Tommy Wiseau Discusses Americans, Chickens, and Questions He Hates
Tommy Wiseau and his cult-classic film The Room are two of the greatest mysteries of the entertainment industry. Since its release in 2003, traditions have formed around midnight screenings of The Room that are similar to those that surround The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most notably, at each viewing, fans come dressed as their favorite character, bring along with them an arsenal of shoutouts, and engage in various act-outs such as throwing spoons at the screen. Wiseau and his origins are the subject of great debate, to such an extent that co-star Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell teamed up in 2013 to publish the widely acclaimed book The Disaster Artist, which documents the development of Wiseau’s enigmatic six-million dollar film and posits some theories with regards to Wiseau’s history. Fans can look forward to the film adaptation of this book by Seth Rogen's production company, Point Grey Pictures, with none other than James Franco portraying Wiseau.
More recently, Wiseau has been developing his new sitcom, The Neighbors. The series is available on Hulu, and follows the mishaps of various tenants in an apartment complex. Wiseau portrays two of the show’s characters: Charlie, the protagonist and ‘manager’ of the complex, and Ricky Rick, the show’s main antagonist. The other characters in the series range from a woman who spends much of her time screaming and running around the apartment with a live chicken, a stoner, women in bikinis, a muscular repair man, a basketball-loving youth who rarely makes good on his debts, and countless others that could only be born from the mind of Tommy Wiseau.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Wiseau about the significance of some of the elements of his series, his expectations, and the questions that he wishes people would stop asking. Wiseau promised to award me with medals for my final two questions.
So let's start with the cast of your new sitcom The Neighbors. It was a pretty diverse cast and you certainly have a lot of characters. How did you go about devising the characters and casting them?
The reason for it is because one hundred percent, like in America, we have diversity in group of people. They represent, basically, America. We have everybody here. That's the idea of behind it. I don't want to do one, two characters, I want to have everybody there. Basically, it represents the American culture as well. The different situations. How people interact and then we still get along pretty well overall.
I noticed that in both The Room and in The Neighbors you have characters who are very interested in sports or always seem to be carrying a ball around. In The Room it was a football and now in The Neighbors it’s a basketball. Why is that?
I think sports, generally speaking, I don't know what's your take on this, my opinion is that in America we are involved with in… It's part of making our culture. For example football, is a big deal. The school as well, when you graduate from high school or college, you still continue to have t-shirts in certain degree, directly or indirectly. Kids or you yourself as individual. I think in the world, I don't know if you know, I travel a lot. For example, UK and other country in the world — we just actually released The Neighbors in the UK and we got really great response — long story short, the response to your question, I presented that we are not just a Yankee in America, we actually have certain culture. I think sports is, generally speaking, is part of American culture, when you really think about it. That's why there's a basketball, there's a football, I put a basketball, but eventually I thought, you know, thinking there would be a little football as well.
Interesting. So, you're trying to reach every type of American?
Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of people in the world that don't understand. Not everybody comes to US. I think that we are very rich country, not just the money-wise but as a culture, multi-culture. We are sharing, let's say Mexican food or Chinese food, I like all actually. This is the same, what… Very unique, and very distinguished our culture that we have influence all over, from different people, a different culture from all over the world. Average person in the world, they don't understand what we about. I think America is the best culture in the world as well. Just a fact this time, as far I'm concerned. We have all the different religion, we have all kinds different interest and vice versa, I would expect are very special. I think that's what The Neighbors is about. That's why I'm one hundred percent. On the the end of the day, we may have arguments, but on the end of the day, we still say hello to each other. I think that's the uniqueness in America.
I’ve also noticed that you have a lot of scenes that escalate very quickly and dramatically.
Well, I used to live in New Orleans, Louisiana so… For example chicken-use. My neighbor used to have a chicken, my aunt, she have real, live chicken. Some of these people do talk differently. Let's say I travel to New Orleans, compare to Indiana or New York, we have different dialogue that a lot people don't understand. They think that Tommy Wiseau has accent. This is some of the stuff… I don't know. Phil? Right? That's what I call you? I still remember your name. Phil, I don't know if you travel a lot but, again this is the theme was, sometimes people, we have tendency in America criticize somebody else for say, certain creation and we don't realize that actually that's not what it is. The perfect example, let me give you example with The Neighbors as well… The Room, people say, "Oh its the same like The Room." No it's not! It's totally different thing, number one. Number two: they were shot differently. The Neighbors we shot in two cameras, a red camera, the room we shot on thirty-five in HD.
In other example, let me give you about The Room for example, that the people say, "Oh that was not the script," so we just recently put on YouTube a little trailer that actually the script exists. In one hand, we have a lot freedom in America. In other hand, we have… We found that people who are not as keen to be nice. It's not just a question to be nice, or the question to be… To actually say, "Hey, maybe I do like this project." Because there's nothing wrong to preach like someone. I am for it. I would say, "You can criticize, there's nothing wrong with that." As long as you be sincere way with your criticism rather than hatred way.
I think ironically, sometimes I just go over, that some people are, they're not sincere with their criticism. Based on the fact, they should do the critique, you know what are the critique… What are they going to criticize, you know I'm saying? It is what it is. You have to accept it, what you have but move on, next question.
So you seem to both like and dislike criticism. What kind of criticism do you specifically dislike?
First of all, generally speaking, either any criticism. I don't care what you do. In this case, I'm entertainer and how about, if you critics are directing approach, or acting. There's nothing wrong, when you being negative because it's all for challenge. Entertainment is challenge. I always say, I've been talking at a lot events at the schools, like those special events. Someone ask me question and I would say, "Be optimistic, but the same token don't be too general, like if somebody criticize you, to be special about it." Again you as individual you have a right to put your all. That's when the society can grow. Critique but the same token… Critique based on the fact, even though maybe you don't like it.
I always say The Room, as well The Neighbors, was largely different cookie cutter from Hollywood. To some people, well maybe we don't like it… It's funny sometimes people say, "Oh I don't like you but I still want to watch this." It's funny, you can have both ways, but it's okay to have both ways if that's your wish.
To answer your question, any critique could be very constructive because they offer criticism, you may improve your skills, or your writing, or whatever you do in your life. That's advice to everybody, you know?
We all go to school, you get in your grade, let say, D, you want to improve your grade. There's no difference when someone could give you a project or… Let's say you a lawyer and then you lost your case, and maybe you did something you regretted, but this time say, "Wait a minute, I will not do the same mistake, because I realize I make mistake." Entertainment-wise, as entertainer, I would say this is slightly different. You can't, for example, play comedy but I think they listed these type of people that actually have time with it.
How do you go about writing the script and the characters in your show?
I create different characters based on my vision. I always say, "If you don't have vision, you don't have nothing, basically." It's funny sometimes people borrow my stuff which I don't appreciate because I think any creative mind of person create something, he or she should be compensated for it. It seems some other stuff is not nice, then you go into this tight stuff, all the parodies, this and that. No, it's bullshit because… You cannot have both ways. If you have respect, get it, your life doesn't go that much.
To respond to your question, sometimes when I develop the characters, I'm going from, for example, the character in The Neighbors with the chicken, some of that was… In America we have a lot of controversies you probably know about chicken. I mean, when you go to grocery store and you see on the egg-carton, you get it from a cage. The chicken is from a cage or out of the cage, or on a loose cage, whatever they describe. Some of it is laughable, but it's somewhat in the same token and say, “Wow, this is something people will actually say, ‘Hey, we have respect for tiny little animal,’ because we in the control.”
I develop different characters based on real life. I'm not looking to actors, who like, somebody rough, something that some people are looking at today's hot history. If they did something that was completely off the wall. I'm looking at the person who can perform, who can actually do the job based on my vision. That's why you see the … I think everybody did a pretty good job, as far as I'm concerned.
So the character who carries a chicken was inspired by free-range chicken options for eggs?
Well that's a lot. I think it's past ten years, the raised chicken has been changed. It's not just in California, across the world. Because of the certain dilemma, how we can be respectful towards animal. I tried to eat vegan, to be honest with you, and I tried to all different styles, it doesn't work for me. At the same token. I think the world has been changed. The perfect example would be, how do you raise the chicken, which direction are you going, as a farmer. I think it's something, what I personally didn't know about. I mean just a few, I came by it by doing some research and I say "Wow, that's something that never crossed my mind."
I think it's also how we educate ourselves with the respect to all the creatures or ourselves, so that… In The Neighbors, we have all kinds of different conflicts. How you can get away with something, what you did wrong? For example, you apply for an apartment, you're entering to apartment complex, what do you need? ID, whatever, what else you have or do you just slide in the system and eventually they will find out that you're not who you are. All this complexity of human behavior, I think, it exist. I don't care where you live and which ways you live, basically you relate somewhat at certain degree.
How has your experience been writing episodes for a TV show versus your experience writing The Room?
Well, we’re happy that we have support from Hulu, and now people can see it, but if you write for… Let's say script in movies is slightly different because it's all depend on vision. Have a certain vision. I started seeing parts of creating, how to make characters. I don't know, it's just the love, very naturally to me, be honest with you. I can brag that I have hundred different characters in I would say less that one hour. I don't know, it's just maybe that's how I am. I didn't realize that, because… That's why I developed all these characters, because original The Neighbors, we only have approximately six to eight characters, and now we have close to ten, twelve but there's more different characters coming too.
You have more episodes in the works?
Yeah, yeah. We have almost twelve total, my idea is to actually to create fifty episodes.
The production for this started in 2007, right?
Well, that's the original but the fact is that I was doing The Neighbors seven years ago. To answer to your question, the work you're seeing now just continues what happened seven years ago, but I developed more characters. I then say, "We have to change slightly based on culture and everything." I changed around.
What's been the biggest obstacle in producing it so far?
First of all we use two cameras, originally we used only one camera. The obstacle was just actually to use the red cameras instead of the HDs and basic camera. Some of it is challenging to work with more people than I expected, because we have a lot different characters, but I think we're doing pretty well. We got really good production. For example, in DC, New York, we have a lot, dozens of screenings sold out. People are really enjoying it.
Are you hoping for the same reaction as there was to The Room, where it's kind of achieved a cult status?
I'll be honest, I don't have no idea what people eventually will… We're talking about The Neighbors, but I think The Neighbors should be adapted for TV. I think the show should end up on TV, and from TV go back to internet, or different platform. Because I think it's something that people will enjoy. We can actually do the job, I would say at least thirty, forty percent better.
That's all the advantage, the environment as well, the… What approach we have, what contract we can have. It's a lot dilemma sometimes, how you… Because you create one thing but the… Sometimes industry ask you to create something different.
Right. When you put it on the internet, you have more of a free-range.
Right now, we have a situation that we have to produce twelve episodes that we have a little pressure, but it's in a way not a big deal. In the same token, I like to work with TV people, because that's a slightly different industry. Even though it's much more, like you said, I agree with you, probably it's much more controlled. In the sense, what music? Creative and certain… different approach sometimes.
A couple of times in The Neighbors we see the underwear of your characters and it has your name on it in large bold print. What's the reason for that?
Well I design, and since I'm a designer, I design stuff. I used to be in the clothing business and now I'm back again in the clothing business. I design stuff, and I design underwear. I strongly recommend it. Why I put it there? Because it's so funny and the… First of all, it's funny, number one. Number two people would say, "Wow, what is this?" Me as a director, I always like to promote the audience that way maybe it's positive… I want to be positive. I think with the reaction each time they see underwear they laugh actually. When I was in the screening, because we just screen before we ended up on Hulu and the theater. We screen The Neighbors and The Room as a combo. Actually, we have a new screening next week actually in San Francisco. Next thing you'll see The Neighbors first episode, for some people who don't have a Hulu, and then we'll give The Room the same time. The answer in response to your question: I design stuff, so this here was to plug it in as a product placement, but the same time also was just do it for fun, something different.
Fantastic. Final two questions, very basic: what is one question that you wish more people would ask you?
That's good one. That's very challenging. I'll give you that one. I think if they should maybe ask question, why I use it and buy equipment? Because that's another controversy was we actually will be producing soon video and people will realize why I bought equipment twelve years ago. Lighting for example, I learned from the school, lighting and lenses you can buy and you will have forever. Actually déjà vu, actually saying the lighting we are using for The Neighbors for your info. Not all of it but some of it. This is the thing… It's not that it happened by accident, and when people think happened something by accident, well I have use for some of the people that they are… They don't understand, nothing happens by accident, you studied and you have vision, and if you have vision, you probably eventually get success.
Even though maybe it's been around… I'll be honest with you Phil, I did not plan that we'd take about almost close to twelve years, which anniversary we'll have this coming June, of The Room. I thought I was making a movie, move on to next project. In one sense, some are good, then in another sense, well it is what it is. I'm very proud of my project and I think I'll be proud the rest of my life. Final question.
What is one question you wish people would stop asking you?
Oh! That's good one. I give you credit, this is good one. This is very nice.
This is good one. [laughs] Wow. You made my day, like Clint Eastwood say, "You make my day?" That's good one. I'm sorry, I laughed, because… I'm not sorry, I'm just laughing because I think that… Wow, good job man. I give you credit for this, I hope you did write this or, I don't know if you're recording, whatever.
Well first of all I'm American, that's number one. I think this is my take but I will… Actually two ways to say, to please everybody, I don't know if they will listen or anything whatever it is you're writing, Tommy has an accent, yeah I do have an accent, that's true, but the thing is, so can other American. They are never proud of it, that's number one. Number two, I see it very disrespectful. They say, "Okay, where do you come from?" I mean, yes there's nothing wrong but they can't… This is very complex, because some people are experiencing fear. I am not here in bashing it or what, you know, I do this thing. It's not like you go to grocery store, you see somebody, "Hey, where you come from?" It's very hard to, how you put it, to be nice to everybody. It's not just your way, that's my point.
I think you be nice and say "Hey, we already know who you are." The thing about my age, you know, the even, with all these internet saying incorrect statement. I'm not sixty years old, whatever, I'm actually younger than that, but you not even see that. I think this is to me really disrespectful. If I would say to somebody with an accent, "Hey, where you come from," or… it is dilemma because I know who I am but some people who, let's say, come to this country became American citizen, whatever. I know they have difficulty to accomplish that stuff, because to me, as I put now, they all understand. I'm saying very openly about it. I give you two ways, to look around it, not just the one window, because I've been in situation that people are experiencing fear. It has nothing to do, like we'll put you down. It is a putdown, if you say, "That's the guy from New York, well where is your accent?" We have audition, I would never ask you that. You know why? Because I know really he or she is from New York. Because New York accent is very, like I'm doing a little bit now, you know, like this. Of New York, New York, “How you doing,” you know? When you travel, you can sense this. Eventually. I think it's putdown. That's my point. That's my… I know it's very complex, is it?
I give two medals, these two questions was really cool. Again, I like that but that's a challenge question, because it does… It feels good in my head, a little bit. I think that's what The Neighbors is about too. Okay? You got everything?
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.
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