This week we are interviewing Robyn Paris, the actress who portrayed Michelle in one of the best bad movies of all time, The Room. She is currently working on a new project called The Room Actors: Where Are They Now? A Mockumentary.
RiffWiki: Let's start with a little bit about your background and who you are. Who you are, where you come from and stuff like that. Journalism!Robyn Paris: Hi! Thanks for the interview. I am originally from Greensboro, North Carolina but I've been living in Los Angeles for over 10 years now. I went to Duke undergrad and after a few years in the corporate world, I moved to LA to be an actress. Over the past few years, I've transitioned more into writing. I went to film school at UCLA after appearing in The Room and got my MFA in Screenwriting. I write a lot of comedy and some drama, both TV and features.
RiffWiki: When/why did you decide to be an actress?
RP: I did lots of theatre in high school and I studied acting in college. As a child, I always wanted to pursue acting. It was a dream! But my parents weren't crazy about me majoring in theatre though so I tried to pursue a more mainstream career at first. I took a job at a consulting firm in Washington, DC after college and did that for a few years. During that time, I performed in local DC theaters and joined an improv troupe. That's when I first fell in love with improv comedy - which prompted me to move to Chicago where I studied at Second City and Improv Olympic. After a year or two, I realized I need to be in LA, so I picked up and moved out west - where I continued to study theatre and perform improv. I still do improv shows weekly with a troupe called "Adult Beverage" here in LA.RiffWiki: How did you first come to know about Tommy Wiseau and the production of The Room? What was the audition process like?
RP: I saw an ad in Backstage West for The Room and sent in my headshot. They called me and invited me to an open call audition. I showed up early for the audition because I was in a play later that night. I spoke with Tommy for a few minutes before any other actors arrived and I truly think that's why he gave me the part! In Tommy Wiseau’s book, being the first one there meant that I was professional. His primary mode of auditioning was telling the actors, "your best friend just died! Go!" If you didn't cry immediately he'd say, "what's your problem? Your best friend died, what kind of friend are you?" Next, he'd shout - "You just won the lottery! Go!" and he wanted you to be bouncing off the walls with ecstatic energy. He constantly shouted at people saying, "you expect me to believe that? It's bad acting! Next!" The whole thing seemed like sketch comedy.
After this initial audition process, I got a call-back. Tommy had narrowed down the role of "Michelle" to two people. He had us show up on the set together at around 10pm at night. The Room movie had just wrapped shooting for the day. (Much of the production had already taken place when I was cast). Tommy asked the two of us random questions about eating chocolate, but didn't want us to read lines or do any acting.
RiffWiki: What was daily life like on the set? Is there any particular story that captures what life was like during filming?
RP: Every time we got to the set, it seemed there was a different crew. During the short time that I was there, we blew through 3 different crews. They would get fed up with not getting paid on time or getting shortchanged and they would quit. I remember when Juliette and I were doing the party preparation scene, Tommy yelled at us, saying that he didn't believe we were best friends (we literally met 10 minutes before the scene). He insisted that we have a pillow fight to prove our affection for one another because "that's what best friends do." That's what I do with my girlfriends over a nice glass of wine!
My absolute favorite moment on set for me was the fight scene at the end of the movie. It was so hilarious to be cramped in that small Room and act like we didn't notice Juliette and Greg slow dancing. And then act like we were shocked when Tommy tried to beat up Greg. I just couldn't stop laughing. I was supposed to look concerned in the background but I was literally crying with laughter between takes. Also, Tommy insisted that the make-up artists airbrush me out every day. He hated my freckles. And he got himself airbrushed with makeup every day as well. I tell people this a lot, but the worst day on the set for the make-up artists was when they had to airbrush Tommy's ass.
RiffWiki: What was it like seeing the movie for the first time?RP: It was magic. The theatre was packed with press. A few people left after 10 or 15 minutes but those who stayed got an amazing treat. Because I hadn't seen the script for The Room, I didn't actually know what happened in most of the movie. (Tommy refused to share the script because he thought we would steal it and try to shop it around Hollywood). So, seeing the movie in its entirety was almost as surprising to me as to the other theatre-goers. The recycled love scene, the rooftop Chris R/Denny sequence where all of the actors show up one at a time, the part where Denny sits on the floor when he walks in the door, the part where Greg almost throws Peter off the edge of the building - all of these were surprises to me. I laughed so hard at the premiere, I was literally crying. And the next day, my husband and I quoted lines to each other and had tears streaming down our faces. It was just beyond entertaining. Tommy was sitting in front of me at the premiere and I remember trying not to laugh out loud because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. But of course, that made the laughter even more intense and uncontainable!
I think we all knew we had seen something really special. A few of the actors were pretty shocked though and it did take awhile for everyone to come to terms with the unintentional hilarity of the film and of course, the cult following that it spawned.
RiffWiki: What was your reaction when the movie started to become what it eventually became, which is this bizarre, inexplicable cultural phenomenon?RP: I was pretty surprised to learn that the cult status had grown to the point where it would be profiled in EW (in 2008), but not shocked. Right after the premiere, I already heard rumblings of comedians liking it, and I knew fans were really into it. Way back like in 2005 - there was a fan reaction video that Tommy put together and it showed the fans going crazy at the screenings.
On one hand, after we shot The Room, I thought - there is no way anyone will see this! But it was so funny being on set that I thought - well, if someone DOES see it, they will probably see how ridiculous it is and maybe it will get a cult following. I know that sounds crazy - like "I called it!" But I told my husband that at the time - "this thing could get a cult following!" But almost all of the actors in The Room now saying, "how could this happen on THIS level?" We are just blown away.
When I found out that James Franco was going to make The Disaster Artist, I was floored. And then when I found out he was going to play Tommy - it was just a really big face-palm slash jaw-dropping moment. I think all of the actors were like - ok, so here we are...even MORE people are going to know about this. Like it or not, this thing is getting even bigger.
Most of us, including myself, love being a part of The Room. Going to Room screenings have been some of the most joyful moments of my life. I usually wear a wig and ask my friends to dress up too. It makes the experience more festive! I like to watch the movie like a fly on the wall and enjoy it with the fans. Most of the time, no one recognizes me in my wig and I usually don't tell anyone that I'm in the movie. The feeling of community in the audience at the screenings is spectacular - it's just really fun and special.
RiffWiki: How much of an impact has The Room and the phenomenon it has generated affected your life? Do people come up to you on the street and say "OH HI MEECHELLE?"
Not really! I don't mind if they do though! Really the only place people recognize me is amongst the improv comedy community. It's definitely weird 'cause I think people assume I'm a horrible actor, having been in The Room. But I felt I did the best I could with the few pages of the script I was given. Usually Tommy gave me my scene pages a day before and sometimes just an hour before filming.
Being in The Room didn't affect my career for a while because so few people knew about it. But now, it's gotten more mainstream. Since I'm a writer, it's mostly about what's on the page so I don't think people care all that much. If I were still doing a ton of acting, maybe it would be hard to overcome.RiffWiki: Have you heard the RiffTrax commentary for The Room? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
RP: I've heard most of it. I think it's hilarious. Bill, Kevin and Mike are awesome and their comments and jokes are completely dead on. Going to a live screening of The Room is similar. No one lets ANYTHING go by on screen without riffing on it and poking fun at it.
RiffWiki: Have you partaken in any of the other RiffTrax commentaries? If so, what are your non-Room faves?
RiffWiki: Let's talk about your current project, which is a mockumentary about the actors and actresses who starred alongside each other in The Room. How did this concept come about?RP: I'm a writer and I mostly write comedies. About a year and a half ago, I had an idea for a story that would incorporate all of The Room actors and spoof how our lives have changed since appearing in The Room. I love the mockumentary comedy subgenre and I love parody. So when we came together for The Disaster Artist book launch last October, I pitched my idea to Juliette, Kyle, Carolyn and Greg Sestero. All of the actors were excited about the project so I finished up the script and sent it to them. After that point, they all jumped on board -- so I then recruited Philip Haldiman and Dan Janjigian (who don't live in Los Angeles).
Just a few weeks ago, Greg Ellery also joined the cast! I recruited a bunch of very funny improv actors and we did a table read this past February. At that point, we realized that we needed money in order to do this project the way we wanted - which is why we launched the Kickstarter project.
RiffWiki: Who is all on board with the project so far? It seems like you all still have a huge sense of camaraderie all these years later. Not that he needs to be, but will Wiesau be involved in the project at all?
RP: Yes, we all love each other's company. It's a great group of people. Everyone from the cast is involved, except for Scott Holmes and Tommy Wiseau. Greg Sestero is not one of our main characters, however, he is a part of the film (exactly how is a surprise!). We lost touch for a few years after The Room premiere. That was when we all thought (and hoped) that the movie might disappear into oblivion. But as The Room gained popularity, we reconnected via Facebook. We realize now that we are forever connected through The Room. I'm fortunate to be linked with these folks - they really great people.
RiffWiki: What are your hopes and dreams for the project, other than to have some fun and make some money? (Not that there's anything wrong with either of those.)
RP: Our primary hope is that we will create something fun for the fans to enjoy as a supplement to The Room movie. It's essentially fan fiction in movie form. I don't really know if we'll make money off the project. I'm a screenwriter (who's not Quentin Tarantino) so I'm used to not making much money! If we raise enough via Kickstarter, we'll also produce a spin-off web series, with a different Room cast member featured in each episode.
I would love this project to show The Room actors in another light and to allow us have fun with the whole Room phenomenon. We'll incorporate Room fan jokes and gags and poke fun at ourselves. On some level, we feel that we have been haplessly caught in The Room juggernaut. We're basically riding The Room momentum in a boat without a paddle. So - this project is about grabbing hold of a paddle and taking a little bit of control over the direction of the boat.
In general, all of the actors feel that we can't erase ourselves from The Room or disassociate our names with it on Google! So we might as well embrace it and have fun with it. This mockumentary gives us a great opportunity to do that.RiffWiki: We like to end these commentaries by asking if you could choose any movie that hasn't been riffed by RiffTrax yet to get the RiffTrax treatment, what would it be?
RP: I would say Fateful Findings. I saw the preview for it at a Room screening and it looks absolutely hilarious. I can't wait to see the whole movie.
RiffWiki: Thanks so much for talking to us today, we can't thank you enough for it.
RP: Thank you so much for the interview! I really appreciate it!