Tom Prior on gay travel, mindfulness & Firebird
We caught up with Tom Prior, star of gay movie Firebird and a rising star on stage and screen
Tom Prior is a name you should know. He's the star of the new gay love story Firebird as well as playing Eddie Redmayne's son in The Theory of Everything and alongside Taron Egerton in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Firebird tells an unlikely love story. Two soldiers on a Soviet base in Estonia have an intense and dangerous affair. Tom Prior plays Sergey and he also co-wrote the script. We caught up with him to discuss the film, mindfulness, gay travel and more.
The film was made on location in Estonia. Tom was so charmed by the country he moved there. Firebird is an important contribution to LGBT+ cinema. Impossible love stories might be tough to live through but they make for great drama on-screen and Firebird is rooted in a true love story.
What was it like to be gay in Soviet Russia?
Being gay in Soviet Russia could land you in the gulag for five years - which basically meant death. There wasn't any kind of anti-gay witch-hunt happening at the time. It was an issue most people refused even to acknowledge.
Firebird was even shown in Russia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were protests outside the cinema and calls for the screening not to go ahead. Tom's co-star, Oleg Zagorodnii, is from Ukraine and has been vocal in his support of his home country. In the meantime, the film will be shown at more festivals. Tom is hoping for theatre runs, although consuming content digitally seems to be unstoppable and Prior acknowledges that a digital release may be the way forward for his passion project.
Watch the full Tom Prior interview
Mindfulness and meditation
Tom is passionate about mindfulness and meditation. "From a young age, I've been curious about things you can't explain. That and being quite sick when I was younger led to me asking if there was more. When I was about to shoot Firebird I was aware that I'd be having very long days. I used meditation as a tool to survive during the film shoot. It's so interesting how acting mirrors real life. I wanted to find that moment - a state of flow. How you think and how you feel dictates your whole perception of reality. The word meditation pretty much means 'to become aware of.' Five percent of who you are is dictated by your conscious mind. The rest is dictated by your unconscious mind. Mindful mediation is a way of accessing that bigger, unseen part of your brain."
How can I get into mindfulness?
"Just start. That's one of the biggest things. Thinking about something and procrastinating - waiting for the right time! Thinking I haven't found the right app or the right environment. I have to make time for meditation every morning. If you're curious about an app I'd recommend One Giant Mind. It's very accessible - I have no affiliation with them."
Even ten minutes a day? "Absolutely. The latest research indicates that if you meditate twice a day for around fifteen minutes, you practise raising your state of being. You begin to feel feelings of gratitude, love for life... just being happy. You raise your IgA levels - it's better than any shot."
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Coping with social media pressure
"Well, the lockdown has been a bitch. Some people may have emerged from lockdown in the best shape of their lives, but I think it's been demotivating for a lot of people. This endless game about how we look... it's really hard right now. If you scroll through Instagram every person can look like a fitness model. We're bombarded with these images. As we view these images we're chipping away at ourselves. The reality is I've been in very good shape for the film and at other times in my life. When you present yourself to the world through social media it's like drawing a line in the sand and saying this is how I look. It can be very tricky to sustain that though."
"Health is really created by happiness. Having a low body fat percentage - for some it's genetic - good luck and well done to them. You can drive yourself mad by dieting. Everything is gamified now so people can drive themselves mad looking at their Apple Watch. Our phones are made to help us, not hinder us."
Will our attitudes towards body image change?
"If you put a photo on Instagram with more flesh it will get more likes. If you put up a post about taking care of your mental health, some people might react. But yeah, the abs are going to get more clicks. I think the change will come when we make our priority to take care of each other and not judge each other. I remember seeing people giving Zac Efron flak for not looking like he did in Baywatch. If you try to maintain 8% body fat your whole life you'll die. People who are famous are under that scrutiny the whole time. The love you give is the love you receive and the judgment you give is the judgment you'll receive. If you're not in a relationship and you want to be, start acting like the person you want to attract. Be the change - not to be too Michael Jackson about things!"
How he made it to RADA
"When I went to drama school I had to raise £16k to pay for my tuition at RADA. I was met over and over with people asking what I'd do if I didn't get the money. I said it's not an option. Or what if I got half the money? I was like I'm not engaging in that as a possibility. I wrote to people, did events, hosted sponsored runs and did acting masterclasses for kids. And I did it. Mad behavior like writing to the CEO of the company I worked for at the time. I could have decided that it wasn't possible."
Tom Prior on gay travel
We discussed travel, of course! Bhutan is the first destination Tom mentions. "I was so moved by the gross national happy index they have there. It's one of the only countries that measures the happiness of its citizens. It's quite a difficult country to get into." The Land of the Thunder Dragon didn't allow tourists to visit until recently. They didn't even introduce TV until the turn of the millennium.
"I also really enjoyed Namibia - sand dunes that go on for hundreds of miles. Standing in the middle of a desert that goes on forever. If you have a flat tire, as I did, it's tricky. But it's a staggering country."
Trailer for Firebird
Where's on Tom's bucket list?
He's been to many places but he can think of a few he'd like to revisit. Iceland is a big one! He was in Antarctica when the COVID lockdowns began. He was there for 32 days so the world he left wasn't the one he returned to. He encountered penguins that had probably never met humans. "They were very friendly."
Robert Mapplethorpe said, "I want to see something I haven't seen before." In this vein and for his future projects, Tom wants to tap into the theme of superhuman skills we already have and extrasensory perception. Alas, he can't give too many details away just yet! Tom Prior clearly has many more stories to tell.
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