Exclusive: In Conversation with Tomás Matos

Image via Searchlight Pictures

Making their film debut as Keegan, the “unapologetic, hyperfemme cunt girl” in Hulu’s LGBTQ modern day rom-com Fire Island, nonbinary actor Tomás Matos is being hailed as a breakout star of 2022.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the story centers around two best friends (Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster) who embark on a weeklong summer vacation with their queer circle of friends. Matos’ character quickly emerged as a fan favorite amongst viewers due to their comedic sensibilities and fierce wardrobe pieces, but above all, Keegan’s storyline follows the LGBTQ concept of chosen family and touches on classism at Fire Island Pines.


Born and raised in New York where they attended LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, Matos went on to pursue a career in theater and dance. A true artist and advocate bringing gender inclusivity and awareness to the industry, they use their voice to empower and uplift those around them. Matos takes pride in constantly growing, evolving, and learning, as well as sharing their bright light with the world.

Fire Island has been met with widespread critical acclaim, and Instinct caught up with the young performer to talk more about stepping into the spotlight, the film’s impact on queer viewers, and more.

Thank you for taking some time to chat with me, Tomás! Let me begin by asking, how excited were you to make your feature film debut in Fire Island?

I am beyond words to be making my feature film debut! This has been such an amazing experience, and to get the opportunity to be a part of something like this that seems to be going down in queer history, if I do say so myself, it is a blessing beyond words. So, I’m very, very grateful.


Would you say this has been a dream project for you?

I would say so. I think the reason why it’s a dream project is because I’m able to portray myself in a character who I immediately identify with. With that, I’m able to have a trademark of Keegan, and we all know who Keegan is. Keegan is Tomás. So, it’s kind of a way for the world to not only get to know who Keegan is, but also get to know who I am as a person.


I can definitely see the similarities between you and Keegan.

They’re pretty synonymous!

Overall, what have you taken away from this experience?

Quite a bit. For one, I have a very fabulous group of girls that I can now call my family because of this film, which is probably the most precious feeling and thing to take away from this. Also, I’m taking away a lot of really fabulous clothes that Margaret Cho gave me, which I’m very happy for. That was one of my favorite things about my time with Margaret.


She would always come in and gift me little cute tops that I was so obsessed with because not only are they amazing tops, but they’re very effeminate and femme presenting. Just to be given clothes like that, it felt like all those Christmases that I wish I had when I was a child. It was very nice, and just the feeling and power that a chosen family has for me, I think that is my main takeaway from this.

Image via Searchlight Pictures

How does acting in a movie differ from performing for TV and theater?

There are quite a few differences. The main one, and I realized this while I was filming, you have an audience when you’re doing theater, so you’re feeling their energy. Like, you do a number, and you receive applause, so you know how well you’re doing or if the audience is enjoying you in that exact moment.


With film, and specifically with this being my first film, it was a bit of an adjustment period for me. I had to be my own audience at that point and know that the work that I’m doing is sickening. I am being my own hype person, and Andrew Ahn, who was an amazing director, he really carried me along as well. Especially in the times where I think I might have been a little bit stressed because this is unchartered territory. He was the best audience and hype man that I could have asked for.

Have you always had a passion for acting?

Yes. I was a child actor, which is crazy to say (laughs). I did a really short episode of the TV series called We Are New York, which was a bilingual TV series that kind of helped people who spoke English as a second language be able to figure out New York City. I was a part of that when I was either 10 or 11, and watching it back is very cringy because you know. But I really started as a dancer, and I think that is where my career kind of took off. Now, I think I’ve been able to step into my own spotlight by manifesting the career that I want. With that comes being able to be a film and television actor.

For those who have not yet checked it out, what makes Fire Island worth watching?


I think there are a couple reasons why people should watch this movie. The main one for me is, no matter who you are or what community you come from, whether you are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community or you’re just an ally, I think you can take away from this movie the feeling of chosen family. We all have our girls, that group of friends that we call our chosen family that really help us kiki, live our lives, and get us through those hard times. Just watching that in a film unapologetically is something that I think a lot of people will relate to. They’ll want to text their group chat, kiki with their girls afterwards, and want to take a trip to Fire Island. I believe that is the main thing that anyone can take away from the film.

When I watched it, I could instantly see the chemistry between you, Joel, Bowen, and everyone else. So, this truly was a magical cast to work with?


One hundred percent. I like to think of them all as my uncles and aunties now. Every time I say that they’re like, no, you’re like a sister! Yeah, but I’m young (laughs). That’s just my way of throwing a little bit of shade.

Besides Margaret giving you clothes, what were some of your other favorite behind-the-scenes moments?

Literally, any moment with Bowen Yang. He really gets my humor, which is me just being stupid. He knows how to egg me on and make me even wilder. We would do these little bits and we were constantly creating new ones. Same with Matt Rogers. Every moment with him was so grounding and fun. We really get along because one, we’re both Pisces, so we get that energy, and we’re both cancer moons, so our charts are very connected. He definitely understands where I’m coming from with a lot of things and emotions in my life, so it was great to just be able to kiki and talk with her about everything. I can just go on and on about everyone.

I also love that most of this film was shot on location. When was the first time you visited Fire Island, and what makes it such a special place for you?


I first visited Fire Island in 2019 right after I turned 21. I went with my best friend, and we met up with our good Judy’s who we consider to be our aunties. They took us along the route of the pitstop, everywhere you have to go on your first trip to Fire Island. Seeing the sunset, the Blue Whale, the Canteen, Sip·n·Twirl, all the above, and it was also a day trip.

So, we did all of this between 9am – 8pm, which made it even wilder. There were many firsts that day, and it was amazing. I’m so happy that I had my best friend to go along with me. We pulled the most sickening looks, we had matching outfits to go to tea in, and we looked like bubble gum cotton candy Barbies. It was just so fun to kiki on the island.


A lot of people in the LGBTQ community are still hesitant to visit Fire Island because it does have a certain kind of reputation. Are you seeing that change?

Yes, and I think this movie is helping with that change. The island, for sure, still has a lot of steps that it needs to take in order to really get on the inclusivity train, but I think with the beauty of what this movie is doing, it’s showcasing that no matter where you are in your intersectional identity, you can still bring your girls to the island and have a fucking blast.

It really shows the test of strength to the individual when you do show up to the island unapologetically. No matter any kind of pushback I might receive, I love myself, I have confidence in myself, and I deserve to be on that island just as much as any other person does. That’s the reason why I keep going.

Outside of acting, you love to use your voice to empower and uplift those around you. Can you talk a little bit more about your advocacy work?


Yes! During the pandemic, I started a little business called Empanada Papi, where I would make and sell empanadas and deliver them to everyone across New York City with my grandmother as my delivery driver, which is pretty iconic, and 15 percent of those proceeds went to homeless shelters here in New York City providing housing for LGBTQIA+ youth. That holds a very special place in my heart particularly because I was very close to being a homeless LGBTQIA+ youth here in New York City. My mother kicked me out when I came out to her, and if I didn’t have my grandmother, I would have been in one of those shelters. So, I hold a lot of space for that work.

Also, bringing gender inclusivity and inclusion within the industry as a whole is definitely something that I do in my day-to-day life simply by just being myself and showing up unapologetically, which can be very scary, but I have no choice but to be myself because that is why I’ve been put on this earth. I’ve been doing some work, particularly within the Broadway industry, making sure that we are starting to implement gender inclusive language. Getting rid of ‘ladies and gentlemen’ and saying ‘everyone’ or ‘distinguished guests,’ small things like that really make a big difference to someone in the audience or in the cast.


So, those are things that I’m specifically doing within the Broadway industry, and I’m very happy to start tackling things within the film and TV world as well.

Is Empanada Papi still happening?

I don’t think so (laughs). We may make a slight return somewhere down the line, but as of right now, it’s taking the backburner.

What are some future goals you hope to achieve with your career, and what more do you hope to accomplish with your platform?


Oh my God, that’s a fabulous question! Thank you. I think my future looks bright. I hope that I still get to portray roles that I consider very close to my heart, and I hope that I’m able to not only uplift but amplify other people in my industry that are also trans and gender nonbinary. I see all those things in my future. I see paving ways, I see giving gratitude to the people who have paved the way for me like Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Billy Porter, and Laverne Cox, and I just hope to uplift, take the baton that they have given me, and pass it along to the next generation.

Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?


Not right now. I think I’ve really opened the schedule, and I’m really opening the planner to see the other things that might come from this movie. I’m very excited to step into my own spotlight in the film and television world, and we’ll see what happens from here!

Stay up-to-date and connect with Matos by following them on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, or visit their official website. Fire Island is now streaming on Hulu.


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