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What A Story, Mark

Greg Sestero was outsider auteur Tommy Wiseau’s best friend during the making of cult classic trainwreck The Room. He played the fictionalised Tommy’s “babyface” faux-friend Mark, which, as a twisted Wiseau compliment, was a role written expressly for him. When The Room amassed enormous audiences through sheer badness, Sestero was dragged along for the ride. He’s in Perth talking about life inside The Room at Luna Leederville, July 14 and 15, and made some time last week to talk to ZOE KILBOURN about the rolling Disaster Artist tour.


The Room is a feature-length melodrama, shot like a television soap but fueled by its creator’s Shakespearean sense of purpose and weight. It’s a mess, where Tommy simultaneously over/underacts (I DID NAHT HIT HER! Oh, hai Mark) and everyone else is struggling with farcically limited character motivations. “I just mailed the performance in, I just tried to survive the dialogue,” says Sestero, who notably had to tell a fictional friend to “keep his stupid comments in his pocket”. Now, he tours with the movie and script reads with enthusiastic audience members, mimicking for adoring crowds the same listlessness that helped him get through torturously bad scripting.

Maybe it’s because he’s just got off the plane to Sydney – “Australia’s obviously a really charming city,” he says of seeing the sights – but Sestero has the same kind of distant, methodical pace in his conversation as he does in the film. He’s very warm and very self-aware, but also a little guarded. He walks a thin line between protecting hilariously self-absorbed friends while sharing the juicy tidbits that make them so compelling.

“Tommy helped me out when I was vulnerable, when I needed support,” Sestero says, “so I felt there was a really generous side to Tommy, and I always felt I owed him a favour, to try and support him when he needed it. I know he meant well, and I know he wasn’t really understood by others, so I wanted to help him out.”

Right now, he’s working with James Franco on adapting his making-of memoir, The Disaster Artist. Franco obviously has had a few delusional artist moments himself, but Sestero doesn’t elaborate. “I know he’s drawn to interesting characters and narratives, I think he’s the perfect fit,” he says simply. “It’ll be kind of like Ed Wood, Boogie Nights type stuff.”

The Disaster Artist establishes Sestero’s desperation to act and his adolescent waywardness pretty clearly – LA is a struggle, where agents fought for can be lost in a second and a big break can be a role as a “featured extra” in Patch Adams. It helps explain why, despite the insurmountable struggles with dialogue, direction, and plot, everyone involved with The Room pushed through it. “I think that everyone just kind of wanted to be part of making a movie,” he says. “It was an acting job. For actors in LA, jobs can be hard to come by, and I think everyone thought that if they just stuck to it, something would come of it.”

That’s the thing about Sestero – he is a serious actor who has garnered enormous, spontaneous fame off the back of what may be, by popular vote, the worst film ever made. “You go out and audition for hundreds of movies, even just be in several movies, and you don’t know if those movies are gonna be seen or get a response from an audience – you’re just spinning your wheel. The Room put me in front of an audience of people, a project – a lot of people read the book – it gave me a chance to jumpstart a career.”

Sestero may not be as evasive or elusive as Wiseau, but by proximity to The Room he has become a bit of a mythical figure. Some have greatness thrust upon them, it seems, and Sestero’s got a sold-out Monday session (and extra Tuesday presentation) in little old Perth, Western Australia, to prove it. And he’s grateful. “I think it’s just the appreciation for the laughter people get from it. Fans in Russia, China – it’s amazing that people have appreciated it as much as they have,” he says. “As bad as the film is, as an actor you just kind of tip your hat. ‘Whatever you guys are into, whatever makes you happy, I’m glad I made your day.’”

As a weird, off-the-deep-end learning experience, Sestero says The Room has “…given me a very different perspective on cinema. I think that a lot of the time we think we know what’s gonna sell and what people are gonna be entertained by, and with this movie I never could have foreseen the kind of interest and impact it was gonna have. I think it opened me up to new forms of entertainment, opened me up to cult movies, kinda broadened my interests in cinema.”

These talking tours are all about the audience, just as The Room has become a Rocky Horror carnival of audience participation. And it’s just as much down to the actors who played the wooden pretty-boy Mark, the childlike perv Denny, the Young and Restless manipulative mother Claudette, as Wiseau. “I think the fans are usually intrigue by how I met Tommy, how did I get involved with it. A question that I thought was really interesting was from a fan who had read the book and wondered, where would Tommy be if I hadn’t met him? I thought about that for a while, and it was a little scary to think of what would have been.”


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