The Crazy Cult of 'The Room'

Wiseau insists he always intended The Room to be partly comedic, and that the movie's perceived faults — including the out-of-focus scenes — are deliberate. ''Let's assume we did everything perfect way,'' he hypothesizes. ''You will be asking this question? No, no.'' However, another anonymous cast member has no doubt that Wiseau is merely making the best of an extremely bad job: ''I don't have anything to say about Tommy as a person. He is a nice guy. But he is full of s---. He was trying to put together a drama. It was basically his stage to show off his acting ability.''

The Room opened at a handful of cinemas in L.A. on June 27, 2003. The director, who self-distributed the movie, offered a free soundtrack CD for ticket buyers, and promoted the film with a TV and print campaign that compared The Room to the work of Tennessee Williams. Wiseau rented a billboard on Highland Avenue, which featured a close-up of his glowering visage, and submitted the film to the Academy Awards, without success. Cast member Robyn Paris recalls the film's premiere screening as ''a big deal. Tommy rode in a limousine. There was a spotlight set up. It was pretty packed. Everyone in the theater was crying with laughter.'' Not everyone found the film so amusing, however. Variety critic Scott Foundas noted that it ''may be something of a first: a movie that prompts most of its viewers to ask for their money back — before even 30 minutes have passed.'' Foundas also called Wiseau ''a narcissist nonpareil whose movie makes Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny seem the apotheosis of cinematic self-restraint.''

Tommy Wiseau insists that he ''really doesn't know'' how the film fared at the box office on its initial release. However, one industry source states that the combined gross from the two-week run at two theaters — the Laemmle Fallbrook and Fairfax — was just $1,900. Michael Rousselet, a young screenwriter who seems to be Patient Zero of the film's cult, says he first caught the movie at an ''absolutely empty'' theater. ''It was like our own private Mystery Science Theater,'' he says. ''I was calling friends during the end and saying, 'You have to come to this movie.' We saw it four times in three days, and on the last day I had over 100 people there.'' Soon, screenings of The Room were thick with both laughter and cutlery. ''The spoon thing probably started during the fourth screening with my friends,'' says Rousselet. ''I was like, Why is there a spoon in the picture frame? Every time it came up, I'd scream 'Spoon!' So we brought spoons.''

Wiseau says that he received ''almost a hundred'' e-mails thanking him for the film. ''That's when I say, 'Let's just show The Room once a month, midnight screening,''' he explains.

Wiseau regularly attended these events and answered questions. Sometimes he recited Shakespearean sonnets. Wiseau released The Room on DVD in December 2005, and produced another, promotional, DVD that featured fans of the film at screenings praising the Room experience. And he continued to pay for the billboard, which, as the years passed, became a local landmark until Wiseau finally gave it up in the fall of 2008. ''People started coming up to me randomly in L.A. and saying, 'Were you in The Room?''' says Paris. She wasn't the only cast member to achieve a degree of fame thanks to the film. When Greg Sestero, who plays Mark, attended a screening a year after the movie's release, he says he was ''mobbed'' by fans. Juliette Danielle attended the second-anniversary screening and encountered fans dressed as her character. One even wore a prosthetic neck piece in homage to that scene in which it appears Lisa is about to endure a freakish compound fracture.

By the time the film's third anniversary rolled around, in 2006, word of The Room had spread through the comedy scene. ''I was at Paul Rudd's house a couple of years ago, and he said, 'You have to watch this,''' recalls Rudd's frequent collaborator and Role Models director David Wain. ''Within two minutes, I'm like, 'Okay, this is my favorite thing I've ever seen.' I've watched it over and over and over. We've had a lot of fun thinking which character we're going to play when we do our shot-for-shot remake.'' Rudd also showed the film to Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, who in turn recommended it to the show's star, Kristen Bell. ''I watched it in my trailer with my mouth agape the entire time,'' she recalls. ''I knew I would never be the same. We tried to reference it on Veronica Mars as much as possible.'' In one example, during a May 2007 episode of the show, a character mentions ''the new Rocky Horror,'' where ''people throw plastic spoons at the screen.''

David Cross became intrigued by The Room while filming the 2004-05 season of Arrested Development. ''Will Arnett and I would always see the billboard and be like, 'What the f--- is that thing?''' he says. ''Will Googled it, and then we would often watch the trailer.'' Soon, the pair were cracking each other up by repeating Wiseau's signature line: ''You are tearing me apart, Lisa!'' Then, at the 2005 Screen Actors Guild awards, Cross noticed a familiar figure. ''I was like, Holy s---, Tommy Wiseau's here!'' he says. ''I was kind of drunk, and kept following him. I was literally finding every excuse to be next to him wherever he was in the building. He was getting weirded out by me.'' Eventually Cross made the pilgrimage to see The Room itself. ''The idea of a participatory thing doesn't sound like fun to me,'' he says, ''but I really, really enjoyed it. It's not like there's one or two or three things that are bad about it. There are several hundred. I don't think Will ever saw it,'' Cross laughs. ''What a f---ing a--hole he is!''

Cross recommended the film to Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker, stars of the Cartoon Network's bizarre late-night sketch extravaganza Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, who became similarly obsessed. And Rudd, Bell, and Hill practically transformed the set of last April's comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall into a Room convention. (''Paul and Jonah and I were talking off set and Jonah kept snickering,'' says Bell. ''And I'm like, Am I being pranked? Finally, I look down, and Paul is wearing a silk-screen picture of Tommy Wiseau on his T-shirt.'') Meanwhile, Rudd and Wain conspired to slip Room references into Role Models. ''There were all sorts of ideas,'' says Wain. ''Like someone in the background going, 'You are tearing me apart, Lisa!' But Role Models was such a crazy process — we were kind of writing it as we were shooting — I don't know if any of them ended up in the movie.'' It seems like the comedy community is now divided into two camps: those who have fallen in love with The Room, and those who are about to. ''It's ridiculous that I haven't seen this,'' says Adam McKay, Will Ferrell's longtime writing partner, and the director of Anchorman. ''I've been told by a dozen people that I have to go. I've got to find the next showing.'' Wiseau's film has even become a verb. ''When we do a take, and it seems bad, a comment about The Room is often made,'' says Joe Lo Truglio, who played the jolly knight in Role Models, and is yet another fan of The Room. '''Dude, your heart was in the right place, but the acting wasn't. You Roomed it!'''