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Firebird's Out Star Tom Prior on the Cold War Gay Romance's Ongoing Relevance 

Firebird's Out Star Tom Prior on the Cold War Gay Romance's Ongoing Relevance 

Firebird
Herrki Erich Mirela/Roadside Attractions

The actor and cowriter of the sweeping true queer love story in authoritarian Russia chats with The Advocate about the film's subjects' courage

With its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been a constant presence in the news this year, and the freedoms of Russian citizens are again a subject of discussion. At the same time, along comes the film Firebird (out on April 29), about a forbidden gay love affair between two Soviet Russian military officers at the height of the Cold War.

Shot in Estonia and released in April, Firebird (based on Sergey Fetisov's memoir, The Story of Roman) tells the story of Sergey, played by out British actor Tom Prior. He's a troubled young private counting the days until his military service ends. But his life is upended when the daring fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii) arrives at Sergey's base. A dangerous and touching decades-long love story between the two men follows.

"Because of the circumstances of Russian society during the Cold War, Sergey and Roman have to navigate a line between love and friendship," says Prior, who also cowrote and produced the film. "As the walls close in on them, they risk their freedom and their lives in the face of an escalating KGB investigation and the fear of the all-seeing Soviet regime."

Firebird

Prior said that he was approached to play Sergey before he was asked to cowrite. Being both a writer and the film's star presented some challenges. "Sometimes I would walk into a scene, and it would be completely different to how I had imagined it when we were writing the script," he says, adding he'd immersed himself in the story for two years before setting foot on set.

"The biggest takeaway for me was that I was lucky enough to meet Sergey in Russia before filming. He has such tremendous and real courage," Prior says. "He followed his heart and pursued this relationship with Roman during a time when both men were risking their freedom and their life." Fetisov died in 2017.

Prior adds that their story made him appreciate all the freedoms he enjoys as an out person. "The takeaway of the film is that those of us who live in free societies should be grateful that we can live the life we choose with the person we love," he says. "The film is also a reminder about what else we can do within our own community to foster greater respect for each other. I think these attributes are what make the film most alive."

Watch the Firebird trailer below.

This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 Champions of Pride issue, which is out on newsstands May 17, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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John Casey

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.