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Jordan Firstman on real gay sex in new film Rotting In the Sun: ‘It took ballsiness’

Exclusive: "The orgy was hard because of logistics" says the star of this headf**k of a film, improbably exec-produced by Robert Pattinson

By Jamie Tabberer

Jordan Firstman, and a random penis, in Rotting In the Sun (Image: Mubi)
Jordan Firstman, and a random penis, in Rotting In the Sun (Image: Mubi)

“I loved seeing cum in Weekend,” says actor Jordan Firstman of Andrew Haigh’s cult 2011 film, about two men who fall in love after a hook-up. “I was like: ‘That’s exactly what cum looks like when it’s on your stomach!”

We’re discussing memorable gay sex in film, because Jordan’s new movie Rotting in the Sun, directed by Sebastián Silva, will go down in history for its hilariously casual – and indeed literal – representation of the activity. 

“The sex doesn’t matter at all – it’s kind of there as a joke,” explains 32-year-old Jordan of this Mexico City-set tragicomedy, in which Silva also stars as a depressed director contemplating suicide. (And Grindr.) “The fact we’re leaning so much on the dicks in the promotion of the film is also a joke on the audience,” adds Jordan. “One, it’s not sexy at all. Two, it’s about so much more that that…”

Be that as it may, no matter the personal crises of the insufferable gays in this film, they just can’t stop having drug-fuelled sex. (If the entire premise sounds terrible, don’t be misunderstood. Attitude was absolutely hating it until about halfway through, when we realised we were absolutely loving it.)

“Not many actors in LA would have done what I did in the movie” – Jordan Firstman

There are unforgettably sexualised moments aplenty. In the scene above, for example, Jordan’s intolerable influencer character, also named Jordan (he’s loosely playing himself) ‘shakes hands’ with a penis at a gay nudist beach. “That was kind of an iconic moment, even if I do say so myself…” he laughs.

Here, banana bread’s publicist talks intimacy coordinators, ‘mean gays’, and how Twilight icon and now-indie movie darling Robert Pattinson, of all people, came to to be a producer on the movie.

Hi Jordan – can you sum up the film in a nutshell?

It’s a meta comedy about a depressed filmmaker who meets an annoying self-obsessed influencer, played by me. Through events, they decide to work on a project together. Then one of them goes missing. That’s all I’m going to say.

If you were giving the elevator pitch to a gay man, would you say the same thing?

I’d add one detail. What do you think that would be?

There are a lot of penises.

There are penises in there, too.

I love the ego death you experience in the film, through your character. But my takeaway is you had an ego death long ago and have been taking the piss out of yourself ever since!

I think life is perpetual ego inflation and ego death. Sometimes simultaneously. I’ve had a couple glow ups and blow downs, I’d say, in my tenure on this planet! But it was fun for this era of my life to be taken down, eviscerated. It was the first time I got to look at the internet aspect of who I was becoming from an angle that was not my own, or so positive. It was fun. I’ve always liked making fun of myself. I’m open and down. And it paid off. But there were definitely some uncomfortable moments for me in the process.

In the film you serve up this confidence – but what are you like behind closed doors? Do you have a vulnerable side?

For sure. I’m constantly worried about things. I think I’m fat, I hate my body just like everyone else. […] I like to show that side of myself too. But the confident side maybe shows up more. But I try to love my insecurity.

You’ve spoken on the subject of mean gays, and Silva has spoken of his less-than-glowing first impression of you. Is that sort of reaction common for you?

I’ve truly never met someone like Sebastian in my entire life. I don’t think he falls into a genre of gay. But a lot of the gay hate I receive, that I see myself or hear about from other people – a lot would never say it to my face. Some of these fags I see talking shit about me on Twitter, I’ll run into them at a party and they’re like: ‘Oh my god, hey! I think we have a friend in common!’ People like to talk shit, but can’t back it up in the real world. I’d love if someone said it to my face. But it really hasn’t happened.

It was refreshing to watch a film with such a casual depiction of gay sex and hook-up culture. Your character is chronically unbothered by the sex going on around him; the sex he’s having. Was there performance involved in that? Or were you nervous, and need to hide that?

It was scene by scene. I’m in those situations a lot in my real life. I’ve been to that beach before, so I was very comfortable there. I knew what it was like to get my dick sucked on that very rock! That felt like home. The orgy was harder because of logistics. There was a lot of camera movement, lighting stuff. In general, everyone in that scene was on the more promiscuous side of gayness anyway. That’s what we were trying to show. If I wasn’t in the film, those scenes wouldn’t have been in the film. [Silva] took that from my real life. He noticed how open I am about my promiscuity and sex life. Especially in the time he met me, there was a lot of dicks around, and orgies, and drugs, and group sex. So, he was kind for just writing what was there. Thank you for noticing it’s a different type of representation.

We’re living in a post-MeToo era, where intimacy coordinators are widely used. My assumption of this film, because of the naturalism, is that you didn’t use them. My knee-jerk reaction isn’t that that’s a bad thing. But do you notice a dichotomy between expecting them if it’s straight people, but if it’s queer people…

I mean, I can’t say what would’ve happened if someone had requested one. Honestly, probably we would have respectfully [said]: ‘This is not the movie for you to be in.’ In terms of the scale, the pace, what we were doing, everyone who was doing it needed to be, just, down. When you go out of the traditional system… It’s like, we chose OnlyFans guys because we knew they’d be more comfortable. But if we were doing this in LA, going through traditional channels – to be honest, not many actors in LA would have done what I did in the movie. It took ballsiness for all involved. That’s what I liked about it. It felt dangerous; like we were doing something bad. That comes through in the film and makes it feel more punk, too.

There’s a need for gay men to have conversations about sex and drugs. Do you feel that one way to start them is for a film to neutrally represent it, like this one?

Yeah. What’s cool is, this film has no moral stance about anything. Everyone is at fault for different things. It shows you a situation and you take what you want with it. Which is the kind of art I like best. But showing it neutrally – most gay men see it as more of a negative. No one’s watching it thinking: ‘Yes! They’re living their best lives!’ The sex and the drugs that are happening in our community – it’s not the best that it’s ever been. I don’t think we’re in a great place. To show it, not shamefully, but also to not glorify it… It is happening, and it needs to be talked about. No one is going to heal from being shamed. So, the point isn’t to shame. But it is to shine a light. To at least look inward and say: ‘Oh wow, this is happening all over the world in the gay community. Maybe it’s not the healthiest, and we’re ignoring certain parts of it. And certain parts of ourselves.’

Robert Pattinson is an executive producer on the film…

He’ll be at the premiere tonight! He came on last November, after we had finished shooting, but before Sundance and has been immensely helpful. He’s made great calls, loves the film, has gotten it to really cool people. He’s the best; we’ve started being friends. We sent him a cut of the film. […] He loved it, but was like: ‘What’s my place in this?’ He found his place in it. He’s a really great producer, and gets it.

Rotting In the Sun is streaming on Mubi from Friday 15 September