Tommy Wiseau in The Room
Tommy Wiseau as Johnny, a “misunderstood” banker and Lisa’s future husband
San Francisco, Fall 2002
Film: The Room
Release Date: June 27, 2003
Director: Tommy Wiseau
Costume Designer: Safowa Bright-Asare
It’s April Fools’ Day! The perfect time to switch gears from looking at timeless style in great movies and TV shows… and reflect on extremely questionable “style” from a movie celebrated as an unmitigated cinematic disaster.
The Room is nearly two hours of brain-numbing non-sequiturs, unresolved “plot” threads and an inconsistent narrative, more screen time for a single football than The Longest Yard, Any Given Sunday, and Rudy combined, and writing that fails to compare with a monkey pounding on a keyboard… and yet this bizarre melodrama has racked up one of the most loyal cult followings in American cinema. Its nonsensical dialogue (“Do you understand life? Do you?!”) has permeated pop culture and sent packs of people to midnight screenings each year, armed with plastic spoons and questions and praise for the film’s eccentric auteur, Tommy Wiseau.
So who is Tommy Wiseau? Despite how much he may have craved fame as a filmmaker, Wiseau is notably evasive about his origins. He’s undeniably from Europe—some have suggested Poland while it’s known he spent time in France—though he claims New Orleans as his sole place of origin. By the 1990s, his increased interest in pursuing a career in film led him to California, where he split his time in various business ventures in both Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, where he became acquainted with fellow aspiring actor Greg Sestero.
Greg was the laidback yin to Tommy’s intense yang, and the two developed an uneasy friendship over the following half-decade as Tommy worked tirelessly on his magnum opus, first a play, then a 500-page book, and finally an incomprehensible screenplay inexplicably known as The Room.
The Room was the end result of a $6 million budget raised through a shady blend of real estate transactions, entrepreneurship, or leather jacket and apparel sales. For obvious reasons, it barely lasted in theaters outside of Tommy paying to keep it open in one cinema for two weeks to qualify it for Academy Award nominations (of which it received zero). The Room may have been lost to history if not for Michael Rousselet and Scott Gairdner who became obsessed with Tommy’s masterpiece, bringing scores of friends to the final screenings of the theatrical run. Word spread, and soon The Room was a late-night phenomenon, with midnight screenings in theaters across the country. Tommy’s dream has been somewhat realized as he’s now a mega-star, particularly to fans of The Room, having made appearances on late-night talk shows and even at the Oscars as the on-stage guest of James Franco, whose movie about the making of The Room racked up the Academy Award nomination that eluded Tommy during his fledgling film career.
Tommy Wiseau maintains that the film’s popularity—and it’s reputation as one of the worst movies ever made—stems from his intention to make a “so-bad-it’s-good” dark comedy… despite all cast and crew involved in the production confirming that it was the mysterious man’s attempt at an autobiographical drama.
What’d He Wear?
As a roman à clef to his real life—or at least his perception of it—Tommy Wiseau did little to differentiate between himself and his character, Johnny, right down to the character’s uninformed sartorial choices. At best, the character dresses for his job at “the bank” in oversized suits with baggy shirts and dramatically loose ties. At worst, he’s going full Wiseau, storming out onto his roof in a navy suit jacket over a black V-neck T-shirt with baggy cargo pants and excessive belts.
And it’s this that brings us to possibly the most famous scene in The Room, a sequence that begins with Johnny storming onto the roof of his building, screaming about his future wife Lisa’s accusations of abuse when he stops to casually greet his friend: “Oh, hi, Mark” (a character named after Matt Damon, if you need any further insight into the machinations of Tommy Wiseau’s mind.) It’s a single shot with only 21 words of dialogue that supposedly took Wiseau—the lead actor, writer, and director—at least 32 takes over three hours before something considered satisfactory was delivered.
Chapter five of The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell outlines the morning the scene was filmed. “Tommy was sporting his white Gilligan hat, red-lensed Oakleys, a black tank top, and sand-colored cargo pants,” recalls Sestero of Wiseau’s arrival on set. Unfortunately, Wiseau’s chronic lateness meant that the costume designer, Safowa Bright-Asare, had already left the set during his absence to run wardrobe errands. Despite being told that Bright-Asare would be returning soon…
Tommy, unsatisfied, headed directly to wardrobe and dressed himself. He probably could not have picked a worse outfit had he been blindfolded: an ill-fitting navy blue sport coat over his favorite black tank top and sand-colored cargo pants, the pockets of which were stuffed with lotion bottles, antiwrinkling gel, purple scrunchies, hair clips, and cash. He looked like an aging metrosexual commando.
Sure enough, Bright-Asare—whom Sestero praised for her “decent and conscientious on-set presence”—soon arrived on set from her errand and was aghast at the site of Wiseau having chosen his own wardrobe, describing the outfit as “unfilmable.”
Tommy, of course, refused to change. “I keep my stuff, sweetie. You are late. Please don’t do this again.”
“Tommy,” Safowa said, “you can’t just pick things off the rack at random and start shooting.” Sensing she wasn’t going to win this argument, she turned to grab her camera. “I need to get a Polaroid of your outfit for continuity.”
“Continuity,” Tommy said, stopping her, “is in your forehead.”
“Would you at least empty your pockets?” Safowa asked. “Can we agree to that?”
“I cannot,” Tommy said. Safowa briefly looked like she was about to punch him. Tommy, noticing this, put his hand on her shoulder. “You are very sweet, and I push you little bit. But don’t hate me yet.” From Safowa’s expression it was clear that Tommy’s request was several seconds too late.
Tommy—er, Johnny—dresses for the scene in a navy blue single-breasted suit jacket, unlike the double-breasted suit jacket he wears for most of the film. The ventless three-button jacket is worn open and has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and three-button cuffs.
Greg Sestero, who played Johnny’s friend Mark in addition to serving as the movie’s line producer, mentioned in The Disaster Artist that this black tank top was one of Tommy’s favorites. The sleeveless cotton shirt has a V-neck and is reinforced around the neckline and armholes.
The shirt is seen on its own a few scenes later during a brief round of alley football with Mark, Denny (Philip Haldiman), and Mike (Scott Holmes, though Wiseau credited him as “Mike Holmes” because he forgot the actor’s actual first name).
And then… the cargo pants. Greg Sestero describes them as sand-colored, though the on-screen appearance is closer to a light, washed-out stone color. Even without the heavy loads, they would be remarkably baggy, but Wiseau has loaded up the each of the cargo pockets, which close with what is likely a velcro-fastened flap with a small black tag toward the front. The pants also have slanted side pockets toward the top and belt loops around the waist.
Baggy cargo pants with a suit jacket and tank top are already enough of a fashion faux pas, but Wiseau actually goes the step further of wearing zip-off cargo pants. Also known as “convertible pants” by incurable optimists, these are the two-in-one garment where the wearer can zip off both legs of his trousers below the knee to convert them into shorts. While this could be an asset for hiking or similar activities, I can’t think of a practical reason why Johnny would be wearing them.
The real Tommy Wiseau rarely stopped at just one belt for his pants, telling his buddy Greg that “it keeps my ass up, plus it feels good.” Luckily, whether it was the intervention of costume designer Safowa Bright-Asare or Tommy’s own rare moment of clarity, Johnny seems to forego wearing multiple belts even with more dressed-down ensembles such as this. Note that I said “seems to” as the actual trouser-suspension question raises more questions than it normally would.
Johnny is clearly wearing at least one black leather belt, studded with a two silver squares toward the tip, and closed through a steel single-prong buckle… but is the belt just very long and wrapped around multiple times, or is he wearing a second identical belt off-kilter on top of the other one?
Johnny completes his outfit with a pair of chunky black calf leather derby shoes with squared toes, worn with black socks.
Any costume continuity in The Room is due to the efforts of Safowa Bright-Asare, who put up with wild work conditions for her unenviable task of trying to tame Tommy Wiseau’s sartorial sensibilities. “Tommy had given her a miniscule budget and so she spent much of her time despairingly combing through L.A. thrift stores to piece together outfits,” recalled Sestero. “The result was a ‘Wardrobe’ unit consisting of a single homeless-shelter rack of clothing and a few plastic laundry tubs.”
Despite the odds, Bright-Asare successfully developed a signature look for her characters such as cowboy Mark, sultry Lisa (Juliette Danielle), bookish Peter (Kyle Vogt), and sensible and stylish Michelle (Robyn Paris). For a script that disallowed any major character development, Bright-Asare was able to communicate much about her characters through these costumes and her established aesthetics.
Nearly 15 years later, Bright-Asare’s work—and Wiseau’s attempted undoing of it—was brought back to life by costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo, who painstakingly recreated The Room‘s “fashions” for The Disaster Artist (2017), dressing James Franco, Dave Franco, Ari Graynor, Seth Rogen, and others in outfits replicating how the original cast and crew looked during the four-month shoot in 2002.
You can read more about Abbandandolo’s work in Esther Zuckerman’s December 2017 article for Racked.
What to Imbibe
You have a few options if you want to imbibe à la The Room:
The Good: A bottle of water, preferably one that hasn’t been thrown on the ground.
Also, Greg noted that as soon as he gave Tommy the water bottle to distract him before the big “I did not! Oh, hi Mark” scene, Tommy “immediately started peeling off the water bottle’s sticker, because nothing scared Tommy more than having to pay someone for permission to use a logo. Tommy is probably the world’s single most copyright-obsessed person who does not also have a law degree.”
The Bad: According to Greg Sestero in The Disaster Artist, Tommy was fueled by his “customary five cans of Red Bull.”
The Ugly: “Scotchka”, or the unholy concoction that Lisa makes for her and Johnny after his rough day at work.
How to make it? Why, just grab a bottle of Scotch, grab a bottle of vodka (Sobieski, it appears to be), pour in the Scotch first, and top it off with vodka. Best enjoyed with a pizza topped with half Canadian bacon with pineapple, half artichoke with pesto, and light on the cheese.
Supposedly, the “Scotchka” seen on screen was actually meant to be a blend of cognac and vodka… as if that’s any better.
How to Get the Look
Why would you even try?
- Navy blue wool single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Black cotton V-neck sleeveless tank top
- Stone-colored cotton flat front cargo pants with belt loops, side pockets, Velcro-flapped cargo pockets, and convertible zip-off bottoms
- Black leather belt with steel single-prong buckle and studded with silver squares
- Black leather square-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.
Adapted from Sestero and Bissell’s book, the Oscar-nominated movie-about-the-movie, The Disaster Artist (2017) starring James Franco as Tommy and Dave Franco as Greg, is also worth a watch, particularly for longtime fans of Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus.
I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did not. Oh, hi, Mark.
Wow! I thought April Fool’s Day was cancelled this year?
This was a really delightful article, and I hope it sets a precedent for an occasional look at particularly noteworthy sartorial abominations in cinema (or the wardrobe in cinematic abominations)!
A friend-of-a-friend has an alternate theory about the contents of Johnny’s “scotchka,” which, while taking away from the absurdity of the room, holds some weight. He, like Wiseau, is Polish, and told me that a popular mixed drink there is apple juice and vodka (IIRC the name translates into English as “Apple Kiss”). He thinks that the contents of the glass before the vodka is in fact a pure apple juice.