As Keegan, the “unapologetic, hyperfemme cunt girl” of Fire Island, actor Tomás Matos has been hailed as one the breakout stars of 2022. The Andrew Ahn-directed comedy, written by and starring Joel Kim Booster, follows two best friends, Noah (Booster) and Howie (Bowen Yang), as they embark on a weeklong vacation to the gay equivalent of Disney World with their queer circle of friends: Keegan, Luke (Matt Rogers) and Max (Torian Miller). Inspired by Pride and Prejudice, Fire Island (which passed the Bechdel test just FYI) was met with widespread critical acclaim for its authentic depiction of the LGBTQ+ Asian-American experience and approach to racism, wealth and class, as well as for its glorification of queer culture.
“I think this movie opens the gate for conversations within our own community and the struggles and prejudices that we all face with fatphobia, with femmephobia and with racism,” says Tomás, whose prior credits include DIANA: A New Musical, Hadestown and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “I think the beauty with that is, it starts a conversation within our own family; no masking and getting to the root of the issues so we can change it. That’s why when people say, ‘I would never go to Fire Island’ I say, ‘No girl! It’s our time.’”
Tomás’ character quickly emerged as a fan-favourite amongst viewers due to their fierce wardrobe, comedic sensibilities and now-iconic scene in which Keegan and Luke reprimand Will (Conrad Ricamora) for his lack of knowledge on Marisa Tomei and her Oscar-winning role as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny. (“The defence is wrrrrong!”) Two weeks after the film’s premiere, we caught up with Tomás to discuss Fire Island’s unprecedented impact on queer viewers, whether we can expect a sequel in the near future and how the film allowed them to finally “step” into their “spotlight”.
Tomás, this getup is stunning.
Thank you! Just a little look for you, Sam.
Well thank you! How are you?
I’m doing well. I’m really good, still riding the wave!
You were in Fire Island again over the weekend, right?
Yeah. I went for a little day trip for the screening on Sunday, which was very fun. It was wild to watch the movie on location with everyone. It was a really nice experience, I’m glad I went. It was fun.
I attended a screening last week and, being in a room with queer people watching the film, is unmatched. How are you finding the whole Fire Island experience so far?
Unimaginable. I didn’t expect it to be such a hit. I think it’s going to go down in queer history. It’s crazy to be a part of it but I’m very grateful.
How did you get involved with the film?
I auditioned last February or March. Oh no, it was even before that. I auditioned and didn’t hear anything back for a while. Then, the casting associate reached back out to me and said he wanted to see another tape. During the pandemic, I started a little business called Empanada Papí, where I made videos and tutorials on how to make empanadas, which turned into me making them and selling them and delivering them across NYC with my grandma. In that, I was just being me and shooting the shit on my phone and putting it on Instagram. Andrew wanted a character like Empanada Papí and I said, ‘Oh, you want me to do the character like that?’ so I re-did the tape and then I got a call back. Then, I was on Zoom with the whole team and was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s giving books,’ which is crazy and the next day I got the call. The rest is history!
A couple of weeks ago I asked Joel, Bowen, Margaret and Andrew who was most like their character, and they all said you. Was Keegan always similar to you or did you bring a lot of yourself to the character?
I think I just bought a lot of myself into the character. With Joel’s writing, I was able to fit myself into who Keegan is, just with how they were written. I’m very grateful for that too as I was able to riff how I riff and just kiki and shoot my shit on set, which is amazing.
I don’t think there is anyone in that film that is having more fun than you.
Acting a mess bitch!
We all need a Keegan in our lives.
And I think we all know a Keegan in our lives; that unapologetic, hyperfemme, cunt girl that is always down for the party. I’m very happy we were able to showcase that type of an individual on a platform like this.
We have to talk about that viral scene, yours and Matt’s attack on Conrad for not being aware of Marisa Tomei and her classic courtroom testimony in My Cousin Vinny…
Bitch, it was wild. We shot it for eight hours and by hour seven the voice was hoarse because your girl was screaming the whole damn time. Matt Rogers is such an icon and I’m so happy that we aren’t just friends in the movie, because she is now my sister in real life. We just mesh so well. It was so easy for me to riff off of her and just go off. That scene was truly iconic to shoot and watching it come out was hilarious. I’m still waiting for Marisa to be like, ‘That was fabulous,’ and I can be like, ‘Thank you aunty Marisa, I really fucking love you girl!’
Has she not reached out yet?
Nothing! Apparently, we know that she has seen it and she laughed.
C’mon Marisa, it’s Pride Month…
Yes honey, I need a mention. I want a whole damn story Marisa!
What about Alicia Vikander, have you heard from her?
No, I feel like she probably feels some kind of way.
She must be fuming.
She must have seen it. Robot robot girl, nobody cares about Ex Machina! I take that back, it was a really good movie.
Fire Island has been praised for its rejection of harmful queer tropes and for not including trauma of any kind. Of course, the queers bully each other, but there’s no straights present so we forgive. Instead, the film celebrates and glorifies LGBTQ+ culture. How important is it for the community to see more narratives that show queer joy?
I think it’s extremely important, especially now. Queer people are not monoliths. If you aren’t a part of the community and you see the regular mainstream communities that talk about our community, it can seem like we are trauma children or always talking about our issues, but the beautiful thing about this movie is we are unapologetically ourselves in every aspect. It allows us to dive deep and go into each character and showcase who we are; that we aren’t a monolith and we aren’t trauma bonding all the time. We are also kiki girls. We are living our fucking lives and partying down and looking cunt while doing it. That, I think, is really amazing about this movie. It shows we are more than just one thing and we aren’t based on our trauma.
There are actual conversations in Fire Island that happen on the daily in the GAY TIMES office, conversations that we rarely see in television and film. It’s frustrating that, in 2022, I was shocked by this?
I think this movie opens the gate for conversations within our own community and the struggles and prejudices that we all face with fat-phobia, with femme-phobia and with racism. I think the beauty with that is, it starts a conversation within our own family; no masking and getting to the root of the issues so we can change it. That’s why when people say, ‘I would never go to Fire Island’ I say, ‘No girl! It’s our time.’ Because we do deserve to be there. Although it’s never been traditionally marketed for us, it’s now our time because we are here bitch!
What does it personally mean to you to be part of such a historic film?
To me, personally, it feels like something that I have been manifesting for quite some time. I’m really stepping into my spotlight, I like to say. It feels like the most gratifying thing ever, it’s the best feeling and I’m so excited to see what else happens from this movie. It feels like the beginning of something for me, which is a really good feeling to have. Coming from the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, from all these things that we went through, to have something like this feels like such a celebratory experience.
Fire Island needs to become a franchise, an American Horror Story-esque anthology series where all the actors return and play different roles. I would love to see you as a villain?!
Girl, I would be a cunt villain. Always in full beat, full glam like six-inch nails, giving Ursula down bitch.
Would you be down for another gaycation film with this cast?
Absolutely, and I think it’s kind of in the talks, which is so iconic. In my opinion it should be called “Fire Island, semicolon, Cunt”.
Not a colon, a semicolon. What an exclusive!
Take me back to filming. What was it like sharing this experience with the cast?
It felt like queer summer camp. Because we were in the same house, when we weren’t shooting we were all together kiki-ing, it felt like summer camp. I’m sure the people on the island, while we were shooting at the pantry getting in the way, felt some kind of way about it. But when we were shooting, it was amazing, I lived for every moment. And of course, there are times where the energy is very tense because we are getting down to the wire and we are so concentrated together that tensions rise. That’s how it happens for families anyway, so it made sense. At the end of the day we all came together and sat by the pool. Honestly, my favourite thing that happened… I would be sitting by the pool and Margaret would come out her room with all these clothes and just hand me all of them. They were all cunt! One of my favourite items that I have is from Margaret Cho, which is an iconic sentence alone. Margaret Cho gifted me this! It felt so affirming to be given these hyperfemme clothes from Margaret, who I consider my aunty. It felt like all those Christmas’ when I was a child that I never got to have. My family accepting me for my non-binary status, it felt like the heart of it all.
What was the most fun scene for you to film, and also the most difficult?
They are the same. The hardest scene for me was where we are at the underwear party and I’m rolling and Matt Rogers is on drugs. Playing a role where I have to roll, as I’m sober, bought up triggering emotions to say the least. But, a beautiful thing about that is that Margaret is sober and she helped me with it. She said to think about it as my role, and I get to roll without actually rolling. It was a very hard moment but very gratifying. I got over being stressed about rolling and being scared that something might happen afterwards because of it. That was the hardest. Another reason why it was the most fun is because, right after that when I picked Bowen off the floor, that is the epitome of our relationship, us being inaudible and yelling at each other and being so stupid. It made me so happy.
That is one of my favourite scenes in the whole film. Were there even dialogue for that moment, or was it improv?
That was improv! Just literally saying nothing.
Tomás, you are an absolute star in Fire Island and I think I speak for everyone when I say I need more of you on my screen. What can we expect from you in the future?
Right now, the schedules are pretty straight. I was just in a transactional period in my life where I was stepping away from doing Broadway ensemble work and stepping into the spotlight of a movie star. I’m excited to see what comes from this movie and I’m really looking forward to the future. In terms of right now, there are a lot of press Pride events happening. I will be performing a leading number at Broadway Bares on June 26 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, two showings. It’s raising money as a stripathon for Broadway Bares fighting AIDS. I will be cunt, sickening and twirling for my life. I’m thinking of starting a merch line, but a lot of my lines from the movie I don’t think I could turn to words. Just “[inaudible]”.
Fire Island is available to stream in the UK on Disney Plus.