Movie Memories: Greg Sestero talks about his Best F(r)iend Tommy and more
On June 27th 2003, the career of aspiring actor Greg Sestero was changed forever with the release of The Room. The bizarre, terrible but captivating film, the So Bad It’s Good cult classic to rule them all, made improbable stars out of Greg and his co-star, director, friend and former roommate, Tommy Wiseau, with the pair frequenting screenings in LA and around the world. Years later, Greg wrote the tell-all book The Disaster Artist with Tom Bissell, and found himself on the N.Y. Times Best Sellers list. His book was a funny, fascinating and poignant look at a crazy story and the friendship behind it, proving to be strong enough to be adapted into a film that raised Greg and Tommy’s profiles higher than ever. More recently Greg turned to writing a screenplay, resulting in Best F(r)iends, described as “a two-volume cinematic ‘saga’ that promises to interweave mystery, intrigue, and more than a few dark laughs”. Before screening he and Tommy’s latest film at the Light House Cinema this past weekend, Greg spoke with Film In Dublin about some of his Movie Memories, his experiences as a writer and of course, about Tommy Wiseau.
Film In Dublin: You wrote the screenplay for Best F(r)iends and one of the first things that you mention in your book is writing a script when you were 12 for “Home Alone 2: Lost in Disney World”. Do you remember much about that script?
Greg Sestero: Yeah, I still have it. It’s just about Kevin McAllister getting on the wrong plane and meeting a buddy of his at Disney World, where the Bandits have found him, and my character helps him defend himself from the bad guys. It was not the greatest! I was like 12, you know?
It was more important the way it made me feel; when I was writing the script I had so much purpose, that’s what I got from the experience.
FID: Do you remember any big set pieces from it?
Greg: Yeah I had taken a trip to Disney World the previous summer and really fell in love with the place, so I just wrote these scenes that would happen in the park. It was so rewarding, I looked forward every night to telling that story, just for the love of telling stories. I think it taught me a lot.
FID: And you received a response from John Hughes.
GS: Yeah I remember I was very disheartened because it didn’t happen and I really believed it was going to happen. That was tough to get over and then I kind of worked around, a few years later I ended up living in Europe modelling and kind of started to work back towards acting.
FID: Because that was kind of your entry point into wanting to be an actor. When you were young, who were some of the names that inspired you in acting?
GS: Well I loved movies like Back to the Future but I’d say the first, I’d say Brad Pitt. That’s somebody when I was late teens, I just loved the films that he was making, he was somebody that I really wanted to be like. That was the first actor that I really gravitated towards. Or James Dean…or this guy (points to Marlon Brando poster).
FID: Your mother wasn’t on board with you becoming an actor, did you watch many movies with her growing up?
GS: Yeah she was one of the first ones that got me really into movies. She showed me Gone with the Wind when I was ten years old, she showed me a tonne of films. She just didn’t find acting to be a serious profession. She thought I needed to get into reality, get a real job, become a doctor, lawyer. I don’t know, I just believed that if you want something, you should go for it.
FID: Then during the course of your friendship with Tommy Wiseau, when you first moved out to LA and were living together, did you guys go to the movies a lot? Would Tommy behave himself in the movie theatre?
GS: We saw a few, but we more so talked about movies. We talked about acting and we talked about the movies we wanted to make. Movie theatres…we had a few memorable experiences but for the most part it was about the dream of going for it.
He used to think a lot of the movies that I liked were boring, like Fight Club. We watched a lot of Brando movies on VHS and James Dean movies. It was like studying actors, and who we wanted to be.
FID: James Dean you mentioned is a big influence on you and Tommy. Did Tommy ever talk to you about other actors that were an influence on him?
GS: I think he talked about Orson Welles, Brando of course, any kind of male actor that exuded that power. The leading man, Tommy wanted to feel like he had that power as well. He believed he did.
FID: Actors who directed or wrote as well.
GS: And then it kind of emerged, like “okay people don’t want to hire me as an actor, okay I’ll show you what I can do”. As opposed to me, I was always somebody who went more the traditional route. I got an agent, I got booked in a horror movie, I went on a lot of auditions. Then I came to realise that in a lot of ways, especially the way the industry is now, you’ve really got to do things yourself, because there’s nobody that’s going to cast you in the perfect role. You know yourself, you know what you can do so it’s really important to get out there and try your own stuff.
FID: At that stage as an actor, with the films that were coming out in the 90s, what were the kinds of roles that you wanted to get?
GS: I loved David Fincher films. Seven had come out, Fight Club, The Game. I wanted to do edgier work, at the time I was auditioning for a lot of Dawson’s Creek, that kind of tv show, I was ready to do darker stuff. It was tough for me because they wanted to see me in those parts that I did’t really fit. There was the period of time where you were going on auditions that you knew you weren’t going to get, because that just wasn’t you.
FID: Would it be right to say that Best F(r)iends is kind of your chance to do that? It is darker than some of your other films.
GS: Yeah it’s definitely a stab at doing the stuff you wanna do.
FID: With The Room, whatever about the actual quality of it, it’s fascinating to me how the likes of Patricia Highsmith and Tennesse Williams are filtered through Tommy and then come out into that film. When you were writing Best F(r)iends, were there particular writers or filmmakers that you were filtering yourself?
GS: Absolutely, there were a few. There was Billy Wilder, who wrote some amazing movies, in particular Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity. Drive, a great LA noir film. Nightcrawler, another good one. Offbeat stories too, like Bernie, the Jack Black film. Weird stories that take you into a world you don’t know much about. Bernie is about this mortician who does this job we don’t know much about, Nighcrawler – we watch the news and just think it appears but don’t know how dark it can get, people trying to get stories and Drive as well, with underground jobs living in LA. Those were films that I gravitated towards.
FID: Best F(r)iends is about this relationship between these two characters. Tommy is a person you’ve known for a really long time. When you were writing those two characters, was your relationship with him over the last twenty years or so coming into your characters a lot or were you trying to write those characters independently of that relationship?
GS: Definitely independently. Because it’s inspired by true events it worked its way in but in a different dimension. The true stories kind of blended in but it wasn’t intentional to recreate “Tommy and Greg”. It was very important for me for it to be its own thing and it was the same thing with the book. I didn’t want “The Room” in the title of the book. Each thing I’ve done since The Room I’ve wanted to have its own identity.
FID: When you started writing The Disaster Artist with Tom, how did you find the process of recalling all these stories from your relationship and from making The Room?
GS: I remembered the story extremely well. It was stories that I had told over the years and it was just such an emotional experience, such a crazy experience, stuff that you could never forget. It was almost edited in my mind in a way, into all these experiences that I could see as a film. I did spend a lot of time sitting there writing out things that happened so that they could work as chapters, then Tom and I dissected those and turned in into the book. It was also very beneficial to have all the behind the scenes footage, which helped get you back into certain moments that maybe you didn’t remember as well.
FID: Was the book your first step into writing something for yourself?
GS: Yeah, it was the first creative project I did where I had control over it. I was choosing who I would work with and what it would be and so I really tried to put everything I had into it.
FID: Following on from that, was Best F(r)iends your first screenplay?
GS: Yeah, it was taking the same approach. Once you complete something like The Disaster Artist and you realise oh this can work, you see things differently.
FID: How different was that process of writing a screenplay as opposed to a book?
GS: I prefer writing a book, I think a screenplay can get a little technical and the flow kind of breaks up. But I really enjoyed the screenplay idea because I knew there was a chance we could shoot these scenes and I knew where those scenes could take place, I had a town in mind. So that was exciting, I think the combination of writing the screenplay and shooting the film you’re getting the best of both worlds, so that’s what I’d like to continue to do, that’s what was most rewarding.
FID: As someone who had previous experience writing a screenplay, did Tommy have any advice?
GS: Yeah I talked to him a little bit, we read scenes together over and over. He’d say things here and there and say let me try this and so we mainly rehearsed his scenes, to get him ready for his character.
FID: On set, how did it compare to other work that you had done?
GS: Totally different. It’s a lot more interesting when you’re fully engaged with the project as opposed to just coming in as an actor. When you’re working from the ground up and you’re producing it and in all these elements, it’s very different. You focus less on just your performance or just your appearance, you’re in the world and I really enjoyed that.
FID: It is different to The Room or things that people that know the two of you will have watched. How would you recommend Best F(r)iends to fans of The Room?
GS: I would say that Best F(r)iends is made with the same sincerity that The Room was. I think if you enjoy The Room it will be just as enjoyable of an experience, but in a different way.