‘Fire Island’ Star Zane Phillips on How His Character’s “Thotty” Instagram Profile Came Together

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[The following story contains mild spoilers for Fire Island.]

If a person’s Instagram can reveal even a bit about who they really are, then the profile of one Fire Island character is practically giving away his twist.

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In the Andrew Ahn-directed and Joel Kim Booster-written take on Pride & Prejudice, Zane Phillips plays Dex, the modern gay spin on one of Jane Austen’s more duplicitous bachelors: George Wickham. The actor behind the attractive, sex-positive island visitor is first introduced to Booster’s Noah, a gay and expectedly bitey version of Elizabeth Bennett, while the duo are both shopping at the island pantry.

The two characters have head-spinning chemistry, but another one of the guys in Noah’s Fire Island orbit, Will — played by the dashing Conrad Ricamora, the Hulu movie’s take on Mr. Darcy — wants Noah to know something about his new suitor. While dropping a vague warning, Will shows Noah the Instagram profile belonging to Phillips’ character and it’s certainly eye-catching.

“The Wickham character always has to fit the social mores of the time,” Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter about the decision to use Instagram as a way to tease his character’s turn. “And our sense of propriety is a lot different from the original, but I think the way that he violates this particular social sphere is to challenge the ways that we as people have embraced consent, especially within sex work.”

Noah’s respect for Dex and sex work is ultimately why he dismisses the profile — which Phillips’ character uses to promote himself — as only a few “thotty pictures.”

“He has an Instagram,” Noah tells Will sarcastically in the film. “What a villain.”

“We’re trying to validate it. We’re trying to say sex work is work,” Phillips said of the decision to touch on various aspects of Dex’s life as a sex worker in the film. “But when you bring a character in who isn’t going about that in an honorable way — and there is an honorable way, by making sure that people feel safe and have the power to say no — he translates as going against what we as queer people have decided is what’s important to us.”

A past of less than honorable behavior on Dex’s part is what prompts Will to offer Noah a “clearer picture” of who he is. And that is someone whose Instagram profile features photos of his privates strategically positioned behind a Black Lives Matter sign.

The entire Instagram profile is a comedic nod to how things can be repackaged or distorted by influencers and other social media users in order to brand themselves as one thing — like progressive or “safe” — in order to drum up attention and social engagement for personal gain.

Capturing those photos, Phillips said, was a last-minute effort after a different scripted scene was cut. “Originally, during production, we did a full little shoot with like a green screen background. The photo was going to be my bare ass against a waterfall with something about the gender wage gap, which is truly funny. It was one of my favorite jokes reading the script,” the actor recalled.

The reason the joke didn’t make it into the final cut was, to Phillip’s recollection, early screening responses. “Not to like toot my own ass, but people were disregarding the joke and over-loving the ass too much,” the actor said, laughing.

The pivot call came while Phillips was filming another project in Atlanta. “I had to take these photos in my hotel room,” he said. “I had to get a piece of cardboard from a friend and be like, ‘Hey, do you have something that resembles poster board?'”

Phillips added, laughing, “It was literally me posing around the room being like, ‘Alright, do I have the lighting for this?'”

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