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Tom Prior on gay romantic drama Firebird, Russian homophobia and ‘horrendous’ death threats

The actor opens up about his role in a Soviet-era romance in the Attitude February issue.

By Alastair James

Interview and words: Alastair James; Photography: Pip

The star of the Cold War-set gay romance, Firebird, Tom Prior, says he and the film’s crew have been attacked over social media as a result of making the film. 

Appearing on the cover of the Attitude February issue – out now to download and to order globally – the 31-year-old reveals just some of the backlash the film has received in Russia, as well as the positive responses from other audiences. 

Tom Prior for the Attitude February issue (Photography: Pip; Styling: Sacha Dance; Grooming: Roro Cuenca using Glossier and Ouai)

Firebird, which Tom also co-wrote and produced in addition to his lead role as Sergey, is based on the memoir of Sergey Fetisov, A Tale About Roman. It tells the story of Fetisiov as he meets and falls in love with a daring fighter pilot, Roman, on an Air Force base in Soviet-occupied Estonia. 

Addressing the hostile responses from places such as Russia, where two film festivals that had screenings booked were disrupted, Tom reckons “it’s an acknowledgment of the reality of where things still stand there,” and the prevailing attitudes in the country. 

He continues: “We’ve been attacked several times via our social media channels with all kinds of intricate ways of how our creative team are going to die and things like that. It’s honestly horrendous, but it’s interesting to have pointed out that it’s a true story.”

Tom wears puffer jacket, by Lanvin

He tells Attitude that it’s not easy to block the social media abuse out and that it initially caught him off guard. However, Tom takes solace from living in countries (he currently lives between the UK and Estonia, where he moved when shooting the film) with greater amounts of acceptance.

“It makes me so happy to be able to see people of the same sex walking around in the street, holding hands, sharing intimacy. I think to have the freedom to express yourself genuinely is a great gift,” he says. 

In writing the film, Tom was lucky enough to meet Fetisov before he passed away, where he impressed upon Tom that the film should be about love, not politics. Inevitably though, the film has and will continue to be seen with politics in mind. 

On what sort of statement he thinks the film is making at a time when the situation on LGBTQ+ rights in some parts of the world is worsening Tom says the film shines a light and exposes areas where we still need to make progress.

Tom wears shirt by Fiorucci, shorts by Ron Dorff

“I’m honestly shocked by what’s happened in Hungary, for example, and what’s happened in these ‘LGBT-free’ zones in Poland. We’re talking about EU countries, which is kind of mad.”

He hopes the film helps promote “greater understanding and awareness”, as well as pulling on people’s heartstrings adding, “Can’t we just let people be in love with who they’re in love with?”

Not to make it sound all bad, there have also been some very positive responses to the film with Tom sharing how all sorts of audiences have, thankfully, not felt alienated by a gay romance.

“Some of the best feedback I’ve experienced is people writing to me and saying, ‘I’m not part of this community, but as a result of your film, I will treat this community with a greater respect knowing the trials and tribulations that they’ve had to go through.'”

Firebird is available to preorder on iTunes in the UK now and is due in cinemas in Spring 2022.

Read the full interview in the Attitude February issue, out now. 

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