EDGE Interview: Influencer Jordan Firstman Enjoys 'Rotting in the Sun' with Sebastián Silva
Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 11 MIN.
In Sebastián Silva's wacky, satiric, meta-mindfuck movie, "Rotting in the Sun," we are introduced to a social media influencer (Jordan Firstman, playing a more amped-up version of himself) as he is drowning in the ocean at a Mexico City resort swarming with naked gay men. Silva, also playing a version of himself, tries to save Firstman and almost drowns himself. Firstman is soon accosting Silva about how it's fate that they met, and that they must work together. Silva sees Firstman as a fool, but the influencer persists, and the plot goes haywire from there, including lots of male nudity and gay sex, as well as a jarring narrative turn that sends the Firstman character on a dark mystery solving adventure... of sorts.
The filmic first encounter between the two artists is based on their real-life first meet, with bells and whistles added for dramatic/comedic effect.
Firstman might be playing a deranged version of himself, but he does so quite convincingly. The actor-writer-director-social-media-sensation is best known for his "Insta-impressions," but is an accomplished filmmaker in his own right. His short films include, "Sold," "The Disgustings," "Men Don't Whisper," and "Call Your Father." His TV writing/acting credits include HBO Max's "Search Party," and he was story editor on "The Other Two." His upcoming acting gigs include Disney+'s "Ms Marvel," and "You People" opposite Jonah Hill and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
EDGE had a fun 'n fab chat with Firstman about his "Rotting" experience, his topsy-turvy relationship with Silva, and nudity/sex onscreen.
EDGE: How closely does the film mirror your first encounter with Sebastian?
Jordan Firstman: Some details are exact. We had this really fateful meeting in Plaza Rio de Janeiro where the movie takes place. I had shown a hookup (Silva's film) "Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus" the night before, and the guy slept over. He went to walk his dog in the morning, and I was like, "I'll shower, and I'll meet you there." And when I go to the Plaza to meet the guy, he's flirting with Sebastian Silva.
They had never met before... And I start freaking out because I don't want it to come off that I just watched his movie and that I'm a fan of his, because I'm too proud. So, I subtly finessed it that we had some friends in common. Then we ended up getting dinner with some other friends. And he thought I was really annoying. (laughs) But kind of the perfect catalyst for what he was working on.
So, that part of the meeting is true. I wasn't as aggressively obsessed with him. He came to me to work together. I didn't ask to work with him on anything. But it's really wild how much of me and my negative traits he managed to pick up on in one meeting. We put a lot of them in the movie, and a lot of them are pretty spot on. A lot of my insecurities are in there that I never shared with him. He's a very perceptive man.
EDGE: Were you quick to want to take part or were you apprehensive? Because it's a pretty relentless takedown of your social media persona.
Jordan Firstman: I was in a moment where my social media fame happened really fast, and then I had a brief stint of cancellation that really took me down, so I was over the depression wallowing period and I was kind of in my Justin Bieber bad boy period where I was like, "Fuck my followers, fuck all these people!" And I wanted to go deeper into that.
It happened at the perfect time. I don't know if I would make it now. I definitely wouldn't have made it the year before when it was all daisies and roses. I needed to have that darkness inside of me and to see the other side of the Internet... I probably would have said yes, just because I loved his films. But I think I was way quicker to say yes, because he was talking about everything that I was feeling. He called me and he was like, "Dude, I just watched your Instagram. It's, like, so embarrassing. Are you embarrassed to post that?" And I was, like, "Yes, I am." (laughs)
EDGE: I've seen the film twice now, and the second time, I felt more compassion for your character. At one point he asks, "Why don't you like me?" And that line seems to define so many of us today.
Jordan Firstman: He's a super-naive character, and that line is so childish. And, yeah, it's how many of us feel, but I also think he's super-entitled, too, and used to getting what he wants, everyone liking him because he has all these social media followers and everywhere he goes people want to suck his cock. And now, this person that he finds to be smart and interesting doesn't like him and he's at the end of his rope, so the only thing left to do is scream, "Why don't you like me?"
EDGE: It's refreshing to see a gay-themed film that isn't about coming out or all the things we expect. It's a nasty satire, but it felt real, too.
Jordan Firstman: Yeah. You know, Sebastian really hates when people call it a gay film... I think it's pretty gay. I think it's gayer than he would like to admit. He's like, (does a Silva impression) "It's not gay at all, it's about social class." Yes, it's about that, but you can't deny its gayness. Even its sensibility is gay, and the portrait of Catalina, the faces she makes, it has that bit of camp and that gay sensibility – almost like in an Almodóvar [film]. I think it shows an honesty in this section of the gay community that I haven't seen before, because it's not trying to be for gay people and it's not trying to make straight people accept gay people. It's just showing the truth of observations by Sebastian and, to some degree, myself. And not telling anyone how to feel about anything at all. Ever. That's another part that I think is refreshing about the film.
EDGE: The sex in the film is never super intense and serious or done for shock value. It's messy, and even funny. Can you talk a little bit about how those scenes came about? And were you comfortable with them?
Jordan Firstman: It's funny, I had been approached six months prior to meeting Sebastian by Brazzers to write and direct a porn... I've always been a super-sexual person. I've always been a whore. It's a big part of my life. So, I was really intrigued and wanted to do it. And my agents were like, "Absolutely not." ... And then Sebastian was like, "Would you have real sex?" And I was like, "Oh my God, I've been like actually wanting to explore this." So, I was super down. And it was way harder than I imagined, especially because the set was so chaotic already. Then when you're having to just simply maintain an erection, or have a double-sided dildo there and a cock here and the wallet there and I have to find the phone... It's choreography, and I had to leave, and now there's a double penetration...
Jordan Firstman: There is a blink-and-you-miss-it double penetration in the movie. No one really sees it. When I come back into the room and I'm like, "You guys have to go," there are two dicks inside of one butt in that moment.
EDGE: Okay, reason to watch it again.
Jordan Firstman: (laughs) Funny story, I didn't know that was happening. We, the orgy crew, got sent down to the room with a bottle of mezcal and some ketamine. And they were like, "Get to know each other." So, we were all kind of horny for each other by the time we were shooting. But then I had to be in this stress mode, so I left, and I felt jealous that they were continuing their relationships. So, I go to talk to Sebastian and shoot the next scene where I come back in, and they're DPing this guy, but they didn't tell us they were doing it. I ripped him off, thinking that he was just on top of him. I ripped him out of a double penetration. Then I realized after, "Oh my god that could have caused some damage." But luckily, the bottom was a professional.
EDGE: Were you just given the screenplay, or did you have a hand in developing your character?
Jordan Firstman: He would send me things and I would send him notes back. And then I came to Mexico City before we shot to work on the script a little. The script is so tight, and the plot is so beautifully crafted, that I had no notes on that. It was just about saying things in my own voice and making sure my character was making decisions that I felt were in line with some form of my reality.
EDGE: Let's talk a bit about the critique that the film makes on social media hierarchy (and followers.)
Jordan Firstman: I think the film touches on herd mentality of a following going wherever you take them and being so not discerning about what you feed them. "I thought they loved me, but now they love this weird murder story." ...I think I started to feel ashamed that these people that used to make me feel so good about myself – I'm seeing them for who they really are, which is just faceless people who don't care about me. So, I start to see their shallowness and the shallowness of the whole thing. And then I'm looking at myself in these photoshoots. And I'm like, "I'm so part of this problem. And I'm part of the emptiness."
I think it's a comment on the emptiness of social media.
EDGE: Let's talk a little bit about the drug depiction in the film. It's part of the reality...
Jordan Firstman: Yeah, I think it's societal. I think it's gay. I think we live in a really hard time to be alive, and I don't I don't begrudge myself or anyone for their coping mechanisms. It's problematic, but I understand why it's happening. It's just hard to be alive right now. So, yeah, you take these magic little powders and pills that make you feel better. And then maybe they make you feel worse, but it's worth it for those moments that you can escape. I think drug use is rampant, more than I've ever seen in the gay community. I hope culture and society and life become easier, so we don't need to rely on that as much. But I also don't like being too hard on people for ways that they cope.
EDGE: Your relationship with Sebastian, it's sort of love/not so love. Where are you guys right now?
Jordan Firstman: It's day to day, honey. But today, we're loving each other. We really are like oil and water in so many ways. Not to sound like my character, but fate has brought us together... The movie is so meta in so many ways. But the fate of us meeting and then the movie – I think this is a big movie for Sebastian, too. And it's a big deal for me. And something about the way we trigger each other makes for really good content. Last night we were walking, and so many people after the premiere were like, "You guys are spiritual, like soulmate collaborators, and you need to do more stuff together." And we were walking home, we were like, "Dude, we thought this was gonna be it." We know we have to do something together again, but the idea of it is so exhausting. I think with the next collaboration, we're going in knowing each other a lot better. I know how to talk to him better. He knows how to deal with me better. But I know if we do something else, we're going to fight, too. So, it's just getting ready for those fights and knowing that they all pass because the love is strong.
EDGE: Did this experience make you want to flex your acting muscles more? Because you're really good.
Jordan Firstman: Thank you. I want to keep doing interesting projects. I impressed myself with what I was capable of in this movie. I like my acting chops in it. I think my comedic timing is good... I don't want to do things for the sake of doing them. I always want to have some connection to what I'm doing... Working on a project like this is such a blessing and a curse, because to do anything "less than" feels not as good. You never get these opportunities to do things this good. So, yeah, I'm super open. I'm always writing. I'm open to working with other creative people, other directors that can see the thing that Sebastian saw in me.
EDGE: What are you writing now?
Jordan Firstman: I'm writing a movie that that deals a lot with the drugs and the sex and the parties, kind of trying to examine that in a deeper way. Also, it has a really surprisingly earnest story... I'm finding some softer parts of myself in writing it.
"Rotting in the Sun" opens in U.S. cinemas September 8, 2023
Watch the trailer:
Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute