Review of the audiobook “The Disaster Artist” by Greg Sestero
First of all, if you’ve been thinking about getting either the audiobook or the Kindle or regular book, GET THE AUDIOBOOK! Sestero does Tommy Wiseau’s voice–and it’s amazing. But he isn’t doing a hackey bit; he’s mimicking the voice with respect to the actual person who was, and probably still is, his friend. Sestero is an actor–and he does a great job of conveying the moods and feelings of his own book.
Yes, I know Tommy Wiseau is neither a vampire, nor an alien. I feel that he might be neuro-atypical, but I’m no psychologist. His different worldview and/or filter or whatever it is gave him a perspective that helped him create something quite unique.
The glamour and mystique of Hollywood casts a spell on people from across the world—and the promise of reinventing oneself seems to be a real drive for him. It reminds me of this year’s story of Angelyne, a mystery and fixture of Hollywood, whose rather mundane identity became a brief story in the Hollywood Reporter. I don’t think that the truth diminishes the legend (or rumors). I think a more human face on the character she created only gives it a new facet.
Although others have discovered a few clues from his paper trail, he refuses to acknowledge his true age and place of origin—unless you count New Orleans. In a very real way, he is “from” New Orleans. That’s where he feels his American life begins.
If Christians can be born again, why can’t Tommy pick a new date of birth? Jack Benny is perpetually 39, even in the grave. Like those starlets of yesteryear, it’s still an honored Hollywood tradition, even in this digital age, despite the fact anyone with an internet connection and enough time on their hands can discover your secret.
Reinvention wasn’t necessary—Tommy is already one of a kind. With the upcoming film on which this book is based, there’s enough interest in Tommy that despite most of The Room’s fans knowing his age and real place of origin, a new back story wasn’t necessary. But his attempt at creating a new identity only serves to humanize him in a new way. Neither a vampire, nor an alien, but a rather different person with an interesting, accessory centric sense of style. Seriously, what’s up with all those belts?
So here are some of my highlights of Tommy’s unusual behaviors which serve as “proof” of being either a vampire or alien. Each segment is ended with my verdict–*Vampire!* or *Alien!*
Highlights of the audiobook
Learning to act…like a human?
Tommy takes a lot of acting classes—he was in acting class 1998, but was still taking acting classes years later (before shooting the film in 2003) as mentioned in the book. I believe there was another reference to Tommy taking acting classes from someone else years before.
Tommy had made at least 2 other major attempts to break into acting, and it’s not stated exactly how many years he has studied acting. So many years of studying acting would be necessary—for someone who wasn’t human.
Disconnected from normal human emotions
It’s a common theme in vampire stories that after some time as a member of the undead, vampires become disconnected from normal human emotions. Serotonin and other mood-regulating neurotransmitters are processed in a normally-functioning digestive system. Changing the type of food intake would change the body’s levels . Low serotonin levels are linked to depression and listlessness. Such behaviors are common among vampire myths.
Not only have they changed on a physical level, but an emotional level…feeding on humans for a long period of time makes it necessary to view the humans as prey, or cattle.
Pasty skin, dark stringy hair. Need I say more?
Stays up late
Many references to Tommy staying up very late.
Discovered hanging upside down
Disc 9, ~27 min
Sestero came into the apartment, and found Tommy hanging upside down. Sure, it was an exercise thing, but considering that his bed was some odd makeshift air mattress and regular mattress that sounded unwieldy, it’s also possible that the mattress was there to appear to have normal sleeping habits.
Keeping up appearances—keeping it up for too long
Disc 10, ~9 min
In an effort to show his adoption of American, WASP-y norms, he kept a Christmas tree up for almost the whole year. He also kept Halloween pumpkins out…far beyond their expiration date.
5 Minutes of silence, for America
In one of the first meetings (maybe Disc 9 or 10?), Tommy wanted the cast to show respect for America with 5 minutes of silence. And when the first 2 times were flubbed by somebody snickering or rustling a bit much, they had to do it 3 times. 30 seconds, or in extreme cases, up to 1 minute of silence is the very edge of acceptability. Perhaps they do it differently in the Eastern Bloc, or his home planet?
Trying to look American—or human?!?!
The American Dream
The American Dream
“Tommy’s character Johnny has a tough job at a bank—to him, this normalcy is the American Dream…being comforted by his fiancé. Never mind the fact that this seemingly kindhearted woman is duplicitous. He has to have some reason to sacrifice himself while dry humping her dress at the end.” (Spoilers?)
Disc 10, ~4 min
Tommy’s “origin” stories. Sestero gives a general account of the consistent elements of the many varying tales of Tommy’s, or rather, Johnny Amerikanski’s beginnings in an Eastern Bloc country in the 50s/60s, wanting to see the American movies that came to the theatres—Disney—and idealizing James Dean, John Wayne, and Marilyn Monroe.
Also part of his interest in the “American Dream” is the idea of Hollywood—and what making movies is about. He shot the alleyway scenes in a movie set instead of a far cheaper alleyway, and built a set out in a parking lot of the roof instead of shooting on a roof… as Tommy said of these decisions: ”because it’s real Hollywood movie.”
This one could go either way—so…
Jokes about being vampire
From “The Disaster Artist” audiobook disc 5 (26 min.),
“How do you always do that?” I asked him
“Know exactly when to wake up?”
“Vampire trick.” Tommy said.
Sometimes, it really did seem as though Tommy wanted to be a vampire.
Sestero goes on to speculate that Tommy wanted to be a vampire because he could be objectively unattractive and subjectively attractive. As he said, the last thing Tommy Wiseau wanted to be as average. I think it has more to do with stopping the clock, since one of the most consistent elements of contemporary vampire mythology includes agelessness as the one silver lining to being doomed to shun the daylight and hunt humans as food. But when you’re already disconnected from regular people, the hunting humans part of the fantasy less of a dealbreaker and more of a means to an end.
“Aren’t these human needs strange?”
Disc 11 ~1 min.
Tommy: “Aren’t all these human needs strange?” in reference to needing to eat, etc. He was trying to avoid chocolate muffins, which were referenced a few times in the book. He was trying to lose weight so that his naked body would be a big selling point for the movie
Disc 7, about 35min/midway in disc
Tommy brought a 23 year old friend, Jeremy, to the L.A. apartment. Sestero described the glance they shared—the unspoken acknowledgement that Wiseau was befriending young men as a way to cling to youth, to be surrounded by it. Feeling like people at least 20 years younger were his contemporaries. At many other points in the story, Tommy makes mention of wanting to appear younger in headshots and his commercial/demo reel. All of the costars of The Room were in that same age range, his story centered on being engaged to a woman at least 20 years younger. All of his friends in their early 20. As if being surrounded by younger people would somehow make him younger by osmosis.
Disc 9, ~15:00
“Tommy may or may not be a vampire, but I can say with surety that, at least in close quarters, he’s imminently capable of draining the light and life right out of someone.”
*Vampire!!!!!* Or maybe both?!?!
Energy vampires are mentioned in far more science fiction than I could list here. TV tropes already did the dirty work—so here’s a list of mentions of “Vampiric Draining” which usually includes leaching the youth out of someone. Sure makes sense for someone who surrounds himself with people who are younger.
“The Joe Montana is prick.”
Disc 6, 40:25
Tommy claims to like football, even more than soccer, but didn’t know how to throw a football. Sestero pointed out that for someone to live in San Francisco and not know how to throw a football—Joe Montana would be disappointed. To this, Tommy replied: “The Joe Montana is prick.”
I don’t even like football and I know who Joe Montana is.
As mentioned in book and numerous interviews
Tommy’s “import” business is questionable. He’s been building wealth for decades longer than he claims to have been alive. Smart vampires know that once you’ve drained your victim of blood, you pick their pocket as well. Deposit those funds and have your next of kin (self) inherit that wealth, and use the power of compound interest over time…and you’ve set aside a pretty good living for an undead person.
Bank account: “Bottomless pit”
Disc 5, ~44min,
Sandy, the director, had joked with bank teller about the first check bouncing—the teller reassured him that the funds were more than sufficient by saying: “This account, it’s a bottomless pit.” Though the teller didn’t say how much was in the account, it was not acceptable for her to comment beyond whether or not there was enough to cover the check. There must have been a shockingly high amount in the account. For it to register as surprising for someone who works in financial transactions in a metropolitan area in California (which has quite a few rich people) it must have been a lot of money. Maybe it was her first week and she wasn’t yet accustomed to seeing large balances, but that’s not so likely. She was at least experienced enough not to disclose the actual balance, so she must have been somewhat knowledgeable about the ins and outs of her job.
25 Cents an hour
Disc 5, ~30:50
Tommy: “You know, when I start my business, I make 25 cents an hour.”
1938 minimum hourly wage for child labor, 25 cents per hour as set by Roosevelt, first minimum wage law. Source: https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/flsa1938.htm
Haggling like a peasant
Disc 5, ~1:04:00
Sestero points out that although Wiseau apparently does have money, he also is accustomed to haggling. Even when he had to pay for a wardrobe item, it wasn’t until a more formidable (Chris R.) man called him out and demanded payment. Wiseau’s reshooting of an inconsequential scene had cost the production an extra $80,000. But he stalled out on paying for $80 boots that had been damaged from the reshoots. Sestero pointed out other times Wiseau tried to haggle. From dealing with wealthy people, I can say that even people who have money to burn are loath to hand over money they actually owe. It’s a power trip and they get off on this subtle way of pushing around a salesperson. Often it’s at a small business so that they can push around
“Tommy, I guess, utterly rejected the idea that the entire point of Western Civilization is not having to haggle like a peasant every time money changes hands.”
Sestero also pointed out that Wiseau didn’t haggle with some deals for the production company because he wanted to be accepted and thought of as a first-rate production.
Haggling like someone from a 3rd world country—especially one from before the World Wars, would be the norm for someone who grew up going to a marketplace in the town square on cobblestone streets, from a time before the modern era.
Doesn’t understand technology/Using old technology
If you’ve been around for well over a century, the world has been changing as a far more rapid pace than what you’ve been accustomed to in your previous life. Most people alive today were born after the first World War. A person’s formidable years (before their 20s) sets the norm for what they are able to handle from the world. For example, someone born in the 1710s wouldn’t experience a terribly different world, even in their 40s. But living in modern times, with rapidly changing technology would make it difficult for someone who was trying to pass themselves off as being from this era—when they grew up accustomed to a world without change or with little change.
There are a few references to Tommy’s ancient VCR and older TV, etc. If someone has access to a great deal of money, it’s odd that they would not update.
So—then you’ve got a guy who mysteriously funds his film and uses some of the most expensive equipment available without a worry about the price. He doesn’t understand that high end analogue and high end digital (when it was very new) aren’t going to create the same quality. Sounds like someone who can’t cope with
Los Angeles apartment
Tommy’s L.A. apartment was $900 per month, which he paid months in advance so he didn’t have to worry about keeping up with rent payments. Since money is no object, paying for apartments in 2 cities
It seems to be more like the home of a crammed mailbox and dusty stacks of years old copies of The Hollywood Reporter, which double as furniture.
Sestero described red curtains that blocked out much of the light in the apartment, but let in a red glow that sounds like a strange decorating choice.
Picture of Tommy—from the 60s
Also mentioned was a picture of Tommy from what looked like he was in his 30s, but the picture looked like it was taken in the 1960s. Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau in acting class in 1998. Tommy claims to have been born in 1968. An obsessed fan, Rick Harper, whose research for the tentatively titled book, “A Room Full of Spoons” led him to discover that Wiseau was actually born in 1955.
When they went out to eat, he wanted to rehearse a scene at the table instead. Tommy was the one who brought up going out to lunch, because he gets cranky when he gets too hungry. But when the food arrived, he was uninterested in the meal. Maybe—he already “ate” between the time they ordered and when the food arrived—perhaps during the trip to the men’s room.
Dirty dishes—Tommy doesn’t need to keep his kitchen up because he doesn’t eat regular human food…at least not primarily. Instead of clean cups, he had carrot juice that had been expired for 3 months. This would be an issue for someone who needed normal sustenance.
Audiobook part 5—others had remarked that the only thing they had seen him consume was hot water.
Perhaps he can’t consume solid food?
Tommy was apparently a little miffed with Sestero, and said he wanted him to buy him a box of apology chocolates. Telling someone that they need to buy them something as a way of atoning for some wrongdoing is rather odd. Certainly not customary in this age in this part of the world…or this world.
Disc 6, 40:54 Tommy apparently got into a box of chocolates, devouring them with gusto after playing football in the park.
Tommy mentions he’s getting “little bit fat” and also mentioned finding a new restaurant that makes very good crepes. So—perhaps solid food isn’t off the menu, but—no mention of actually seeing him eating the crepes.
A count of how many segments screamed *Vampire!* or *Alien!*
So, for this totally unscientific report—Tommy Wiseau is more vampire than alien. No matter what, he’s done a great job of being mysterious. Enough to inspire me to use my insomnia for semi-creative purposes. Whatever Tommy’s real story is—it’s for him to know and to continue to deny.
Not in the book
These extra segments were just a bit of fun and not referenced in the audiobook, but are from other interviews and some “just for kicks” speculation
Idolizing the Golden Age of Hollywood
From whatever planet, he’s idealizing older film stars, and has a big thing for James Dean. Although we still watch old movies…many old movies also were broadcast on TV. During the 50s/60s, it would have been announced as being the new thing at the time. So, for however long it took radio waves to reach Wiseau’s homeworld, or spacecraft… (In Carl Sagan’s Contact, we were contacted with an image of Hitler because it was the first image broadcast in space.)
Point of origin
Though not from this book—I felt that Tommy’s desire to be “from” America reminded me of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ford Prefect’s selection of name in an effort to blend in with humans was rather odd. I later found that the Prefect was actually a popular model of Ford in Britain at the time of (the author) Douglass Adams’ youth. Tommy’s last name, Wiseau, is similar to the French name for bird, though not spelled with a W. Another clever way to hide his origin.
Maybe that’s where he’s “from” as in, that’s where Lestat turned him. A joke—this also wasn’t in the audiobook—but Anne Rice’s vampire books are set in New Orleans—and they’re from the 80s/90s. Perhaps Tommy was interested in the book series and picked New Orleans as an origin point for that reason…?
Picking San Francisco happens to be advice from Ford Prefect in his original draft for an update to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Tips for aliens in San Francisco: “ …a good place to go. It’s very easy to believe that everyone you meet there also is a space traveler.”