Get to know ‘Fire Island’ breakout star Tomás Matos, the “Staten Island Fairy” / Queerty

Screenshot: Searchlight Pictures

From the moment the first trailer for Fire Island dropped, we knew Tomás Matos was destined to be a star. You simply can’t nail a Marisa Tomei-in-My Cousin Vinny impression like that and not become an instant queer icon.

The enchanting rom-com set on the titular gay oasis boasts a cast that’s an embarrassment of riches — with faces that are surely familiar to queer comedy fans, like SNL‘s Bowen Yang, I Love That For You‘s Matt Rogers, and Joel Kim Booster, the film’s hilarious writer and star. And though they don’t have the same background in comedy as many of their co-stars, Matos more than holds their own, scoring big laughs with every line, glance, and prance.

As Keegan, one of Fire Island‘s “messy sisters” (inspired by Pride And Prejudice‘s Kitty Bennett), Matos relished the opportunity to step into this dream project, showing a new side of themselves in the process. The non-binary actor grew up in New York, where they attended LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts — yes, that’s the FAME school — and then went on to pursue a career in dance and theater.

After roles in Diana: The Musical and Hadestown, Fire Island could’ve felt like a step out of Matos’ comfort zone, but they embraced the challenge fully, resulting in the “highlight of [their] life thus far. ”

With Fire Island now streaming on Hulu — and Pride Month in full effect — we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Matos and get to know them a little bit better. In their exclusive conversation with QueertyMatos reflects on their favorite memories from set, shares why Fire Island needs to get on the “inclusivity train,” and proves why this self-proclaimed “Staten Island Ferry” has big things ahead.

QUEERTY: nature Iceland is your first feature film role, but this is just the latest evolution of your career. Outside of the movie, what work of yours would you say you’re most proud of thus far?

MATOS: I would say — so, I have a very extensive background in theater. More recently, right before the pandemic, I made my Broadway debut in Diana. And then, once that closed, I jumped into Hadestown. And I think, out of everything, the thing that was the most impactful for me was being able to go into the role of a Fate in Hadestown, which is traditionally played by a female-identifying performer. So, as a non-binary artist, it meant the world for the show to really see me, and not only see me but celebrate me for my authentic self. So I would say that was definitely the highlight of my career — prior to the premiere of Fire Islandthe movie. [Laughs.]

What’s your personal history with Fire Island, the actual place, then? Prior to joining the film, what was your impression of it, what did it mean to you?

First time I went to Fire Island was, I think, 2019. I was freshly 21, I went with my bestie, and we met up with our good Judy’s on the island who are kind of like our aunties — a generation above, and I say that not to be shady. [Laughs.] But, you know, they’re a little grown up, and they kind of guided us along: Going to Low Tea, going to High Tea, going to Sip-n-Twirl, going to see the sunset — all of the Fire Island pit stops that you have to make for your first trip.

I was also dosing on G which made it even more of an experience. [Laughs.] Oh girl, it was swirly for sure! But it was amazing.

So it’s fair to say you came to Fire Island as a fan of Fire Island already.

I mean, I definitely have my feelings about the island and where it still needs to go in terms of, you know, taking the inclusivity train. There is still work to be done on the island, but I do think that the beautiful thing that this movie is going to be able to do is really help and encourage people like myself, who might have felt discouraged to go to the island — because of the fact that, it’s not really marketed for an Afro-Latina, non-binary person — to really be able to bring all your girls and hop on that boat and go to Fire Island. And take over Sip-n-Twirl, you know? I think it’s our time!

To dive specifically into your character, Keegan, I sense some similarities between you two, but what is about the role that you first felt connected to?

So, initially, I think the thing that I loved the most was the fact that I was able to read the lines like myself, you know? I was able to just be like, “Oh, b * tch, I would say it like this, girl!” [Laughs.] So that felt really good. I was like, “Okay, I know who this person is because I I have this person. ” Which is always a really good feeling.

And then, going into costume fittings, and really starting to set up for the first day of shooting, seeing Keegan’s mood board and then seeing all of my photos from my Instagram! The costume designer David Tabbert was like, “You are literally the inspiration for this character!”

I was going to say! Because I love your personal style, and I noticed a lot of it in Keegan. So, this is a full wardrobe, right? Or did you bring some of your own stuff to set?

No, this is a full wardrobe, but it was — and not toot my own horn — David literally said, “This was inspired by you.” So I was like, “Oh work!”

On that note, in terms of playing this character you see yourself in — but then also the fact that you’re literally all living on Fire Island while shooting the movie — I have to imagine it felt like a blurring of reality a little bit, right?

Yes! And it was just like — okay, so we all stayed in one house. So they should have filmed a reality show of our time not shooting because it was so… like, it felt like camp, queer summer camp with all my girls while we’re working, you know? It was nice to be able to, when we weren’t working on the weekend, just chill by the pool, or then go to The Pantry. And it was just all so surreal, the fact that it was just [flowed together] so well. Girl, it was fun.

Speaking of fun, how can we not talk about what is already one of the most iconic parts of the movie, where you and Matt whip out your best My Cousin Vinny lines. What kind of homework went into preparing for that? Did you have a Marisa Tomei cram session?

[Laughs.] Well, Marissa Tomei is kind of like — I’m from Staten Island, so My Cousin Vinny is very on brand for my borough, you know? So It was kind of just like, “Oh, b * tch, I know exactly what this reference is going to give.” Of course, I watched it a few times more times, just to make sure I was getting every [motions hands dramatically.] But, yeah, it was so easy, because I know this reference downokay

What are some of your other favorite memories from set? Do you have any Fire Island keepsakes?

There are so many. I mean, from Margaret Cho gifting me so many pieces of clothing — okay, that was probably the most heartwarming. Because they were all femme pieces, and for Margaret to give me those, I was like, “Ahh!” It felt like the Mosta affirming Christmas ever that that I wish I got when I was a child, you know? So that just made my queer, non-binary heart burst.

And then everything with Bowen. I think Bowen is so magical because he gets my humor, and my humor is just me being dumb. [Laughs.] But he gets it and he plays back at it, so it was just him egging me on the entire f * cking time that we were shooting. Every time I went like, [puts hand over mouth,] because I like to coy laugh, he’d just do it back and I’d be like, “B * tch you can’t do that!” [Laughs.]

But what else? I mean, literally, everything. The magic of filming this movie with an entire queer cast was that every moment on set — whether we were working, or just at the Crafty, or in our trailer — it felt safe. And it felt like I was at home; I was just surrounded by so much love, so much support. Because we were all kind of creating this thing together, which was just so amazing. I think back at it and I’m like, “Wow, that was like probably the highlight of my life thus far.”

Photo Credit: Jeong Park / Searchlight Pictures

And you’re touching on something that I really appreciated about the film: That, while it’s positioned to reach as wide an audience as possible, it’s not pandering, it’s not talking down to anyone — it just immediately welcomes you into its warm world and speaks a language the queers will get from the jump.

No matter who comes to Fire Islandno matter their experience, what’s one big thing you hope people are able to take away from it?

Well, I think what you said is right: No matter who [you are,] what culture, or community you come from — whether you’re not a part of the LGBTQIA + community, or you’re one of the girls— you can get so much from this movie. And I think the main one, for me, was chosen family. You know, we all have our group of friends that helped us through times when maybe our family, our blood family, wasn’t there for [us.] I think that’s the beauty of having a chosen family.

And I think the fact that Noah and Howie and Keegan and Luke and Max — we all came — they all came to the island and really made a bond. And they were able to have such a beautiful summer — no matter what was going on between them, you know, because families do fight. But it was still love. And I think that, no matter who you are, you can relate to that.

Photo Credit: Jeong Park / Searchlight Pictures

And, finally, it’s summer — it’s Pride Month! Any big plans? Maybe another trip to Fire Island?

Well, the weekend of June 3, [through] the 5th — right after the premiere — I will most likely be on the island doing, you know, “Fire Island tingz,” [laughs.] Which should be super fun! I’m also going to be a part of this year’s Broadway Bares that happens every year. This year is the 30th anniversary, so I will be leading a number and fundraising for the event. So, you can catch me there — that’s going to be the weekend of Pride [in New York.]

But, other than that? Just really being the Staten Island Fairy that I am, frolicking all of New York City. [Laughs.] That’s going to be the title of my book!

As it should be! And may Marisa Tomei bless you and keep you.

Yes, exactly. Thank you, Marisa!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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