Who is Tommy Wiseau? What we really know about the mysterious subject of ‘The Disaster Artist’

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The James Franco movie 'The Disaster Artist' is in cinemas soon

Hitting limited cinemas on December 1 and cinemas nationwide from December 6, The Disaster Artist tells the story of wannabe actor Tommy Wiseau, who sank eye-watering sums of money into making 2003’s The Room. The movie redefined the phrase ‘so bad it’s good’ but found armies of fans worldwide as its cult grew. Based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room by Wiseau’s friend and fellow Room actor Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist will leave you with many questions about the ultra-enigmatic Wiseau, who’s portrayed with microscopic attention to detail by James Franco. And the reason you’ll have those questions is because even in the digital age, Wiseau’s life is still largely a mystery. Here’s what the best sleuths out there have unpicked.

He’s not from New Orleans

In The Disaster Artist, Wiseau repeatedly insists he’s from New Orleans – in spite of his thick Eastern European accent. It’s thought that he was born in Poland and lived in various places in Europe before moving to Chalmette, Louisiana, where his aunt and uncle lived. Once in the USA, he also spent time in San Francisco, where he met Sestero, and Los Angeles, where the pair relocated to pursue acting careers.

Tommy Wiseau isn’t his real name

According to popular belief, Wiseau is a corruption of the French word for bird, oiseau. That apparently came from the nickname ‘The Birdman’, which he aquired while selling novelty bird toys and living in France “a long time ago”. A Redditer found records for the aunt and uncle Wiseau went to live with on arrival in the States and extrapolated that his real surname is most likely Wieczor. Greg Sestero has said that Wiseau told him he’d gone by the name Pierre as a young man when working as a dishwasher in Strasbourg.

The Room started out as a novel and a play

In The Disaster Artist, we see Wiseau hashing out the script for The Room from scratch. Actually, it was based on a play and a 540-page novel he’d written – which remains unpublished.

Tommy really did spend $6m on The Room

“[The Room] cost $6 million to make . . . and it looks like it cost about $6,” said James Franco at Toronto Film Festival this year. “There was an insane billboard in L.A. for like five years that [Wiseau] must have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars alone, and it is the scariest thing you’ve ever seen, with his lazy eye, like, staring at you. It looks like an ad for a cult… But [the advertising] paid off, because [The Room] plays in almost every major city at least once a year. I think we worked it out that he must make half a million or a million dollars a year, or something like that.”

No one really knows where Tommy’s fortune came from

Before The Room finally became an earner, it’s not known exactly where Wiseau’s fortune came from, but Sestero believes Wiseau is a self-made man. After moving to Chalmette, it’s believed he travelled to San Francisco, California, and worked selling novelties and in sundry manual jobs before setting up a company called Street Fashions USA, acquiring premises, and amassing his fortune flipping property in the Bay Area.

A near-death experience led Tommy to pursue his dream

If you’ve seen the room, you might think that scriptwriting and acting aren’t necessarily the best career choices for Wiseau. According to Sestero, Wiseau was involved in a car accident in California in which a driver behind him ran a red light and rear-ended his vehicle. The experience apparently minded him to quit working in business and pursue his true dream.

He’s not the same age as Greg Sestero

A running joke in The Disaster Artist regards Wiseau’s age, which he keeps a secret. When Greg asks, he simply replies “the same age as you”. Filmmaker Rick Harper, who made the documentary Room Full Of Spoons, reckons he discovered that Wiseau was born in October 1955, making him 62. Greg Sestero is 39.

He’s still a businessman at heart

As The Room’s cult popularity has grown, Wiseau has got in on the joke, creating a merch range that incorporates “easy to wash” underwear and a dating site, TheRoomDating.com, that aims to connect fans of the movie.

The Disaster Artist is in limited cinemas on December 1 and nationwide from December 6

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