Actor and writer Greg Sestero is often greeted with “Oh hi, Mark” by fans of The Room. That’s a reference to the infamous scene in which star Tommy Wiseau, who also wrote, produced and directed the 2003 cult film, melodramatically shouts “It’s bullshit, I did not hit her, I did nooot!”
Immediately after Wiseau’s hapless protagonist delivers this anguished denial in his unidentifiable accent, he spots his best friend (and his fiancé’s secret lover) Sestero and utters that hilariously nonchalant and cheerful greeting.
Sestero wrote about his long relationship with the eccentric and enigmatic Wiseau in his 2013 memoir “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room,” the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, which he co-authored with Tom Bissell. That award-winning nonfiction book is the basis for James Franco’s The Disaster Artist. In Franco’s film, opening in the Triad this week, the director and star plays Wiseau, and his brother Dave Franco plays Sestero.
But it’s another new movie that’s bringing Sestero back to Greensboro’s eclectic nerd-haven Geeksboro Coffee and Beverage Company, where he’s previously enthralled fans by joining them in impromptu readings of scenes from The Room. Having squeezed the tangy and refreshing lemonade of critical and commercial success from what could have been the biggest cinematic lemon of anyone’s career, Sestero reunites with the bizarrely unforgettable Wiseau in Best F(r)iends.
Produced and written by Sestero, who also co-stars, the quirky and very personal project has its premiere at Geeksboro on Dec. 12, with Sestero in attendance for Q&A with the audience.
I recently asked Sestero what it was like to work with Tommy Wiseau again, especially on a film that reflected Sestero’s vision rather than Wiseau’s.
“For many years, I never thought I would, nor did I really want to,” he wrote in an email, calling the experience of making The Room and its immediate fallout “overwhelming” and adding “Tommy has a very particular way of doing things that aren’t open to much collaboration.”
But then he viewed a rough cut of The Disaster Artist, and suddenly saw both Wiseau in a different light. “I realized that no one had given Tommy a chance to shine as an actor,” he wrote. “And that’s all he has ever truly wanted.” Wiseau, who’d first met Sestero in a Los Angeles acting class in 1998, made The Room because nobody else would cast him.
“Having always found Tommy to be a fascinating person,” Sestero wrote, “I’ve long thought that, in the right role, he could be engaging and carry a narrative.” So Sestero wrote an “LA noir story” about a peculiar mortician (Wiseau, of course) who enlists a homeless drifter (Sestero) in a bizarre business partnership, the details of which are best kept a surprise, but which involve latex masks of dead celebrities and stolen gold teeth.
Inspired by a 2003 road trip with Wiseau “in which Tommy thought I was plotting to kill him,” Sestero came up with a basic concept in four days and, not without trepidation, pitched it to his mercurial intended star. “Surprisingly, he said yes. I don’t know how it all came together, but after almost six months of production, we actually completed a new feature film called Best F(r)iends.”
This time around, the experience of working with Wiseau was very different. “He was very open to collaboration and worked hard on each scene, doing as many takes as needed,” he wrote. “I’m happy to say Tommy really delivers in his role and shows a whole different level of performance than he did in The Room.”
In The Disaster Artist, Sestero described himself as having become as close to Tommy Wiseau as anyone has managed. He admitted that the man remained enigmatic. I asked him if that was still the case.
“Tommy and I have now been friends for 20 years, so it’s been a fascinating ride,” he wrote, saying one of the great things about both Wiseau and The Room is that both are ultimately mysteries. “Despite knowing Tommy for as long as I have, there’s still so many questions, and a lot of those are better left unknown.” But he concluded, on an optimistic note, their two decades of knowing each other have “helped me appreciate Tommy much more and see that there is perhaps a method to his madness.”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.