Photo Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Samuel Talan, Getty Images, Everett Collection
Similar to his heightened self-caricature with Sebastián Silva Rotting in the sun, Jordan Firstman knows how to embrace the moment. The meta-comedy mystery explores a tense, budding relationship between an artist and his muse — a nod to Silva and Firstman’s IRL dynamic — and on the night of the film’s New York premiere, the actor says he was “maybe 20.” “Celebrated percent more than I should have” with the filmmaker.
In Rotting in the sun, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and opens in select theaters on September 8, we first meet Firstman-not-Firstman as he drowns on a nude gay beach in Mexico. However, he manages to find a silver lining in the near-death experience. The filmmaker (Silva), stuck in the same current, happens to be the director of a film he saw the night before. Firstman, an American social media influencer who doesn’t take no for an answer, sees the coincidence as a sign that they should work together. What starts out as an attempt to exploit the opportunity and get the depressed artist to have a good time ends up drawing Firstman into the depths of Silva’s dark world. The hedonistic roller coaster ride begs the question: When should the party end?
“He lives in a reality where he spends what he wants and he gets it,” Firstman said over Zoom, a sinister grin familiar to him almost a million Instagram followers taped to his face. “It’s that kind of Oprah mentality, and it works.”
Firstman says the toxic positivity he brings to the performance comes from the 2020 version of himself. But following Silva’s instruction to play the “worst” version of himself posed more of a challenge than channeling the inner lives of inanimate objects like the ones he inhabits in his viral Instagram videos. “After this film I feel much more confident as an actor and much less confident as a person. It was like therapy and anti-therapy at the same time. I need therapy for this, but it was also a form of therapy.”
Where do you get your best culture recommendations?
I generally think if something is really good and enough people I know post about it, I’ll see it. But my friend Ruby McCollister is a comedian based in New York. I call Ruby and she just tells me where we are as a culture. These aren’t even specific recommendations, but the last time I spoke to her she said: The next wave is like Gothic. It’s not gothic, it’s gothic. And I thought, that’s so true. The next aesthetic is like 19th century Gothic.
You get in an Uber XL and can bring five celebrities with you. Who comes?
I drove in this car so it’s kind of unfair, but I’d probably go with Charli XCX, Benny Drama and… Rachel Sennott. This is a fun car where we dance, make stupid TikToks and get crazy. Five fit in an XL or six? I’ll add another person from my life, another comedian, Owen Thiele, who is brilliant. Let’s have a wildcard: I get Christina Aguilera. Because then we would have to deal with her mood and we would still want to have fun, but we would be like, wait, how do we get Christina to have fun? And she won’t have any fun. She sits in the front.
What if you could invite five celebrities to a dinner party?
I saw you met him recently?
Yes, it was a dream come true. I can’t say it any other way. It is believed that these legends have almost lost touch in some way. But there’s something in his eyes that makes me think: Oh, you’re one of the girls. You get it in a way that me and my gay friends understand. You get all the culture. I’m going to make this a pretty gay dinner. It’s a dinner with gay legends. Let’s add Mike White. We’ll add Stephen Sondheim there. We will also add Jean Genet there. It will be a very intoxicating dinner. I recently met Wolfgang Tillmans and he is such a sweet guy, so I want this to remain a sophisticated art dinner. And Todd Haynes.
What was the last meal you cooked for dinner?
My boyfriend is Italian and I met his family for the first time and although the food his mother cooked is so stereotypical, I thought the restaurants in Italy were the best food you could have. No, it’s the homemade shit. It was better than any restaurant I’ve ever had. And it is constant. And they won’t let you stop. All they talk about throughout dinner is what they cooked last week or what they’re going to cook next week. Their fried squid was exquisite. I asked to help cook, but they wouldn’t let me. I didn’t do anything.
What is your ritual before filming?
When I need to be in my feelings, I usually put on SZA or Frank Ocean. These are my girls who really take me to a sad or heartbreaking place. “White Ferrari” and “Self Control” will get me every time. And as far as SZA goes, I think it’s a really underrated track SOS but “Open Arms” with Travis Scott. I’m newly in love; it’s a love song. “Blind” drives me crazy. These texts: It’s so embarrassing. All the things I feel live within me. I can’t see, I’m blind. Are you kidding me?
What is your comfort rewatch?
There are three shows I constantly re-watch: mad Men, BoJack HorsemanAnd The Larry Sanders Show. These are my sleep shows. I know her back and forth. And then to the film, Vicky CristinaBarcelona.
What is something that you will never, ever watch, even if someone pays you to do it?
That’s kind of an answer for a gay guy, but um, probably everyone War of stars. If someone forced me to watch all of this war of stars Films together… I’ve tried parts of it, but it just doesn’t work for me.
I couldn’t get through either dune, but I think I have to see it in the cinema. I looked at it on the computer and I think it’s like a visual thing, but I don’t think dust is that pretty. I needed more than just dust, but I want to try looking at it again.
People tell you their good, juicy secret gossip in your Instagram Secrets series. What’s the best gossip you’ve ever heard?
I couldn’t say it if it was the best gossip, could I? Because then it would be super secret. I have stuff about Frank Ocean. Gossip about our heroes is so intoxicating, but you also don’t want to hear it because you don’t want to ruin the image you’ve created in your head, you know?
It’s more of a pre-party game that I came up with. Essentially, you give your friends a phrase that they have to say naturally five times throughout the evening in conversation. And it must be super embarrassing. I made Benny Drama’s line for the evening: “This town is full of liars.” He had to say it five times throughout the night and not tell people it was a joke. It is so much fun. And you just pick the most humiliating one based on what it would mean to that person.
Name a book you couldn’t put down?
The Marvel Universe by Bruce Wagner. Everything by Bruce Wagner. And the Bible.
What is the best and worst advice you have ever received?
My high school theater teacher saw me very deeply and always said, “Jordan, use your powers for good, not evil.” I think he saw in me that I was capable of using my powers for evil . And I still think to this day that when I feel insecure, I tend to bully. The way I create a character is by recognizing patterns or similar behaviors or insecurities in others. So I can use it to make great art, but I could also use it to hurt people I might love. Using my powers for good rather than evil is the best advice from Michael Tester on Long Island.
Which vacation destination would you recommend to someone who needs to get out of a creative slump?
Naples. I was there this summer and was so gagged. The energy, the life, the food. Go alone. I cried every day and thought about love.
You have a few amazing neon art In her flat. Do you have a favorite piece of art that you own?
I’m currently in the process of selling or giving away everything in my apartment. It’s all gone. It’s happening right now. I had this clear plastic light box that had all these shapes and different shades of neon colors so the light would hit it in different ways. It was a cube; I think I wanted to keep this, but I don’t know where it is. Maybe it’s gone?
What would be your last meal?
Chengdu taste in the San Gabriel Valley. My order hasn’t changed in years. Flavor: Shrimp, eggplant, tomato and egg soup, crispy pepper chicken, fried rice, toothpick lamb, mung bean noodles.
What’s the worst thing you can do at a dinner party?
One time a friend’s husband was on the phone the entire dinner party and I glanced at what he was doing and he was binge-watching Damage.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.