High Marks: Greg Sestero on Best F(r)iends, The Room, and unexpected stardom

27 June 2018
Jon (Greg Sestero) and Harvey (Tommy Wiseau) prepare for a gripping journey in Best F(r)iends. Photo courtesy of Greg Sestero.

Greg Sestero, author of The Disaster Artist, becomer of Mark in “Oh hai, Mark”, first imagined the plot of his new movie Best F(r)iends while on drugs.

“I had an edible. I started writing the script, and they were the first words that I wrote on the page. I have no idea why I put the R in parentheses,” he tells me with the patience of someone who is used to divulging his most embarrassing shortcomings.

This could be the opening of his TED talk, if not for the fact that we’re actually sitting on either side of a tiny table in a private section of the Cinema Nova bar. It feels like a date. I remember that my boyfriend is waiting patiently for me in Brunetti, and I think about the hospital on Guerrero Street.

“Now that I think about it, I was inspired a little bit by the Werner Herzog documentary My Best Fiend,” he says. The 1999 Herzog film documents the German filmmaker’s difficult relationship with hot-headed actor Klaus Kinski. No doubt Sestero saw reflections of that in his own relationship with Hollywood’s greatest enigma, Tommy Wiseau.

Sestero’s script is a fictionalised account of a very real and very bizarre journey he shared with Wiseau. Sometime after the filming of 2003’s The Room, Wiseau and Sestero went on a road trip up the coast of California. During this trip, Wiseau became increasingly convinced Sestero was going to kill him—by dropping him off a cliffside. “I wasn’t,” Sestero assures me. After an inspired night of writing under the influence, crafting this unusual anecdote into a Breaking Bad-meets-Drive inspired story, he had created Best F(r)iends, his debut screenplay.

Thankfully, the notoriously touchy Wiseau wasn’t offended about his paranoia going public. He loved the script, and especially the title. “Tommy has a knack for picking titles,” Sestero says, and I can’t disagree. The Room certainly delivered on a sufficient amount of scenes occuring in rooms.

Sestero is now in Melbourne for the third time since his initial tour of The Disaster Artist, the book that documents the filming of The Room, which in turn inspired a Golden Globe winning picture of the same name. Dozens of copies of his book are being piled on trestle tables behind us, seeking new converts to the peculiar church of Wiseau and Sestero.

“Have you read it?” he asks me. I’m forced to admit I haven’t, but desperate to convince him I’m already a convert, I blurt out some excuse about seeing movies before reading books. His expression doesn’t move. I turn the conversation towards The Room—how did something so terrible become so famous?

The Room has brought so much joy to people, even if it’s looked upon as being terrible,” he says, sipping on a cup of loose-leaf green tea. “It’s been an amazing decade of this movie that won’t stop.”

The Room, once reviewed as “like being shot in the head”, still screens regularly at the Nova, encouraging viewers to yell and throw plastic spoons at the screen when particularly cringe-worthy moments happen (they happen a lot). Sestero says he only became aware of its growing cult status when he got a call from a reporter ten years ago.

“He was telling me there’s celebrity fans, and people are seeing it around the world, and it’s being studied in universities! I couldn’t believe it,” he says. The Nova staff have now brought him a biscuit, which he takes a bite of. He continues through mouthfuls of shortbread. “I think the easy reaction would be like, ‘Oh I’m embarrassed, take my name off of it,’ or move on, but I think each film has its own story, and it’s up to you if you let that define who you are, or you just embrace what that experience is.”

Embracing the experience has turned out to be a more fruitful adventure than anyone could have expected—particularly for Tommy Wiseau, who has found worldwide fame simply for being someone unlike anyone else. The press surrounding The Room often focuses on how different Sestero and Wiseau are: Greg grounded and calm, Tommy unpredictably flitting between realities. But do they actually have more in common than people realise?

“I think we are both obsessive,” Sestero says. “We are very passionate, driven people who just want to be making movies.” It’s their work ethic that clearly unites them in trying times.

“I think that a lot of people kind of give up after a few years, have kids, have a family, and I think we are both willing to go all the way and not stop until we get there.”

Wiseau and Sestero take a break while filming. Photo courtesy of Greg Sestero.

The dynamic of this odd pair is one of the major drawcards of Best F(r)iends, their first film together since 2003. But does the appeal pay off?

“From the first test screen we did, people were really cheering for it,” he says. Initial audiences have indeed been very impressed by Wiseau’s performance as an eccentric mortician who collects gold teeth (a role he was almost born to play) and the dark twists in the comedy’s narrative.

The film could have easily been a purposeful imitation of so-bad-it’s-good filmmaking, cashing in on The Room’s decade of success, but Sestero assures me it’s not. “We really tried to go out and make the best film we could in the most sincere way, and I hope that shines through.”

So, shall we not get our hopes up for any airborne utensil moments in this film, à la The Room’s spoons?

“I was just gonna say plastic gold teeth would be really great—bring some along and throw them at the screen any time they show up,” he says with a laugh.

And when the hype around Best F(r)iends is over, and the Nova staff are cleaning up masses of gold teeth from cinema seats, what’s next?

“I really wanna do a horror film. I got a few ideas brewing. I just wanna go out and make something original and different.” I’m about to leave it there, but I have to ask the inevitable question: will Tommy be in it?

“I mean, you gotta find him in there somewhere,” he says, and flicks me a knowing grin.

Best F(r)iends opens 5 July in select cinemas. You can buy tickets here.

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