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A Conversation with Sebastián Silva & Jordan Firstman (ROTTING IN THE SUN)

Sebastián Silva’s latest film titled Rotting In The Sun. Silva has been making films for over a decade and has been a staple on the international festival circuit for that entire time. His films have premiered and taken home awards at the most prestigious film festivals in the world including Cannes, Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin, and many more. He has operated in a vast array of genres garnering strong reaction from all of his pictures. His latest is a Comedy/Mystery and features one of the best performances of the year from actor/influencer/internet sensation Jordan Firstman. Jordan Firstman was recently in the Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill film titled You People. However, On instagram, the man nearly has 1 million followers and has made countless viral tik toks. Both of these men were amazing to speak to in the following conversation edited for length and clarity.

 Hammer To Nail: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Basic question to start but I am wondering what the casting process was like and Jordan how did the film find you?

Jordan Firstman:  Sebastian and I met in Mexico City in the exact plaza where the movie is filmed. I had just showed a lover, someone I had sexual relations with, his movie the night before. And then the next day I went to the Plaza Sebastian and him was flirting. Then we met and we had dinner. Sebastian looked at my Instagram and thought it was really embarrassing, but I guess he saw some potential in me and saw some ways to make fun of me and maybe saw some natural talent hidden in there, I would hope. He called me and he said,  “I’ve been writing this movie, and I want to write a role for you, and I want to make fun of you. Not ironically. I just want to actually make fun of you and all the parts of you And all the things that are God given as well. Everything inside of you that you can’t change and everything for your life”  I said, “let’s do it.”  Then we started hooking up and we had a lot of sex, which inspired Sebastian, a lot, you know…haha just joking.

Sebastián Silva: But Jordan asked me if we were going to fuck? Like he kind of wanted to get it out of the way. He was like, “Are we going to fuck?” I’m like, “No, never, actually. Never.” We never have. But sometimes we’re like, what if we fall in love and our friends puke around us when we get married. It would ruin the lives of everyone we Knew.

JF: Everyone and ourselves.

HTN: So no audition process for you and for the rest of the cast members?

 SS: Matteo is a really close friend of mine, from Mexico. That’s his apartment building that his family owns and he got to play himself. His name is really also Matteo. And with Catalina, of course, no audition. I was so privileged that she had the time and the willingness to participate. My dog has no choice. She’s my dog. She does whatever I want. No auditions for this movie at all.

HTN: Jordan, your performance in the film is not only incredible, you go places that I’m not confident many actors would. So I’m wondering where this fearlessness comes from and what’s it like to be so naked on set?

JF: Sebastian is someone who deeply saw all of the parts of myself I was most insecure about. And so, I’ve always had the instinct to go into that. Like in my early twenties, if I sensed someone didn’t like me, I would corner them and make them tell me they didn’t like me and why. And then when they did that, I would cry and get really upset. I think it’s kind of a similar thing that happened. Like I wanted someone to just destroy me. And then, you know, when I watch it, it does hurt my feelings, but it still turns me on. It’s just also an opportunity. I was such a fan of Sebastian’s before, so I knew whatever he did to me was for the service of something that was going to be really cool and subversive. So, you know, I just put my trust in Sebastian and just let the dick sucking begin.

HTN: Well, speaking of that, nudity, I think the nude beach sequence is amazing and a perfect way to start the film. So I have a few questions about this moment. How did you find the location? Where did the idea come from? And really how did you execute those drowning shots from a technical perspective?

 SS: From a technical perspective, like we really didn’t do much storyboarding  with Gabriel Diaz, the DP and editor, honestly, almost a co-director. Truly, he was so, so involved. He’s a really open friend and he’s the lead actor of my first movie that I’ve ever made, Life Kills Me, which is featured in Rotting in the Sun. Yeah, we just talked about the vibe. We talked about how grotesque we wanted to be. So we got an angular lens just so we could get as close as we could to genitals to food to faces, whatever we needed, you know? We were pushing this sort of grotesque, overbearing imagery and intensity of Mexico City. Because I lived in the place that we shoot, that was my home while I was in Mexico. I knew the place so well. We had complete access prior to the movie. So we did some rehearsals with camera movements like, how we would follow the characters and stuff like that. But yeah, not much storyboarding or really any sort of technical preparation other than. It was more like a tonal conversation. The drowning was a little tricky.. We did have to use a different camera to go in the water.  It’s always scary to film in the ocean. Even though we were lucky to have a chill day. We did things on the go. Like, there wasn’t much preparation, really. That beach was concerning because it’s a nude beach resort. you’re invading the intimacy of people just by being there with a camera, let alone when you’re naked.

Jordan Firstman in ROTTING IN THE SUN

JF: Everyone was down though. I mean, the spirit of that beach is already very open. And I think Sebastian just has a natural ability to connect with people.  You just trust what he’s doing. He has  an authority that you’re like he knows what he’s doing. So I think everyone was thinking this is kind of fun and weird.

SS: The people were very cool, collaborative and it was kind of seamless. we only needed a certain couple of hours when the sun was setting. So it’s not that we were there filming people at peak hours. So that made it very easy or easier.

HTN:  Just as important as Jordan’s nudity, I think is his clothing, which really makes this character come to life. So I’m wondering how the costuming worked in those outfits.

JF: Yeah. I mean, honestly, I was in such a weird fashion era. Those were my friend Skyler, who owns this brand called Praying. A lot of that is his clothes. And we kind of put together my looks before I came to Mexico. And then with our costume designer, we worked on that together too, But super stupid. The stupider, the better. Just like that, the Rastafarian mesh tank top with board shorts and fur boots.  It just makes no sense. I think it was just part of the time where it was this weird, ironic post woke culture in 2021 that you were kind of getting away with saying problematic shit. So, I mean, we just kept it super silly. The Melania coat was important to me. I fought for that Melania coat. Things that seemed very of that moment and a bit shocking and a bit stupid. Everything I wore was unfortunately mine.

HTN: When Sebastian calls you a clown with that green mesh tank, I was like, I actually think he’s kind of slaying.

 JF: I think it’s a slay, but it is objectively clownish.

HTN: Yeah. I think a very interesting moment in the film is when Jordan does Ketamine with Sebastian’s brother. So what was your thinking behind that moment and specifically that kiss? And for you, Jordan, how did you prepare for that moment? I really feel like it’s a big moment for your character.

 SS: Well, I thought that moment sort of reminds you why the mess of the man Jordan is, where he is. Like the brother is there because his brother could be dead. We don’t know. He made the brother so fucking worried. The brother flies from Santa Barbara, gets there, and then Jordan finds him, and immediately forgets about the whole drama. He quickly jumps to flirting with the brother of this man that Jordan supposedly is in love with and is looking for so desperately. I think that is just a reminder of this sort of paradoxical quality of this character. Those two things can be together and not necessarily be mutually exclusive, which for most people would but not for Jordan. I just found it really sloppy and funny…did he really think that was Sebastian?

JF: You’re seeing some sort of growth from my character because he’s the only person that actually cares that Sebastian is missing. And then it’s this regression. He’s in such a messy headspace. And so he sees a glimmer of Sebastian in his brother looks wise. He just goes right back to this place. It’s like the only time you see this Jordan again in the movie. I would say objectively for me, it was the hardest day of shooting, because we were in K-holes, we were in actual K-holes, and  I was really fucking confused. I’m on a lot of the drugs in the movie and I did most of them, the K-hole, I would not do it again while shooting.

SS: Maybe the most like counterproductive drug you could use for anything, really. Anything that makes sense is so numb to you. So it’s like they were trying their best. It was so late. I was really upset that things were not going in the way I planned, so I was being a bitch. And they’re like, “We are drugged.”

HTN: Yeah. I thought it was a really stand out moment, and I think you should probably be nominated for the K-Hole Oscars. I think that having Jordan and Catalina communicate strictly through Google Translate,was an awesome device. So I want you to talk about your thinking behind that. And yeah, just the way you used it at the end was just so good.

Filmmaker Sebastián Silva

SS: Honestly, there wasn’t a choice because Jordan doesn’t speak any Spanish, Catalina doesn’t speak any English at all.  That’s how they were communicating behind the cameras. I think that device also stands for the constant miscommunications that are in the movie, and the chaotic, obliviousness that everybody’s living in and how people are not listening to one another, even if they speak the same language. I think it just metaphorically works great for the movie, to have this device that is like orally translating what people are telling to each other, I don’t know. I think that device came pretty organically in the script. I don’t remember what it was that sparked that idea at that moment, but it was there all throughout. It was an element that was highly considered in the writing of the script.

JF: But yeah, I also want to add this fateful moment actually happened. Google Translate was pretty spot on every time And then in that last scene, it really did glitch and for like 20 seconds, it just goes “I didn’t believe, I didn’t believe, I didn’t believe, I didn’t believe”  A little bit made it.  But it really was glitching during Catalina’s last speech when she did it.

HTN: Well, thank you guys both so much for taking the time to speak to me today. The film was awesome.

– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS)

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Jack Schenker is based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked in the film industry for 5 years at various companies including Mighty Engine, Film Hub, and Grandview. Jack continues to write for Hammer to Nail, conducting interviews with prominent industry members including Steve James, Riley Keough, Christian Petzold, and Ira Sachs. His dream is to one day write and direct a horror film based on the work of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. He directed his first short film this year titled Profondo. Jack's favorite filmmakers include Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho, David Lean, John Carpenter, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Altman to name a few. Look out for Jack on Twitter (aka X). You can see the extent of Jack's film knowledge on Letterboxd, where he has written over 1000 reviews and logged over 1600 films.

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