A Hollywood tale stranger than fiction

Tommy Wiseau features prominently in The Disaster Artist. But the film leaves many questions unanswered.


The Disaster Artist: the film of the film
(Image credit: © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

"There are no second acts in American lives," wrote F Scott Fitzgerald in The Last Tycoon. Whatever way one wants to interpret that ambiguous line, Tommy Wiseau has tried to prove him wrong.

Wiseau (pictured below) is the "wannabe actor" who in 2003 sank "eye-watering sums of money" into making a film called The Room, as the NME puts it. "The movie redefined the phrase so bad it's good', but found armies of fans worldwide as its cult grew."

Now Wiseau is the protagonist of The Disaster Artist, a film about the film, in which he is played by James Franco (on the right in the picture above) while Franco's brother Dave (on the left in the same picture) plays Greg Sestero, Wiseau's friend and co-star, who wrote the book on which the (new) film is based. If that's clear so far, you're doing well, because this is as straightforward as the story gets.

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Reborn in the USA

There are three big questions about the "enigmatic" Wiseau, says Marissa Martinelli on Slate. "Where is he from? How old is he? And where did he get the money to make The Room?"

For years, Wiseau insisted he came from Louisiana, despite his distinctly non-American accent. More recently perhaps tired of being asked the question he has opened up a little about his past. "It's not important, and No. 2, it's a personal question," he told The New York Times. "Long story short, I grew up in Europe a long time ago, but I'm American and very proud of it."

There's some evidence he was born in Poland and Wiseau has confirmed that he lived in France for a time. Sestero also says that Wiseau tells stories suggesting he was mistreated by the French police in a drugs raid hence perhaps a desire to leave his past behind and start afresh when he arrived in America.

Wiseau still won't disclose when he was born in one scene in The Disaster Artist he implies he's around the same age as Sestero, who is in his early 20s, although he looks twice as old. But a certain secrecy about one's age is pretty much de rigueur in youth-obsessed Hollywood. It's far less of a mystery than the most intriguing thing about him where he got his money.

How a terrible movie made millions

Wiseau spent $6m making The Room, even though "it looks like it cost about $6", as Franco puts it. This sets it apart from other terrible films: its creator had deep pockets to make and promote it, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for "a massive billboard overlooking Hollywood showing simply Tommy Wiseau's face and a cryptic phone number", says SlashFilm.com. "The billboard stayed up for a whopping five years and was so notorious that passersby were surprised when it was finally taken down."

Where the cash came from is unclear. Sestero relates a "flimsy story" about washing dishes in a restaurant, selling discounted jeans, importing leather jackets and flipping real estate in San Francisco, but "assures the reader that this could not possibly be true", says Vulture. Regardless, Wiseau may now be pulling in a million dollars a year from The Room. That figure will almost certainly rise now with the publicity. Not a bad return on $6m and perhaps the start of yet another act in a curious career.

Tabloid money a stylist that's worth every penny

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has raised eyebrows by hiring stylist Isabel Spearman, "who was awarded an OBE and a £60,000 taxpayer-funded salary for helping [Samantha Cameron] look cool", says Jan Moir in the Daily Mail. Rudd can't win. When she wore a wrinkled suit to a meeting in Paris last year there was nearly an international incident even though veteran Tory MP Ken Clarke "can wander around Westminster looking like an accordion that has just had a fight with a tuba and lost, before being peppered by a blunderbuss filled with cigar ash and gravy pellets". The other day Rudd "looked groomed, focused, capable, comfortable, professional and formidable with nothing on her mind except the job in hand". If Spearman is responsible, then she is worth every penny.

"Ladies, we are hoarding £10bn worth of unworn clothing in our closets!" says Jennifer Selway in the Daily Express. That works out at 365 million items, according to a survey. In theory, we should confine our clothing to a small rotating selection in shades of black and taupe. In practice, "I'll cling on to my collection of things I pretended were investments", but have never seen the light of day. "One must be prepared for all eventualities."

Touts have been selling £55 tickets to see Phil Collins in concert for £2,000. "Personally, I would pay two grand to avoid seeing Phil Collins," says Tony Parsons in The Sun on Sunday. Still, you can understand why laws are being rushed in to tackle reselling at "grotesquely" inflated prices. But they're not needed the venues should take the initiative. When we saw Hamiltonthere was not a tout in sight. Instead, "nice young people" checked my booking, credit card and ID before printing off the tickets. "It was all fantastically easy."