Jordan Firstman

Jordan Firstman has stepped out of one limelight and into another. The LA-based actor, who grew up on Long Island and made his bones doing sketches on Instagram, has stepped into a feature role playing the worst version of himself. Rotting in The Sun, co-written and directed by Sebastian Silva who also stars, is an evisceration of the many subcultures that we all, to some extent, participate in – whether willingly or not: influencer culture, gay archetype culture, true crime culture, white tourism culture, and more. 

1883 Magazine catches up with Firstman over Zoom to find out what playing his own worst self taught him. 

One of the points that I felt this film made was how much do we really hate people who have put themselves so much onto social media that they and their brand become synonymous. You never really know the person.

It’s like, does follow equal ‘like’ or ‘love’. You see these people with so many followers, and you think they must be followed because people like them to a certain degree. There is so much cultural hatred. I think we’re also living in a time where there’s never been more hatred for celebrities in general. But then the TikTok generation came, and then some people felt more real, but it’s impossible to not get lost in the game because followers equals money which then equals opportunities, so then it transitions to celebrities. There’s no way to remain relatable. You get famous for being yourself. Then, all of a sudden, they don’t want to see you at a Fendi show. But no one’s gonna say no to going to a Fendi show.

Has pouring your worst qualities into this character changed your relationship with social media?

I’ve been wanting to stop making content for a long time and I feel like my intuitive followers know that, but most of my followers are not intuitive. They don’t get that this is not what I want to do anymore. They see my film and TV projects as this bonus thing that I’m getting to do because I do these Instagram videos, but not as the thing I’m actually trying to do. I guess over the last year any videos I posted have felt, to me, like maintenance to just try to keep people happy. That’s a bit of a narcissistic way of doing it. It also is for them too, You know, it’s showbiz, you got to give them what they want to some degree and I like making people happy. I want to give that to them. 

It is this weird conundrum where like, if giving something to them makes me feel bad, where’s the line in that? Hopefully, I can come to a place where, like with this movie, I can be giving people something they like, which is a good movie. I could be doing something that makes me fulfilled as well. I’m definitely on my transition out of making videos, though.

I read that your agent was maybe concerned about you taking on this role in particular as opposed to something more mainstream. 

Everyone who works with me knows the deal with me – they know that I’m going to do what I’m going to do, so it was more like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” It was more about the sex because Sebastian Silva is a very revered filmmaker, and actors respect the fuck out of him. It wasn’t like I was coming in blind with this filmmaker no one had heard of, they were just concerned because they saw that I was getting these other opportunities that are more mainstream and maybe [taking this role] will affect that. And you know, maybe I’m not gonna be on a Disney show after this, but I will still be on an FX show. I’m not worried about it.

In America and the UK, there’s been a sort of prudish response to the film and a lot of people referring to it as ‘The Full Frontal film’ and there’s a lot of conversation around the fact that there’s a lot of male nudity and a lot of sex in it. Was that something that you were preoccupied by in terms of how it’s going to be received, and that that conversation might obscure the other things about the film that are so powerful?

I have always cared about people seeing this movie and the success of this movie. I know that, when people watch it, they’re gonna get a lot out of it. I think the dicks really helped. But yes, it’s annoying. It’s annoying as an artist for people to focus on it, but I do not think the movie would have the buzz that it has right now without the dicks? I also liked seeing how shocked people are by it. They really think it’s a movie about penises. It has a weightiness that people don’t expect. I think a lot of gay men feel very seen by the movie and in a not good way, and so especially with the drug abuse in the sex, it’s interesting. When we screened it in Mexico, I think some Mexican people felt very seen in a not good way. There’s a profound state of being that people are leaving the theatre in, which is cool. I like that people are coming in thinking it’s going to be only fun, and there is fun. It’s a fun movie. 

The film is also eviscerating of all of those subcultures — the true crime subculture, the influencer subculture, the white expat subculture — just by the characters being as terrible as they are.

It’s a testament to Sebastian’s writing. I’ll use the G word. I do think he’s a genius. I think a lot of these geniuses… It flows out of them from this like otherworldly realm. I think that the movie talks about so much. I remember Sebastian and Pedro writing and they were trying to figure out the mystery and the story structure was the most important. Then, this other stuff is where Sebastian’s genius just came in, just by looking around and observing and twisting that into the work.

How has the response to the film been in different areas of the world? 

In LA this movie played like The Hangover, it was a riot, and the theatre was going crazy [laughing]. In Berlin, it was way more introspective. I think what’s nice about the movie is you can take it in so many ways like. You could find it to be the funniest thing you’ve ever seen or you could find it to be very dark and sad and depressing. 

What were the logistics of filming the scene with Vero through the translation app on the phone? 

The app was really shitty. Almost nothing was manipulated. The last she was told to say her lines a little sloppy, but what you hear at the end is a little chopped up, but it mostly came out like that. The phone actually did start glitching, and it started saying ‘I didn’t believe, I didn’t believe’ over and over. Those scenes were really fun as an actor because you’re playing against Catalina. It’s just so delicious working with her. In those scenes, we couldn’t really go by the script completely because we had to be present with what the app was giving us. They were really, really fun.

But it’s also interesting because it affords her the ability to manipulate the situation because she’s got this upper hand of knowing that your character doesn’t understand her.

One thing just to go back, I’m thinking about another scene where I have the hook up there and I’m trying to translate in the app and it’s not working so I’m like, “Fuck it I’ll get him to do it.”

And he stands there crossing his arms over his nipple piercings. 

But then, even he can’t really explain it. I just think that was such a funny scene. 

But that scene is also really great because it juxtaposes these two different minority cultures — you’ve got a domestic worker and then a gay couple — and seeing those two cultures clash in this moment, that’s very tense. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but also deeply relatable.

Yeah, and he’s calling her ma’am and she’s looking at his nipple rings in disgust or confusion like, “What is all this?”

I think that speaks to this messiness that we live in. We’ve come to a point where we’re hyper-aware of our own and each other’s identity, which is a good thing, but it also can put these boundaries in place that make other conversations harder to have.

I think in America we’ve become so obsessed with definition because it is so defined here. In America, you go somewhere that is ‘right’ and even the way they serve you coffee, you will know political views. We are so defined as a culture, especially now more than ever, and then you go to other places in the world and things are less clear. Like yeah, the housekeeper might think gay guys are gross, but she is still there — she’s still doing her job. I think another thing, it may not even be that she has any feelings about it but she’s probably never seen the character of Sebastian bring a guy home. Now, all of a sudden, there are these orgies and gay guys around and she’s probably thinking, “Wait, what the fuck is this culture?”

That’s an interesting mirror to the influencer culture though, of nothing in your personal life is off limits. Everything that you do and are and want becomes fodder for your brand. And so there is no such thing as the private and public sphere anymore. They just have melded into one.

Yes, exactly.

Are there other genres that you’re looking towards as an actor? 

I’m kind of confused right now, to be honest. I feel like I’ve been really spoiled with this movie. I give so much of myself, and all my writing historically has been very personal. And so to do something else personal feels like a bit redundant after this, especially because like, the critical eye that Sebastian has on me might be more effective than my own critical eye on myself. 

I’m writing a movie. I’ve been working on a movie for the last like, six months that is personal, not in the same way with gay stuff and drugs and sex, so I want to finish that and see where I’m at with that. I’d like to act in something that feels a little less like me and play a little bit more of a character. This movie feels kind of highbrow to me, so I’d like to keep it high-brow. I can’t lie. It’s like it’s a daunting thing, knowing what to do next. Before this, I could be like, “Yeah, I’ll do Marvel. Yeah, I’ll be on Dave.” I could just be like, “Oh, I’ll I’ll pop in and be the funny guy.” But I do feel like as an artist now, and maybe I’ll still do some like straight comedy roles, but I feel like as an artist I want to keep evolving and challenging myself. So I think something that’s a little more outside of myself might be my next thing. 

Rotting in the Sun is out now on MUBI.

Interview Gabriella Geisinger
Photography Billy Lobos

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