Sebastián Silva

Interview by
Danny Calvi
Photography by
Milan Zrnic


In Santiago, Sebastián Silva used to come and go from an artist collective, a house rented from some Catholic nuns downtown. By the time he was eighteen, he was experimenting with shrooms and rapping in hippy-hop band CHC (Congregacíon de Hermanos Contemplativos). They put out a few records, DIY videos and fanzines — at 36, he's still a hardcore journal keeper, by the way, and a dedicated painter and illustrator too. His creative persuasions eventually took him to New York, not too long after his semi-biographical comedy, The Maid, won over audiences around the world, me included. Since then, he's directed four more movies and a series for HBO called The Boring Life of Jacqueline, all stamped with his intuitive approach to storytelling. I met Sebastián at his apartment in Brooklyn just as his most recent film, Nasty Baby, about a gay couple trying to conceive with their female BFF, hits screens.

Danny: You wouldn’t want to have a baby in real life, would you?
Sebastián: I would, yeah.
You would?
Yeah, I’d like to. Most people do not agree with gays having babies.
Like Dolce & Gabbana?
Yes, like Dolce & Gabbana, for instance.
By now, we all know a few gays that have had kids. Usually, they just do it with a lesbian.
Yes, but that’s not how I want to do it.
How do you want to do it?
With a husband, or a partner. I don’t think I would do it by myself, man. I like the fantasy of the conservative family. I know, I grew up with seven siblings, and my family is super tight. I want to shift gears. I don’t want to be a gay artist in New York, going to gay parties for the rest of my life. It’s getting a little old, and at some point, I’m not going to be able to dance as well as I can dance now. I want to be changing diapers and confronted with weird shit.
Being a father is probably some kind of initiation. It has to be.
I have a friend who was considering having a baby as an art project.
Oh, that’s weird. What was he going to do with the baby?
I think, like you, he also missed a kind of nuclear family life. But he was also planning to document it as an art project. He started by donating sperm, just to see what that was like. But one day, as he was walking out of the clinic, a woman — who he described as a kind of gypsy woman — was on her way in, and the thought of his sperm going into this total stranger freaked him out.
Did he go back?
I don’t think so. He had the samples destroyed, and put that project on the back burner. When you have had children, doesn’t it sort of give you permission to become a child again yourself
Like you start to eat the same food as them, you start—
You start making baby noises for them.
You start watching Pixar movies… Is that what you want?
I’m already a child, honestly. I don’t think I can be any more immature than I am now.
In what way are you already like a child?
I can be very uncompromising and I haven’t really taken on any responsibilities… Politically, I’m very childish. I kind of resist having a political view on things, and I don’t trust people that are involved in politics. When The Maid came out, a lot of critics were against the movie because of the lack of political viewpoint — in Chile, they crucify you if your movie has no political content. It was a very infantile critique…
I love The Maid!
I like that movie too, man.
Did the actual maid that the film is based on ever watch the film?
Yes, her name was Janet. I made the movie while both main characters were still working at my family’s house. It was risky. I could have shattered her soul with this movie. The two maids and I watched it together, one on each side of a little sofa. Janet was kind of laughing throughout, and the other maid started crying. It was so charged. Two weeks after she watched the movie, Janet quit.
Oh really?
Like after twenty-five years… But in a good way! She met somebody, and now she breeds exotic birds.
Nice. When you watch the film you sort of expect a more violent outcome for those characters, but instead you get this…
Hopeful turn.
I don’t find it to be a happy ending, but yes, it doesn’t go dark or gory.
Would you say that you’re a playful person?
Yes, I want to think that, for sure. I’m always fucking around, which can become an issue. You can offend people so easily by being a joker. It comes with the package.
Would you get involved with a guy who didn’t want to have children?
Sure… Or maybe I find somebody that actually that fills that void. If I meet somebody and I’m really into him, and he’s really thought about why he doesn’t want to have a family, I would hear him out. I’m not that obsessed with being a father.
It’s not a deal breaker?
No, not now. It’s not a deal breaker. But personally, I would like to have a family…
Are you looking for a guy like yourself? There seem to be plenty of gays out there looking for the mirror image of themselves.
No, I don’t think I’m like that. I’m attracted to lots of guys. Maybe I’m not that attracted to white Americans.
Are you going for guys who are taller or shorter than yourself?
I would say taller. Like if you point a gun to my head and you’re like, ‘Taller or shorter?’ Yes, it would be taller, but the same height, or a little shorter, or a little taller — that is not really so important. But I’m not really into skinny guys, for instance. I like round edges. Like with faces, I don’t really like boney faces so much. I like more full faces. It has something to do with kindness. I like guys that you would ask for directions if you were lost on the street. I want my dude to be one of the ones that you go like, ‘Him. He’ll help’.
How important are looks?
You mean like gays in L.A. or gays who have a lot of hair that they brush in a way that looks like an ice cream on top of their heads, and they’re kind of muscular and wear tiny jeans with super expensive shoes? I’m not into that at all. I prefer a guy that wears baggy jeans and boring shoes, and a white shirt or something. I’m definitely not into really studied looks, they weird me out.
Do you want him to be fit or lazy?
Uh, I don’t care so much for muscles, but like, I don’t want him to be like walking with a cane when he’s fifty. If he can carry himself okay with a beer belly, and he’s not having back problems or heart attacks, fine.
Do you like somebody who’s older or younger, or the same age?
All of the above, but hopefully not so much younger or not so much older. Can I give ages?
Go ahead.
I think, for instance, from like twenty-eight to forty-four…
That’s a decent range.
It could be forty-nine, you never know. Ideally, I find it more fun if he’s of the same generation. Like, there’s more complicity, you understand the cultural things better. Most of my best friends are my age.
Do you want a guy who’s like a social animal, or someone who’s more of a homebody?
More of a homebody, but not socially-awkward. Someone who knows how to carry himself socially, someone that’s comfortable with himself.
Party monster or prude?
Oh man, no prudes, but a party monster — that’s scary, man.
Pissy, potty or pilly?
Potty for sure. I like weed, man. Weed is fun. I mean, people that, when you offer them weed and they’re like, ‘No, I don’t need it.’ I don’t understand that, and I don’t ever want to talk to them again.
In both your first documentary film REC and Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, you seem to dabble with psychedelics.
The magical cactus is called San Pedro, and like peyote, it contains mescaline. I did it in high school a couple of times, but it didn’t really work because we cooked it poorly, or we got the wrong cactus. But for the movie, yes, I got a lot of San Pedro. We bought it from somebody in that same town that they go to in the movie. We cooked it for like twelve hours and then drank it. It was great.
Didn’t you also trek into the Peruvian rainforest to track down some other kind of hallucinogenic compound?
Yeah, in the Amazon. I was looking for a shaman called Pablo Amaringo, who was like the shaman that introduced ayahuasca to the world, or to Western civilization, basically.
And did you find him?
Yes, I found him, but he had retired from shamanism. He explained how it had become too dangerous for him, like the realms of existence that he was visiting. He was threatened by other spirits there. He had a very surreal explanation why he resigned from shamanism, and then he referred me to his cousin. So there I was, like 20-years-old, drinking ayahuasca in the middle of a tiny village in the middle of the Amazon. I did it for three nights in a row, but I don’t think I went through the experience properly. It’s a really nice looking movie, but really messy. Do you know what DMT is?
I’ve heard of it, but never tried.
I tried DMT not that long ago in Berlin, and it’s suppose to be the same. I definitely did not pass any threshold in the Amazon, but when I did DMT I finally realized what I had been really curious about.
And what was that?
It’s hard to explain because it’s such — are you familiar with the idea of lucid dreaming, like where you become aware in your dreams?
It’s very similar. You visit another place, but it doesn’t feel like it’s your imagination. As crazy as it sounds, you really feel that you are being transported into another dimension. It’s not that one person sees like elephants, and the other one visits their mom — it’s not random like that. Everyone close to me who has tried DMT, everybody’s taken to the same place.
And where is that?
You lay down, we did it here in my apartment, and then somebody gives you three hits. By the second hit, things start distorting around you, but you need to take the third hit — if you don’t take the third one, you don’t go through the portal or whatever you want to call it. I was aware that I was laying down on my floor, that my friend was drinking tea, I could hear the fridge, and my cat pacing around… I was here, fully aware in this place with my eyes closed, and at the same time, I was in a different sort of reality where it felt really busy, like a weird metropolis. And everything looked like, you know when you have something soapy with all the colors swirling together?
Like iridescence?
Is that the word?
Yeah, like a liquid rainbow, or like a pearl.
Yeah. It really felt that you were in a busy, iridescent place, not with people, but some sort of intelligence for sure. There were things that were built, and there was an order to it. It was such an overwhelming experience, that it was very hard to focus on anything.

BUTT - Mz_ss_embed_565_web
Terence McKenna advises those on hallucinogens to focus on that single thing that helps you to remain on a good trip.

Back to the boyfriend questions… You cast Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio as your on-screen boyfriend in Nasty Baby. Is that because he’s your type in real life?
Well, he’s a handsome guy and kinda cool, like really confident. But he’s straight… It would have been nice to have a gay guy maybe, so things would have gotten weird on set. I like when the process goes beyond movie making.
Like a behind-the-scenes romance?
Yes. I like that, but on Nasty Baby I didn’t get any.
Do you prefer to date somebody who’s also a creative person, like yourself or would you rather—
Yeah, I kinda do.
Some art fags can be pretty territorial and they don’t want another one around, or they have a serious working class fetish and want to date the garbage man.
For me, it’s more about having a sense of humor and curiosity. If there’s no sense of humor, then I’m so not into it. A doctor with a sense of humor could be hot.
That’s useful.
Yeah, I’d love somebody who’s actually helping the world move forward.
Well, trash collectors are helping, for sure.
That’s hot too.
How important is it that your future boyfriend has a lot of money?
He could have the weirdest job, like I don’t know, as a flight attendant. I don’t care. If they’re happy doing whatever they’re doing, or not doing anything at all, and they keep me happy, I’m cool.
What about living arrangements? Do you want your future boyfriend to move in immediately, or wait a little while — or maybe even keep separate apartments?
No, I think I would definitely share an apartment. Maybe a little bigger than this one. I don’t want to feel claustrophobic with the person I’m living with, but if we both work outside and we travel a lot, I mean, I’m always going to be traveling. But yeah, I would move in like the lesbians — I’ve done it before — because if it doesn’t work in the beginning, it’s not going to work. And you want to test that, and the sooner, the better.
So we’re assuming that you and your future boyfriend are living together, do you prefer for him to be really tidy and organized, or kind of messy?
Like me?
Well, I think it’s pretty tidy here actually.
It was worse before. I had a boyfriend that was really tidy and I learned from him — and I am forever thankful. I don’t want to live with a slob, you know, that would suck. I like clean toilets. You know when they get that yellow fucking rusty shit? That grosses me out.
Do you have a cleaner?
Yeah, I have a lady that comes like every two weeks, and I keep it very clean. I vacuum, I water my plants and I keep the bathroom pretty clean. If I go to somebody’s house and there’s like that yellow rusty shit, I would tell them I like them a lot, ‘But bitch you need to do something about that toilet’. That’s crazy serial killer shit. That’s gross.
Where are you taking your future boyfriend on your first date?
Uh, I don’t know. Roller skating? I could invite him to my place, or go watch a movie. I don’t know. I don’t date like that, like just going on a date where you go to a restaurant, and you sit with a candle and ask for the wine list. Dates like that weird me out. Maybe I’ll take him for a walk.
Take him for a walk where?
Maybe like a walk in the park and a joint, you know, like just getting to know each other in a public space. A friend of mine told me that, for a first date especially, it’s so much better if you’re in a place where you can talk about things outside of yourselves, or if it’s going badly, decide to leave immediately. Instead of being stuck with fucking dessert, while you have nothing in common and you both know from the start that it’s going to be a nightmare. You’re like paying the bill and you’re like, ‘That was great!’
And are you a sex-on-the-first-date kind of guy or would you rather wait?
I’m a sex-on-the-first-date kind of guy, yeah. I’m just horny and if I’m attracted to the guy and we’re having a good time, I always find it weird to save it for later. Like why save it?
Would you prefer to have a long-distance relationship or are you looking for someone local?
No, no. Long-distance would drive me crazy. I’m too needy for that. Really, I cannot — I would miss him too much.
I’m getting a really good idea of what you’re looking for in a boyfriend, actually.
I thought about it so much.
You have?
Well, yeah.
What else are you looking for?
Well, someone who is versatile — you forgot to ask about that. He’s got to be versatile. I don’t understand any other way.
Yeah, of course.
What is that whole top and bottom thing? Where did that even start?
I haven’t the slightest idea. Is it important to have a boyfriend who is hung?
Weren’t you also going to direct a kind of nature documentary about men’s genitals at one point?
Yeah. You know Lee Daniels?
The guy who made Precious?
Yeah, he was going to executive produce my porn film, at one point. I told him about it and he’s like, ‘Okay, I like you. I’ll put you in touch with these pornographers in Philly’. And they put me in touch with the biggest, black gay porn producer in America, who’s based in Atlanta, Georgia. But then that producer in Atlanta and I had the saddest conversation, dude.
Oh really?
It’s seemed like a really sad world. Like none of his actors are gay, most of them are just straight and broke-as-fuck. And that guy was like talking about the performers like they were monkeys. He said, ‘These people are dangerous. You want to pay them three hundred dollars just to get rid of them’, like he was disgusted with them.
Somebody you didn’t want to work with, basically.
Yeah, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is scary’, and I pulled out.
What a pity. The penis is still so prohibited on the big screen.
Everybody would want to watch it. It’s crazy that it hasn’t been done yet. It would be a like the Discovery Channel or Microcosmos version of a full-frontal porn documentary, made with phantom cameras — like high, high speed so you could show cocks and cumshots in slow motion — using dollies, cranes, and infinite backgrounds… I’ll get there. Have you heard about this new three-hundred-and-sixty degree Oculus Rift porn?
Well, they found a way to make it work finally, and it’s fucking trippy, man. Like virtual reality porn… You put the headset on and then, everywhere you look, you’re in a different room. And they’re starting to make a lot of porn with it.
And you just plug the goggles into your computer?
Yeah, you can buy them on Google, they’re like fifteen dollars. You connect to your phone, and then, whatever you downloaded, or whatever link you go to, you just press play. I haven’t watched any porn on it — I don’t dare — but I imagine it would be fucking crazy. I quit porn.
You gave it up?
Because, ever since I was young, I’ve watched too much porn.
How much is too much?
I don’t know, man. Once a day?
Once a day, you think that’s too much?
Yeah. Just because, in my case, it distorted my sexual life. It made it so infantile, and just visual, not so much sensorial. So when I was like having sex with somebody, it was all about the angles, like, ‘What am I seeing?’ instead of ‘What am I feeling?’ I was watching enough to feel that it was something that I couldn’t live without — and you can, actually, it’s possible. I know it sounds so prudish, so Catholic, but it just felt like the one thing that I was not proud of about myself. Also, the aftertaste of jerking off to porn is just so empty. Not while you’re doing it, but right after — like a part of your soul is gone forever or something.
How long has it been since you stopped watching porn?
Ten months.
Has your life changed since you stopped?
Yeah. I don’t feel that emptiness of watching porn by myself in my apartment. I really don’t miss those moments, and I’m happy I’m not even setting myself up to have them.
So now when you jerk off, you just think of something?
I think of stuff which is similar to porn, but it’s kind of…
In your own mind?
Yeah, I fantasize, or I’m just really aware of my bodily sensations. But it doesn’t happen that often because it takes longer, you know. It’s like a meditation, actually. It takes a lot of effort.
And does this mean you’re not watching guys on cams either?
No. I did that when I was really young, and then I stopped because that was also so lonely — oh god that was lonely.
It seems like those cam sites are really taking off again.
People are doing that again? Well, there is that one little moment of cam sex that is the saddest moment of them all, which is like, once you cum and you’re both like, ‘You came, right?’, and then you’re like, ‘Okay bye’. And then you log off, and you can see your own frozen image.
Yeah, I know. We’ve all been there.
It’s that little moment that makes it not worth it. It’s terrifying, dude.

Nasty Baby hits U.S. cinemas today! Dance Dance Dance Sebastián’s short film about a secret crush between two subway dancers from the Bronx, is coming soon.

Published on 23 October 2015