Interview with Robyn Paris, Writer/Director of The Room Actors: Where Are They Now?

Imagine this… you’ve always dreamed of going to Hollywood. Every since you were young you have desperately wanted to act, to see yourself up on the big screen, to really be something and someone! Perhaps those around you didn’t exactly see this as the best decision or the easiest career path… like your parents. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, be anything but an actor they said, it will lead to nothing but heartache.

But you know better and can’t let the dream die. You are going to LA and you are going to try, no matter what anyone says! You’ve got just one life and you have to live it (okay, this is starting to sound like an Eminem rap, but you get the idea).

Somehow, some way you finally find yourself in Hollywood. You are going to do whatever it takes and prove to everyone (including yourself) that not only can you act, but that one day everyone will know your name.

It starts with an ad in the back of a trade magazine, then a call to come in for an audition! For a paid part nonetheless! This dream is so coming true!

You arrive and there is a strange man with wild black hair, no script and a story no one is ever going to forget! Not even twelve years later.

This is one of your first auditions and you, my friend with the big dreams, have slipped down the rabbit hole and just met Tommy Wiseau! Your life will never ever be the same.

What you just imagined is what The Room actors, for better or worse, lived… including Robyn Paris, who played Lisa’s best friend “Michelle” and lover of all things chocolate.

Fans who want to know what happened to the actors once the filming stopped and the cult madness began, will get to hear more of this fantastical story in her latest project The Room Actors: Where Are They Now?, a mockumentary-style web series to be released sometime next fall.

Madame Ask was recently lucky enough to sit down with writer/director Paris to find out….

Whatever did happen to The Room actors?

Robyn: You’ll find out when you see The Room Actor’s: Where Are They Now? Most of us are in Los Angeles doing a variety of things… some are still acting. A few have moved, like Dan Janjigian who lives in Austin, Greg Ellery who lives in Chicago and Philip Haldiman who lives in Arizona.The rest of us are still in LA.

I’m mainly a screenwriter now but I do some acting too. I think Kyle Vogt and Juliette Danielle are still acting. So all different things!

In the mockumentary, you’ll find out more what we’ve been doing but of course it’s scripted and exaggerated. We tried to make it way more exciting and of course much funnier than our actual lives.

I’m a big fan, so I keep in touch with everyone on Facebook and it really is pretty amazing what everyone is doing! Philip is a reporter and an Editor-in-Chief of his local newspaper, Juliette volunteers at animal shelters, Dan has worked as a motivational speaker and you have an MFA in screenwriting. Will you include these details?

I am basing some of the comedy on people’s lives, but a lot of it is fictionalized.

Dan also runs a website design agency, he’s kind of a jack of all trades and does a lot of things which are cool. And Juliette also does graphic design… but yes, she’s also a big animal lover and very passionate about that.

Do the others have input on the script?

They haven’t seen the new revised version since I’ve decided to turn it into a web series. I expanded it substantially. It was originally an 18 minute short and now it’s an 8 episode web series, about 50 minutes of programming.

We had a table read of the original script and we sat around and… had a great discussion about it. We’ll do that with (the new script) too.

Having gone to grad school at UCLA for screenwriting, I have a network of writer friends and I’m in various writer’s groups so I can share the project and get feedback and suggestions. I’m doing that as well.

I have a question about the chemistry between all the actors. I’ve been on a lot of film sets myself and I’m always surprised how quickly you become close to one another, no matter what everyone’s background is. It’s probably because the long hours spent together. Was that the case during the filming of The Room?

We did become friends on the set but then we lost touch with each other for a few years immediately after The Room. We reconnected about four or five years ago once The Room really started taking off and getting bigger and bigger. Also Facebook was invented so we reconnected online. A lot has changed in the past twelve years!

We started getting back together again for various events. We had The Disaster Artist book launch party and then shot a small documentary that Greg Sestero uses at book launches around the country.

I mentioned my project about a year and a half ago to the Room actors… would they be interested? And they were. So then we got together last February for the table read for this project and then again to shoot the Kickstarter video.

Having gone through The Room experience and then the subsequent huge cult following that’s developed has brought us closer because it’s unique… to be in this bizarre movie that somehow takes off and has all these fans.

We are all looking at each other like how did this happen?! (Both Robyn and I laugh heartily).

So you are like a support system for each other?

Exactly! It’s quite a unique experience! (Robyn continues to laugh)

It’s not something everyone goes through. I don’t think it’s something anyone would actually seek out. You can’t predict something like this. You can’t anticipate it and you certainly can’t force it. It’s one of those weird kind of kismet, stars aligning but in a strange way… in a way I’m not sure anyone hopes for!

Has this experience had any affect on your desire to act? Is there any downside to all of this fame?

After I went to grad school at UCLA (from 2005-2008), I started focusing more on screenwriting than acting. That was before The Room’s reputation had grown to what it is today.

I liked writing because I thought it would give me more control of the creative process… at least I’m in control of the story, right? But it’s a lot like acting where you are sitting around waiting for people to approve of your work and give you the thumbs up. That’s part of why I am doing this mockumentary project. I’ve been in situations where I had screenplays floating around Hollywood, I’ve taken meetings and there have been these close-calls where so-and-so big time Hollywood actress is reading my script over the weekend. It’s very exciting, but then… so many different people have to give your script a thumbs up for it to be green-lit and funded by a studio. I didn’t want to wait anymore – I wanted to make something myself.

The Room has had some affect on my desire to act I guess. I responded to a lot of ads in Backstage West when I first moved to town. I did some really cool, good independent films but I also did a couple of not so great indies. After appearing in a few low budget films- both good and bad, I decided to take a break. Mostly, I just fell in love with screenwriting and decided to focus on that.

We were all pretty naive and young back when we appeared in The Room. As a struggling actor, I was always told to take every part you’re offered in order to get experience in front of the camera and to get footage for your demo reel. That was the philosophy and that was my mentality when I agreed to play “Michelle” in The Room. A lot of the other actors felt that way too.

Looking back, I’m truly happy that I was in The Room! It’s really hilarious and has added a lot of fun to my life. I can’t say that I’d go back and change it. I’d probably still make that same decision.

But ultimately, I did become more aware of the reputation that I could be building for myself or the notoriety. I wouldn’t want to do any more projects like it. Maybe one or two is okay, everyone expects you to do a bad movie at some point in your acting career, but not ten!

How long had you been in LA when you auditioned for The Room?

About three months. I had just gotten to LA, it was one of my first auditions in town.

Wow! I’ve often wondered how Tommy Wiseau was able surround himself with such normal, nice and decent people. Why was everyone so tolerant of him? Maybe it was because most of you were young and just starting out so you were open and hungry. Do you think that’s the case ?

Yes, I think that’s true. Most of us hadn’t even been in LA a year. I’ve been in LA now for 12 years and it just takes time to figure out what you should and shouldn’t do. So I think all of us were like “so cool, a movie! We’re getting paid!”

Tommy wouldn’t show us the script. It was easy to guess that maybe this wasn’t the best movie by looking at the three pages he showed us at the audition. After a day or two on set, we all knew what we were in for, but at that point we had already committed to it.

So yeah, I think he got us when we were pretty young and pretty naive. I don’t know if you have read The Disaster Artist, but the one thing I really like about it is how it talks about the Hollywood dream and what people will do to try and make it.

And it’s not like we were doing anything too outlandish, we were just appearing in a pretty bad movie. We were naive! Looking back (like I said), I’d probably still do it all again. This was a really cool, fun thing to be a part of!

It does seem like it’s been a cool thing to be part of! You have mentioned in previous interviews that it’s helped you to meet some great people and now you have this interesting project you are working on… you are really taking the experience and making it your own.

Yeah, I have met some really amazing people. I actually went to Sundance this year and a bunch of people recognized me. I met some really interesting filmmakers and Room fans who want to help with this project I’m working on… some production designers, potentially another producer. These people may not have necessarily come in my direction had I not been in The Room.

I write comedy so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend comedy and the fact that I was in this movie. You can’t predict the way your life is going to go. It’s certainly not something I would have anticipated for myself back when I was an intense pre-med student at Duke, but now that it’s happened, it’s a fun and exciting to be a part of and just silly.

The fans are awesome! They are really cool people and very supportive. I love you guys! It was really nice that everyone was so supportive of this mockumentary on Kickstarter!

We are just trying to make something else that The Room fans will enjoy.

Going back to The Disaster Artist, were you surprised by anything that Greg revealed in the book?

Tommy has always been a mystery, even to the actors. Greg and Tommy’s friendship was also a mystery. So reading it, I really came to understand how they became friends and how The Room happened.

I had no idea the back-story behind the movie…. also Tommy’s personal back-story, how he came to the United States and his dream to be like Orson Welles. It was really interesting and touching.

The book gives you a 360 degree view of what was going on. Obviously, I had only my own perspective. Of course, there was a lot that I witnessed that wasn’t in the book. And there were a few things that didn’t exactly happen the way they were described in the book, from my opinion, like my audition process. But I learned a ton from reading the book.

How was it different than what you experienced?

Mainly, since I was a replacement (Juliette was originally playing Michelle and the original Lisa quit), I came in midway through production and they had already shot a ton of stuff. I didn’t witness some of the early stuff.

The part in the book that I didn’t see as being accurate was the part about me auditioning for The Room. They had auditioned so many people at different times that I get that it probably all blended together. In the book, it says that we auditioned late at night and that didn’t happen. The auditions were on the Burns and Sawyer parking lot outside in daylight.

It also said that people were walking off/quitting during the auditions and refusing to do what Tommy asked. I didn’t witness that at all. Instead, from my perspective, all the actors were trying their best to do what Tommy requested – even when it was incredibly stupid and ridiculous. Everyone I saw seemed to fit the mold of the actors at every audition I’ve ever been to — really nervous, stressed out and trying to do their best to land the role!

Also, there was a documentarian following us around with a video camera, trying to film us literally all the time. The dressing area was in this makeshift sort of tent area out in the parking lot…. I would run and hide between cars to try to change clothes for my scenes and he would follow me with the camera!

So Greg never shared the stories in the book with you or the other actors before it came out?

I think Tommy has always wanted to have a veil of mystery around himself and Greg respected that. Tommy did not want anyone to know anything about him. He wouldn’t answer questions about where he was from or what he did for a living…

People were really very curious on the set; the actors were like “how does he have all this money? Where did he get it? Where is he from? How old is he?” He wouldn’t answer any of those questions.

We also posed those questions to Greg and he wouldn’t answer them either. He honored Tommy’s need to be mysterious. His book revealed a lot but he wouldn’t really tell very much in person about Tommy. He kind of kept that close to the chest.

Why isn’t Greg or Scott Holmes (who played Michelle’s boyfriend) participating in your mockumentary?

Scott Holmes does a job that does not allow him to participate in this type of thing. It’s a secretive type of position.

Greg has a non-compete deal because The Disaster Artist was optioned by James Franco and Seth Rogan. He’s not supposed to appear in anything that has to do with The Room.

He is peripherally involved and supportive of our project. We are going to see if there is a way to get him somehow involved but he can’t be one of our main characters because of that agreement.

Going back to Tommy, I’m sorry but he is such an interesting person so I have to ask a few more questions about him. I think fans really struggle with what appears to be a dichotomy in his personality.

In past interviews, you’ve mentioned that he can be very sweet and I know you found his journey in Hollywood and his desire to be loved sympathetic but during my research I came across a lot of things that suggest he’s not very generous or supportive of The Room actors.

He doesn’t want to share the spotlight with people. It’s his deal… and he doesn’t really like when The Room actors speak about the movie or try to share our experiences. I think it’s sort of a childish viewpoint. He’s like a little kid in the sandbox who doesn’t want to share.

But then on the other hand, we don’t necessarily want to travel the world and talk about The Room. I think it’s just that we want to be able to occasionally say ‘yes, we were in this movie’ and tell a story or two. So we feel like it’s a little strange that he doesn’t encourage that.

When I did my mockumentary Kickstarter video, Tommy came back and said “you are using spoons, you used roses, you used footballs and chocolate… those are from my movie. You need to pay me $250,000.”

I told him that’s was ridiculous. This is just fun… this isn’t about recapping The Room or using your intellectual property. We want you to be involved if you are interested. We tried to be very friendly and nice about it.

He does have a sweet side, a sympathetic side and a likable side. But then he has a defensive side where he’s gotten mad at a few reporters who ask the questions he doesn’t want to be asked. He’s very defensive about The Neighbors.

We both agree that Tommy’s new sitcom is utterly unwatchable. What do you think the difference between The Room and The Neighbors is?

The difference in my opinion is the level of sincerity that went into The Room verses The Neighbors. Tommy really, really wanted to make The Room a serious drama. He was committed to make this the best project he could possibly make it.

Whereas The Neighbors I feel like, because everyone laughed at The Room and thought it was hilarious, he told himself “I’m a very funny person, so I should be doing comedy.” So he tried to do a comedy, but it’s sort of half-assed… it feels like an angry effort. It’s like he’s mad that he has to be doing a comedy!

There is no sincerity at all in what the characters say to each other. At least The Room had a basic plot. There is really no plot, it’s very random… but in your face, f_ you sort of way. The Room had sweetness about it that The Neighbors is lacking.

The first time I saw The Room I was shocked and just couldn’t believe there was such a blatant disregard for the rules of story telling! Will you be breaking any screenwriting rules with your project?

We will be breaking a few rules but not primarily screenwriting rules because we want it to be entertaining and watchable… we are trying to be coherent. I’m not trying to model the project too much after The Room.

When do you expect to complete it?

We are hoping to shoot this summer, so hopefully by the fall we will have something.

How will fans be able to watch it?

Kickstarter donors will be the first to see it via an on-line live web screening with a Q&A afterwards. After that we will show it on a big screen here in LA, then it will be released on the web.

I know you have a woman Director of Photography.

Her name is Jeanne Tyson; she is a professor at UCLA. She’s done quite a few features for TV and has been the behind the scenes DP for the Oscars for a few years. She also shot the Kickstarter video.

What’s it like being a woman in the film production industry?

I think there was some statistic that came out this year that 7% of movies released last year were directed by women. If you look at the studio movies only 4% were directed by women. So obviously it’s still a big time boy’s club, especially directing and I think screenwriting too. Of course, there are successful women but it is not easy because there aren’t too many to turn to say how did you do it? Could you mentor me? Can you give me some guidance?

I think it’s strange because there are a lot of female surgeons, a higher percentage of females in Congress… I’m not sure why directing and film-making is the final frontier for women.

I always thought, just do it. You can’t be scared of the numbers or persuaded not to do something you want to do based on numbers. Part of why I love doing this project is that I’m making something myself. I’m not waiting for approval from someone to push my script forward or give it thumbs up… I’m just doing it myself.

It’s a new time. Ten years ago there weren’t opportunities… no Kickstarter or Indigogo. Cameras were very expensive back then; you couldn’t make something that looked professional cheaply.

Hopefully more women will start stepping forward and making things happen for themselves.

Is it hard being a working mom in Hollywood (Robyn has two kids)?

It’s difficult! A friend of mine is also a director…and she would ask that question to these very, very high level women working in Hollywood and they would do a Tommy Wiseau ‘next question.’

They just never wanted to answer that question. I thought that was so interesting! It seemed like they didn’t want to own up to the difficulties inherent in being a working mother or seem weak by admitting that it is hard to juggle both.

When I was in my 20s, I thought a woman can 100% have it all, no compromises. And now I don’t believe that. Something has to give somewhere and you just have to figure out where you want to give, where you want to be flexible.

I think you can have a great career and have kids too; you just have to figure out a way to do it. I don’t think you absolutely have to attend every last baseball game and brownies meeting to be a good parent. Does your child need you helicoptering overhead every single moment? No. It’s about finding that balance.

How does a woman from North Carolina with a degree in Public Policy Studies end up in Hollywood in the first place?

Very good question! I always loved theater as a hobby and did it in high school and college. I wanted to be an actor but my parents weren’t 100% supportive. They thought I should be a doctor or a lawyer.

So I went to Duke and studied acting but also pre-med. Health Policy was my major. When I got out I decided I didn’t want to go to medical school and worked in healthcare consulting. During that time, I thought I’m really craving getting back into the acting. I really missed it so I started doing improv… and started doing commercial auditions while still juggling my job.

Then I decided I wanted to move to Chicago. My husband was applying to business schools there and a lot of my improv friends were like “you have to study improv in Chicago, it’s the best place.” So when we went to Chicago I started going to Second City… but I was still doing healthcare stuff.

I just really started focusing on acting even more. I did independent films and lots of commercials there and just got the bug. I thought this is my life, I’ve got one life. I’ve got to pursue my dream, and I’ve got to give it a shot.

So after my husband got out of grad school we decided to move to LA so that I could pursue this. I always thought I’d want to live in LA. I came out on vacation when I was 10 years old and thought I’ve got to find a way to get out here. I’m excited that I made it out here!

Will you ever be able to put The Room behind you and do you even want to?

I don’t think I will because there is always a new generation of people watching it. It’s like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s still going, there are still followers, still fans and how long has that been going, 40 years?!

There was a caravan of 15 year old kids that chartered a bus an hour from Los Angeles to come to a screening of The Room in Westwood that I attended a couple of months ago. I went to get a drink before the show at the bar next to the theater and there were a bunch of the moms of these kids sitting at the bar. The kids had all seen clips of The Room on YouTube and were always talking about it, so this was their end of the year party.

There are always parents with kids in the audience for The Room. I’m still blown away, like, really? Should a 12-year old see this? Parents (with semi-bad judgement) are spreading it to the next generation, which means it’s not going anywhere. It’s not going away. Damn it!

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put it totally behind me. It’s always going to be there attached to my name. But that’s okay. I think its fun. It’s a unique life experience, right? That’s what I tell myself so I don’t cry myself to sleep at night. Kidding!

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