Sebastian : Max, a 25-year-old aspiring writer living in London, begins a double life as a sex worker in order to research his debut novel.
A Finnish-British writer-director Mikko Mäkelä explores the transgressive power of queer sexuality and the transformative impact that can result from embracing a new identity. Far from simply informing his secretly autobiographical fiction writing, Max’s experiences as “Sebastian” awaken a deeper sense of self, unshackled from societal expectations.
Ruaridh Mollica impresses in the lead role, embodying Max with an initially hesitant curiosity that blossoms into exhilaration and ease as he becomes subsumed within his nocturnal alias. Eschewing the sensationalism or moralizing that often accompanies stories of sex work, Sebastian instead offers a refreshing, sex-positive take in a film that ultimately celebrates the liberation that accompanies self-exploration.
@Credit – Danny LoweJPG
Exclusive Interview with Director Mikko Makela
Q: Did you start off writing this film through the view of your own experience in an autobiographical way? How did you decide to write a film on this topic?
Mikko Maleka: There’s a big question that the film is trying to raise — how much of a personal connection do we need to tell our story or are we allowed to just use our empathy and imagination to create a story? It’s really interesting to ask the audience whether their enjoyment of this film is predicated on knowing if it’s from direct experiences of the author or not. It’s a burning question for the film to be asked in terms of the creative process and writing about what you know, No matter how on the surface we tried to be removed from our own experience. I think it’s impossible not to involve yourself in the writing of it. Whether it’s straight autobiography or complete fiction, I believe everything that we write as screenwriters or authors is always going to be informed by our life experiences and views on things.
Q: That makes sense. Talk about casting lead actor Ruaridh Mollica, who is phenomenal in this film. The movie relies on his performance so what elements of his fascinated you enough to cast him in the role?
Mikko Maleka: It was obviously crucial for the success of the film that we found someone who would be able to handle that part. Max Sebastian is really an internal character; he doesn’t give much away in that sense. We are alone with him for long stretches of the film so I was really looking for someone who would be able to act in isolation. He needed to be able to convey the smallest kind of mental gestures and externalize the inner life that we were following in the film.
We threw out a wide net during the casting process and made an extensive search but it was from the first time that I saw his audition tape and saw this incredible energy in his eyes that led me to think he could do the role. Those eyes spoke volumes about what he was feeling. They showed a rawness, a boldness and a willingness to be a bold performer — an actor who could convey that in a life.
Q: Talk about your personal experience in becoming not only a filmmaker, but also a writer. What did you think being a screenwriter required? Speaking of rawness and boldness, what did you think that young authors need in order to establish themselves?
Mikko Maleka: Certainly in this world — and I think this applies to publishing as well — you need a lot of determination and belief in yourself in order to make your mark in this difficult industry. Through Max’s character, I really wanted to look at the ambition of a young artist who wants to make a name for himself. Someone who wants to write something new, fresh and exciting and, perhaps, provocative which might lead to a conversation with society by asking questions and reflecting back onto itself. Max is an intellectually and artistically curious character with all of the qualities that will engage audiences.
Q: Talk about crafting Max’s physical attraction to the guy and also about creating a very sexually graphic scene in the film.
Mikko Maleka: It was important to have a real evolution to the sex scenes and to show a variety of clients of different body types and ages. It was important to show Max’s exhilaration in the beginning and to show his desire to perform [the sex work] well and at his fullest capacity. In meeting Nicholas, I really wanted Max to go on a journey of finding a deeper understanding of sex work. He is confronted, for the first time, with being empowered because he is being desired by these people. He is capable of giving a lonely client a session with warmth and tenderness. There was definitely a need to craft an arc to these scenes.
Q: In preparing for this film, did you talk to sex workers? It’s interesting that some of the people that Max meets and talks to — the sex workers — don’t feel ashamed. They see themselves in a way like an entrepreneur where there are sites like onlyfans and stuff like that. Talk about creating the landscape and circumstances for sex workers in your film.
Mikko Maleka: Initially when I was getting started on the project, I came to realize that so many of my peers — young queer men in London — were involved in sex work casually and were more or less openly doing it, facilitated by apps or websites. [In researching this film,] I spoke to a lot of people about their experiences and was fascinated with how they advertised themselves and their services including the language they used. I began studying the wide range of approaches used. Sex workers invested in expensive photoshoots, videos and graphic designs and took an entrepreneurial approach to their work much like any other business venture.
Q: How much of writing the screenplay for “Sebastian” awakened your deeper sense of yourself. What was your motivation in writing the screenplay?
Mikko Maleka: I like to think of the film itself and the process of writing it as being an existentialist inquiry into the subjectivity of a writer. It’s a film through which I’m looking to engage the audience in questioning themselves. It was rewarding to hear from some of the cast and crew members after the filmmaking process, that they felt more liberated in their own sexuality and identity. They allowed themselves to be more of their true selves. I hope that message will be what audiences take away from the film.