As someone who always dreamed of making an impact on people through movie acting, Philip Haldiman has certainly achieved his goal — though not quite in the way he envisioned. As a star of what’s been called the worst movie ever made, The Room, the 35-year-old Phoenix native will forever be remembered for his character, Denny, a man child who couldn’t figure out social graces. The Room was released in 2003, and since, it’s been shown hundreds of times all over the world and has gained a Rocky Horror Picture Show-style cult following, where audiences shout things out in theaters and throw plastic spoons as a homage to one of the many weird scenes in the odd and bizarre film with no clear plot. Haldiman chronicled his journey as a struggling actor in Los Angeles in his new comic book series, My Big Break, which he’ll be signing at a release party this Saturday, February 23 at FilmBar in Phoenix at 9 p.m. Keep reading to learn more about the story behind Denny and The Room, and scroll down to hear five reasons why Haldiman loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was born here in Phoenix. I have lived in a few other places throughout my youth and as an adult, but, hey, I guess I can’t stay away.
What’s your first memory of being interested in acting?
Buddies and I would shoot videos in high school, spoofs of the spring musicals, history projects, stuff like that. But I remember one of the pivotal moments for me was in 1994 when I was a junior in high school, and Pulp Fiction came out. I remember going to see it at the dollar theater at the time, and it blew my mind. I had to keep going back because the movie was so disjointed and nonlinear but yet such a complete piece. I saw it like eight or nine times in the theater and was like, “Wow, I want to do that.” There’s something about films that is truly transformative and affects people and can change people’s lives. I wanted to be a part of that. By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to move to L.A.
What was moving to L.A. like for you?
Lonely. But also amazing. I’d say I came of age there. L.A. is quite a town. Really, it’s a living, breathing entity, and you never know how it will treat you until you’re actually there. I do cherish my times in Los Angeles and had some amazing experiences, but it was also a tough life.
Before The Room, what was your professional acting experience like?
Before I moved to L.A., in Phoenix I did shows for a number of theaters, like Actors Theatre Phoenix and Phoenix Theatre, but also a number of smaller theaters. In L.A. I did commercials and short films, pretty bad feature films that no one has ever seen. I did get more work than some of my other acting friends that were out there. I didn’t sit on my butt, I went out there and pounded the pavement, and it did net some results.
How did you land The Room?
I got called in for an audition. That was when I met (director/writer) Tommy Wiseau. The rest you’ll have to read about in Issue #1 of My Big Break.
Where is Wiseau’s strange accent from?
We all tried to figure it out, all of the cast members. He said he’s from San Francisco, I think. I personally was just happy to be there.
What was your first impression of the script?
To this day, as far as I know, nobody’s seen a full script. I’d get a scene here or there, and some of the cast members even tried to put all their scenes together, but it still wasn’t a full script. I will touch on that a little bit in future issues of the comic book.
Did the cast ever discuss how weird everything was?
We became pretty close. And, oh yeah, we bonded over the experience during lunches at Subway, down the street from the set. There was an oddness to being on the set, but I was just happy to be paid.
What’s your interpretation of Denny?
Denny’s character is very simple, and that’s what I went with. He maybe doesn’t know how to express himself in a way normal people do. I think he really wants to be a good guy, but he’s not articulate. He’s not the best in school, although Johnny is paying his tuition, but that’s the thing — he wants to get better and go to school and become a better person and smarter. He really does love and appreciate most of the characters in the movie. There’s definitely been a buzz going around about how Denny is “retarded,” but I can unequivocally say there’s no mention of Denny being retarded in the script. I was given no direction to play him as retarded.
What was the filming experience like?
There’s always something exciting about being on a movie set. It’s awesome to wake up and go to work and basically create something out of thin air. It was an interesting experience, and the comic book is all about it. Tommy had a vision, and whatever happened, happened. He was very serious about it and really passionate about his movie. And we all took it very seriously at the time as well. The comic book will explore this as well.
What happened after you wrapped?
We all kind of just went our own way. I’d speak every now and then to a couple of the cast members, and a few months down the road, we did some post-production audio work for a couple days.
In 2003, we had a red carpet premiere. We were really excited about it and had a Hollywood party afterward. We went and saw the movie, and it was a weird experience. Some people were asking for our autographs and didn’t even know us. The movie started, and already, people were laughing when they should not be laughing. People were kind of confused, and it was all really strange. When I saw it the first time, I thought it was so bad and would fade into obscurity.
In 2004, I moved back to Phoenix, and on the drive home, my friend who played Mike in the movie said, “Dude, they were cheering for you when you come on screen.” I couldn’t believe it. While I was interning at The Arizona Republic, my editor brought in an issue of Entertainment Weekly that I was in because one of the lead stories was about The Room. I couldn’t believe it was blowing up. It’s a weird thing when you go to college and get a degree in theater, and you’re famous because you’re in the worst movie that’s ever been made. You have to not take it too personally. Now, it’s really neat for people to want to take a picture with you for something you did a few years back in a movie. The fans really made this movie what it is. They love it, they dress up, and they make a really amazing experience in the theater.
What was the budget for the movie, and how was it funded?
I wish I could tell you how it was funded. Initially, it was a million dollar film, but then, as the weeks rolled on, we kept hearing that the budget was increasing. People are saying now it was $6 million, but I have no idea how it was funded. That was another big mystery. The big mysteries everyone has about this movie are the same one we all had while shooting it, and we still to this day don’t have the full answers to those questions.
Why do you think people love the movie so much?
That’s another mystery. When I first saw it, I never would have thought there’d be a response like this. First, I think people are hungry for communal experiences. It’s not just going to a movie, it’s interacting with the screen and each other and throwing spoons. I think there’s also this mystery to the movie. I’m still a little confounded by it.
Why did you decide to move back to Arizona?
At the time, it had nothing to do with The Room. By 2004, all my good friends had left L.A., and it just didn’t feel like there was anything there for me anymore, so I figured I’d go back to Arizona to see what the next chapter had in store for me. I went back to school and got a journalism degree, and eventually got a full-time job at The Arizona Republic. It’s worked out for me so far.
What has your acting career been like since The Room?
My job keeps me pretty busy, but occasionally I’ll do films. I have a lot of friends that work in film here, both professionally and non-professionally. I’ve done some 48-hour film challenges, and got a couple IMDB credits since I moved back. The Room star Juliette Danielle and I shot a trailer to promote the comic book. Keep your eye out for it. I think the fans will really dig it.
One of the weirdest scenes in the movie involves a framed photo of a spoon. What’s the meaning behind that?
I didn’t even notice that while I was filming. When I heard about the spoon thing, I was confused. The fans come up with these weird things that are hilarious.
Do you still make money off it?
No. We got paid for our services on set. No residuals or royalties or anything like that.
How much did you make?
About $100 a day, which was decent. Hey, man, I was living the dream!
What inspired you to want to do the comic book?
I knew the 4 years I spent there were special and amazing and worth sharing, so I decided to just sit down and start writing. I wrote about 30,000 words, but I got to a point where I got writer’s block and was exhausted. I was out having a beer with a buddy who said I should think about doing a comic book, and I thought that was a really good idea.
I knew Tommy Cannon from the downtown Phoenix improv scene, and my brother mentioned he was an artist. I checked his work out and asked him to do the art. He had seen The Room and was totally down to do it, so I started breaking down the story into pages and frames, and I was really impressed with the process. It has been a really great collaboration. This comic book has been a year in the making. I’ve brought on more artists recently, and we’re working on issues two and three right now. The first issue is about 24 pages, and it reminds me of an old-school comic book, like from the golden age of comics. Each issue is going to get better and better.
How many issues do you envision?
At first, I thought maybe three or four, but I held this first issue in my hand and now sort of want to stick with it. I have a lot to tell and could feasibly do dozens. I’m not sure where it will go. I’ll be releasing them hopefully every other month.
What should people expect if they’re going to go a live showing of The Room?
You’re going to have a good time. The laughter that comes out of the theater is really impressive. Some people might walk out confused, but people generally have a good time. Bring some plastic spoons.
How many times have you seen it?
Maybe five or six, all live, though the movie is on DVD.
What do you hope people take away from seeing the movie?
It’s about, as Tommy Wiseau says, enjoying yourself and having a good time. It’s about enjoying the experience. I think if you ask 20 people what The Room means to them, you’ll get 20 different answers.
What are your goals with The Room and the comic?
I don’t really have any goals with The Room, just that people keep enjoying it. I like the idea of having a personal record of my life, and the comic book serves that purpose for me. I want people to enjoy it and connect with it. If they can relate, that would make my day. It’s really about what it’s like to struggle in the entertainment industry.
What can people expect from the first issue?
The first issue is the story of my audition for The Room, and meeting Tommy Wiseau for the first time.
Why’d you decide to kick off the series with that?
The Room changed my life, and I think that was a significant moment. I also think people are fascinated by Tommy and the story of The Room, and hopefully I can shed a little light on that subject.
What advice would you have for people who are going to L.A. to become actors?
Read my comic book. Ha! Seriously, don’t be afraid to follow your dream. Maybe this sounds cheesy, but if you follow your heart, you might not get exactly what you want, but you probably won’t be let down. When I look at my life in L.A. and where I’m at now, I think it’s been a neat experience. Be open to anything, because you just don’t know where it will take you.