey, this is pretty cool.” And we have an audience already, so I think we’re halfway there. That’s my take.
AVC: Do you face any challenges trying to sell a sitcom because of The Room?
TW: I don’t think so. I think contrary. I talked to one reporter a long time ago, that I’ll be screening The Room for the rest of my life, and I’ll be traveling for the rest of my life, all over the world. Because I like it. I like to travel. We go to Australia next year.
AVC: How have you grown since making The Room? Specifically, how have you learned to manage criticism?
TW: I don’t care, to be honest with you. I just don’t care. I’m very strong in who I am, I’m very happy where I am. And wherever—again, as you know some people go overboard with criticism, but you know what? I would say look in your mirror, and see who you are, and what did you do. What we do, The Room right now is pop culture, as far as I’m concerned, and some of the networks, ABC or CBS, if they don’t see that, I’m sorry for them. You know people don’t like to play football in London, for example, or Australia, whatever. They don’t know our culture. We have such a unique culture. We’ll actually be screening The Neighbors in Australia, New Zealand, and other countries as well.
But you can see very clearly the mainstream media, they don’t see that. They prefer bullshit like Jimmy Kimmel’s show, a redneck asshole, basically, I’m sorry to say that, okay? Because they put Crystal Bell [Kristen Bell] on the program, and she advertised The Room and she’s supposed to be a fan of The Room, this is ridiculous stuff! So for example Blu-ray. Nobody talk about Blu-ray. There’s only one Blu-ray you have in the entire world. Even Sony, now I’m working with them, so we’ll see how we’re doing. But it’s, again, some of the biggest stars were supposed to support The Room, they’re bashing The Room, at the same token, what did you do lately? Did you show your nice legs? She would say, “Oh, I’m a businesswoman.” What type of businesswoman you are? Are you telling me, when you’re born, 6 years old, you knew about acting? How to behave yourself and the quirky smile and the squeaky voice, you think you own the world? I’m sorry, you’re not! You’re not Elizabeth Taylor. You’ll never be her. Because you don’t have range. I’m sorry, sweetie. Okay, and all the actresses are the same, they’re making 20 million dollars, what did you do? I can create actors who give 20 million dollars with the best of the best. Give me media. So again, I speak out very openly so don’t bullshit with me. We have the fans, people enjoy it, so give the credit where it’s due.
AVC: But how did she bash The Room? She says that she loves it.
TW: It is bashing my personality. And I will tell her someday. And it’s very disrespectful, because she doesn’t know me, that’s number one. And Jimmy Kimmel, again, this is politics in Hollywood!
AVC: Yeah. I’m sorry, I just didn’t know what they said.
TW: I’m just telling you. This is the story, what drives me crazy. I studied film for, what, 10, 15 years. I know what I’m talking about, okay? And she said, “Oh, he was, Greg Sestero was”—it’s a clip on the YouTube, you probably find out easily—“Greg Sestero, he was the actor… No, he was not just the actor. He was also his assistant.” Well, what the heck are you talking about? How many assistants do you have? With the hair or whatever else you do? But she’s a nice lady. I like her. Actually, we should call her to do The Neighbors.
AVC: What happened to your other assistant, John?
TW: Well, I have dozen of assistants. I have four assistants. Move on, next question. Yes?
AVC: There is no John, is there?
TW: Why you say such a thing? Don’t insult me right now, because the meeting is over in one second right now, okay? Okay, you leave right now, okay? Because that’s how it will be.
AVC: I wasn’t trying to…
TW: Because don’t insult me right now. And in front of my assistant right now, okay? You insult me right now. Can you apologize right now?
AVC: Yeah, I’m sorry.
TW: Okay, so next question. Because I don’t give a shit about you guys. I’m talking right now, okay. So next question. What do we have next?
AVC: How many episodes have you written so far of The Neighbors?
TW: We have 10 episodes, that’s what I told you. I apologize to you at the same time, but don’t do that because it is very disrespectful. I give you the meeting, I give you my time, and I don’t want people to insult me anymore. Do you know me?
AVC: No, but you told me that you don’t care about criticism.
TW: Yeah, I did, but how do you know how many employees I have? I have in my business 12 Johns, for your information. You dig that? Okay? And if you insult me one more time you better leave. I think the meeting is over right now. I think that’s the best way. Because we’re not on the same page, my friend.
[At this point Wiseau stood up and gestured for the interviewer to leave.]
TW: Okay? Because it seems to me you don’t understand the entertainment business. Who are you? Tell me who you are. Who are you?
AVC: I’m nobody, Tommy.
TW: You’re a prick!