Degrassi: The Next Generation real-and-reel-gay heartthrob Adamo Ruggiero, 21, wants to send out a personal memo to the closeted pink boldface out in LaLa Land: Coming out has been an absolutely painless, cathartic, and positive experience. And it was all voluntary, thank you very much.
It was my decision, he tells Out, of his January gab with fab, Canada's leading gay magazine. Simply put, it was time. I didnt come out earlier not because it would cost me external power, but because I had to figure out it for myself. When I did, after coming out to my family first, I told the world. But hey, Im a young actor, and I dont consider myself a celebrity. Im on a small series with a big cult following, so there was no rule book as to how it would be received. But Im happy to say it worked out.
Now Ruggiero talks with Out about how it felt to play gay before he was sure about his own sexuality, how some fans adamantly defended his straightness, and why it's time to catch up on gay history.
Out: The best part of coming out is you can now answer your fan mail honestly!
Adamo Ruggiero: Yes! I cant tell you hard it was to read fan mail from young gay tweens or teens thanking me for inspiring them to come out to their parents, when I hadnt done the same myself! It was ironic, to say the least. I often felt like a fraud, to be honest. Now I have an open dialogue with my viewership and fans. Im psyched. Coming out feels good. The hardest part for me to come to terms with was letting go of my fears of becoming a poster boy for a cause. It was tough playing a gay role -- which was something I didnt necessarily sign up for -- but it happened, and now I realize there are no coincidences. I have a voice and itd be stupid for me not to use it. So I said, Stop being a pussy, Adamo. And that was that. Every so often, you have a fan encounter that stops you dead in your tracks and propels you to use whatever celebrity you do have to make a difference, however clich as that sounds. But its what makes dealing with fame tolerable, for me at least.
You were only 14 when Marco came out on-screen, and, at 21, I think youre still the youngest TV actor to do so.
Degrassi isnt Beverly Hills, 90210, which cast 25-year-olds as teens. Had that been the case, perhaps this whole experience would have been an easier road artistically, personally, and professionally. However, the best part of this experience was the fact that as an actor, I was really in the moment because I was walking step-by-step with Marco. I guess you can say thats where the authenticity of my portrayal came in. When he was quivering, I was quivering. The producers hadnt decided that Marco was gay until I came along, so we took this journey together.
What do you think about bloggers who out stars who may be too young to realize theyre gay? I call it the Zac Efron situation -- not that Im implying hes gay, but hes the latest example.
Because I inspired the producers to make the role gay, there was this discord of self-worth. Thats when I ask my fans to sympathize with me, because I really wish I could have come out sooner and opened up to everyone. I was just a teenager who never had the opportunity to make my own personal decisions because Marco always beat me to it. I was so involved in playing him that my private life took a back seat. There are moments when youre put in front of the public eye -- and yes its a blessing -- but sometimes its an unfair situation. I was genuinely afraid for most of that time, I admit. And, of course, in the acting world, from an artistic point of view, here you have a gay kid playing a gay kid -- some would argue thats not acting at all. So then I would ask: how much of an actor am I?
Thankfully, you didnt live in the bitch-eat-bitch world of Hollywood. Youd be sporting a Mohawk and flaunting your get-of-rehab-free card around a dark alley somewhere!
[Laughs] Thank God I lived in a city like Toronto, where I had privacy and no one was breathing down my neck -- and its been a blessing. How do people do this in Hollywood? I wouldnt have been able to have a boyfriend. What would have I done? Yes, living in Canada sometimes limits your career in terms of fame, but if you trade your integrity for fame...
Is it weird that Degrassi is a bigger hit and sensation in America than in Canada?
It doesnt make me mad, it makes me feel defeated with our culture. The concept of culture and identity has always been in flux in our country. We never really know who we are, and in terms of entertainment weve always felt subordinate. We were getting American signals long before we even built a radio or TV system in Canada. The line is: Americans love their own, and Canadians love Americans. Whats funny about our show is that in this one particular case its the opposite: Americans love this Canadian show, but we dont. And they are obsessed -- the Customs people tell us whenever kids come through they always ask where the cast lives!
Has The N, which is owned by Viacom, said anything regarding your coming out?
The N, which is a part of the MTV and Nickelodeon family, hasnt yet. The ironic thing is we always have to shoot alternate scenes for the U.S. network -- Canada gets the racier stuff. For example, when Spinner graffiti-ed Marco is a fag, -- for the Americans, we had to shoot it as, Marco is gay. CTV is a national network, while The N is a youth network, so we have to make it appropriate for kids. But the fact is kids use the words fuck and fag. The great thing about Canada is we dont poo-talk to kids, and we certainly dont underestimate them -- we talk to them, not at them. In America, its another story obviously. Damn TV and politics -- I hate censorship. Its not easy being an artist.
Most of your American teenage female fans were shocked when you came out, I heard. Before you came out officially, posters on Degrassi fan message boards would actually bully people into believing you were...
Straight! Can you believe that? People believe what they want to believe, and that happens mostly in America. Here in Canada, we just see human beings for the most part. So, Im sure me coming out is going to make some waves down south. With the small amount of celebrity Ive had in my life, knowing that, how can I believe that Britney Spears is pregnant for third time when they think Im straight?
You have a boyfriend, who youve been seeing for one year -- do you want to go on the record with that or keep that part of your life private?
Its always been The Adamo Ruggiero Show until I entered this fantastic relationship. Weve been seeing each other for one year -- and thats all I want to say.
Fair enough. Who are your gay icons? I find that many gay whippersnappers arent aware of our gay history.
I guess I have some homework to do! Im a perfect example of your frustrations regarding gay youth! I dont know my gay history that well, I admit. I hope Marco will one day be looked upon as a gay icon or a trailblazer. There are people whom I admire -- I met Rosie ODonnell with the cast of Spring Awakening this past year; shes fantastic. I admire Rosie because being gay is only one of her many facets; it hasnt defined her. And Ellen DeGeneres, of course -- who doesnt love Ellen?
Any plans to exit Degrassi?
Im sure thats in the near future, for sure. But having said that, Im not sure exactly when. Listen, Marcos naturally aging out of the series -- thats no secret, so its only a matter of time. Although I love the show and everyone involved because they are truly my family, Im also eager to tackle the film world. I wont be moving to Hollywood; I will still live in Toronto. Hopefully, Id like to explore producing, directing and writing independent film. Ill still act, but Id like to be more behind the scenes.
I hear from a reliable source you love Mariah Carey -- especially when you DJ at the Drake Hotel in Toronto.
Yes! Me loves her! [Laughs] I know, your idol is Madonna, whom my boyfriend also idolizes, but what can I say -- Im all about Mims! Though, I think Im in the closet about one thing and one thing only these days -- Im probably a closet Madonna fan, I admit.
Finally, the most important question: Boxers or briefs? People need to know, damn it!
[Laughs] I used to wear boxers until I got into skinny jeans -- then I was forced. So its briefs for me. Its tough being a slave to fashion!