Greg Sestero is an actor, writer and director, who starred in the 2003 cult classic “The Room,” and in 2013 published “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made” about his experience. The book inspired a movie of the same name in 2017, starring James and Dave Franco as Tommy Wiseau and Sestero respectively.
Sestero now travels the world to host screenings of “The Room” and participate in audience Q&As. On Friday, Sep. 13, he will visit Missoula to hold a live script read of the movie, featuring local actors and some audience members. The next night, on Sep. 14, Sestero will host a screening of he and Wiseau’s newest film, “Best F(r)iends, Vol. 1."
For the script reading, Jeff Medley will play Johnny and Sestero will read the part of Mark. Kelly Bouma will play Lisa. Ken Grinde and Jesse Brenneman are playing the ensemble parts, and audience members will be selected for some roles. (All cast info from Roxy Executive Director Mike Steinberg).
Sestero spoke with The Missoulian in advance of his visit. This interview has been condensed and edited for space.
You were in Billings for a screening of “The Room” in May. Had you been out to Montana before that?
It was my first time in Montana. It’s been on the bucket list for many, many years and it was everything I could ask for and more. We did a lot of driving when I was out there. We went all the way to Bozeman, we did Livingston. I’ve just always been a big fan of the country and the culture up there. I really enjoyed it. One of the things we couldn’t set up unfortunately was Missoula. I really love the movie "A River Runs Through It," so I’m looking forward to coming back and getting to see Missoula.
How long have you been doing the live script reading events?
Not many times actually. It’s probably the most fun thing to do, especially with a crowd, because it’s live and you don’t know what’s gonna happen and you’re getting to see the faces of people coming up on stage and seeing what I saw when I first read the script 18 years ago, or whatever it is now.
It’s just fun. The movie is the movie, and people have seen it, but this is a whole new interactive experience. People can play their roles and have their friends come see them play Johnny or Lisa. It’s interactive and it’s fresh, and for me at this point, I’ve traveled the world now and wrote a book about this experience and made a couple of new films. So it’s always fun when it’s fresh and it’s always a good time.
Why did you start the live script readings?
It was a comedy club in New York, where it first came out. We did some readings of some scenes and I was laughing, I couldn’t breathe. The audience was laughing, the people on stage were laughing and I was thinking this was a good way to bring the crowd out, to get them involved. It sort of evolved from there. We’ve only done it a few times, but each time has been really a lot of fun.
How does the live reading differ from seeing the movie? Is there similar audience interaction, yelling along with certain lines, etc.?
They’re more in awe of the original dialogue and the slight changes. So, a little bit, but that’s the thing — it’s cool, they really get caught up in the newness and that experience. Each page is a gift.
Are there any particularly interesting moments that are in the script that don’t appear in the movie?
Yeah, there’s a lot. And that’s the fun surprise, is for people to be like, ‘Huh? What? There’s not this character?’ I just don’t say much. Just prepare yourself, keep an open mind, this is going to be the O.G. version and it just works.
Is it fun for you reading for the Mark part with different actors every time?
Yeah! The couple times I’ve done it it’s been fun. There’s some points where I can put the script down and I’ve got Mark memorized. But it’s more fun to see their faces and — it’s the stage right? The material is what it is, but you’re up there seeing people’s performance and their reactions. Like I said, the few times I’ve done it, it’s been a lot of fun. And it’s a great lead-in to the next night, where we’re showing the new movie that we did, “Best F(r) iends.”
What, if anything, has changed for you since “The Disaster Artist” was released in 2017? Do you see more people at live events?
It definitely opened up a lot of avenues for people to discover this whole cult fanbase and these movies. Between “The Disaster Artist” book and “The Disaster Artist” movie and “The Room” getting more play, and now these new movies, it’s brought in a lot of new people worldwide.
As I'm here in Arizona, working on this new horror film, it’s cool to kind of get out and get a break and go meet people. Especially new fans, where this is their first time being introduced to a live show for the movies in this way. It’s cool, I’ve been to Russia now, I’ve been to Berlin, the movie screens in Beijing and Hong Kong. It’s an amazing thing to see it continue to grow after all these years.
How are you feeling about "The Disaster Artist" movie now? It has to be a unique experience, having a movie based on your life where you helped make it.
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It was sort of the pipe dream I think we all have, whether we start out as musicians or athletes, we all have that moment we’re aiming for. For a lot of us, things happen and we never quite get to that moment. But when I started the book that was the goal: that this was going to become a major feature and become a New York Times bestseller.
But you’re starting out and you’re the co-star in the worst movie ever made and you’re thinking these things. It was a lot of hard work and what it really came down to was it taught me a great lesson about artistic passion. If you do this for the right reasons, I think great things can come from that.
That’s what I did with the book. It was not a thing a lot of publishers understood. There was one publisher who would give it a chance. I tried to write a nonfiction novel that would be appealing to the masses. It was a very rewarding feeling that other people got it and other people appreciated the book and it turned into an award-winning film. That’s what I want to do, is continue to make films and write and have fun doing that. And “The Disaster Artist” taught me you could do all those things.
“The Room” was a chaotic hurricane with a lot of lessons and a lot of tragedy, a lot of humor. I realized it doesn’t have to always be that way. You can get a group of your friends together, you can write a story that you’re excited to make and you can follow the fun and still make a movie.
Did those lessons fuel your recent work with Tommy in the “Best F(r)iends" movies?
“Best F(r)iends” kind of came about because I thought, people are going to see “The Disaster Artist” and wonder what happened to these guys. I know “The Room” was funny and it’s now a cult classic, but it would be cool to give them something new and fresh, where we’re actually trying to make something good. And try to actually put Tommy in a role that he fits.
I think in “The Room” people laugh at him, because he’s supposed to be this fancy banker man, with a fiancée, who’s living the life, and people don’t get it. But in “Best F(r)iends” he plays a vampire mortician and he just stepped in to be himself. It’s a fun challenge to do now, for people to see “The Disaster Artist” and check out "Best F(r)iends” after and see Tommy in a different role and in a different light.
How was the collaborative process with Tommy?
He was enjoyable this time around, he was appreciative that I was taking him seriously and that we’re gonna go make this movie and give him a shot to be an actor. He was ready and hungry to try to do something new, and I think that really showed.
It was just fun, all these years later, to try to take another stab at making a feature and see where it went.
What’s been the strangest or most unexpected reference to “The Room” that you’ve seen?
I think going to the Golden Globes and experiencing that. Meeting Tom Hanks and finding out that he was inspired by the story. Just how far the story has reached and the fact that it’s selling out in Hong Kong.
It brings a lot of people together, it’s brought a lot of couples together. I get regular messages from people saying they watched “The Room” on their first date and it really connected them.
There’s a lot of humanity behind it and it’s such a weird story and an unorthodox movie, but there’s something charming, that people have championed it, come together and made the most of it. It’s really the ultimate underdog Hollywood success story in a lot of ways.
Can you tell me about the horror movie you’re working on now?
I’m down in the Arizona desert, in a really cool town called Bisby. The horror movie is about a cult that lives here in the desert. I’ve always been fascinated by cults and serial killers, so it’s kind of going dark into that storyline.
It’ll be out, probably fall next year is the timeline.
Did “The Disaster Artist” movie open some doors for you to have more opportunities to make the movies you want to make?
Yeah, I met a ton of great people, a lot of passionate people. I also, like I was saying, I learned how important a collaboration is and the value in working really hard at making a film. But also enjoying it and having fun doing that. That for me was a really beneficial lesson to learn.