For Adamo Ruggiero, life did imitate art -- and vice versa. When he joined the cast of the hit show Degrassi: The Next Generation in 2002, he was wrestling with his sexuality just like his character, Marco Del Rossi. Marco eventually found the courage to come out later that year and Ruggiero followed suit six years later.
In Make the Yuletide Gay, now available on DVD, the Canadian actor plays Nathan, a college student who surprises his boyfriend, Olaf Gunn Gunnunderson (Keith Jordan), at his parents house over Christmas break. But what Nathan doesnt realize is Olaf isnt out to his family.
Ruggiero, who is in the middle of earning his degree in communications and film theory, took some time out from studying for his final exams to chat about what hes looking for in a man, his first celebrity crush, and what he thought about fellow 2009 Out 100 honoree Adam Lamberts performance on the American Music Awards.
Out: You grew up in Canada and still call it home. What are the differences you see in the gay culture there compared to here in the States?
Adamo Ruggiero: Its hard for me to say because I can only speak for Toronto and the only place I can really speak of in the States is L.A. I think after spending so much time in L.A., you guys have so much more to fight for. I was there during the Prop 8 rallies, which was such a moving experience. I loved seeing the passion and how united the community was. I was also there during Pride. That was super awesome! I dont think there are really too many differences. It has the same tone and culture, at least in the Village [the gay strip in Toronto]. I did see a lot more unity and passion in L.A., and I think thats because of all you are fighting for. Toronto is also in a unique place right now with the gay community because it seems to be expanding.
In Make the Yuletide Gay you play Nathan Stanford. How would you describe him?
Hes a very independent, very sure of himself guy. Hes comfortable with his sexuality.
How is he different from Marco on Degrassi: The Next Generation?
I think they are different in regards to where I am or was. When I played Marco, he was coming out as I was coming out publicly. He was coming of age, and I followed that process, which was very lovely and honest. With Nathan, he was already out of the closet like I was. So, I was more confident. Nathan is very open and honest, and so am I. Its been a journey.
How did you get involved in the film?
Rob Williams [the films writer and director] enjoyed my portrayal of Marco and sent the script to my agent in Toronto. This is really rare for a Canadian actor. This isnt Hollywood where you do one big gig and suddenly everyone is interested. I was totally excited. Then I read it and it was hilarious and heartfelt. I really wasnt expecting that, and it was the first time anyone had ever come to me and asked me to be a part of something. I told my agent that it was right up my alley, and I wanted to do it. I also thought it was an important story to tell.
This is your second role as a gay character. Arent you concerned with being typecast?
Honestly, Im not as concerned as everyone around me is. I want to do these roles, not only for myself, but also for the LGBT youth community. I want them to know that its okay to be gay and that you can be successful. I dont mind being typecast. I feel there are a lot of stories out there that can be told about the LGBT community, and Im so lucky that Ive had the opportunity to be in shows that put me at the forefront of the culture and everything it has going for it. I would welcome any roles that come my way, but right now Im A-OK with having a gay path.
When you started playing Marco you were 15. Were you concerned about playing a gay character then?
I didnt know that he was going to be gay. I just knew that I had this part on a major show, and it was a dream come true. Then as I started to realize that my character was gay, it really was a stressful time. I felt very insecure because I felt that all of my secrets were being projected for the world, including my parents. It was also hard representing the character because a lot of kids were coming up to me and admiring my work for playing Marco, and I felt like a fraud because I really didnt connect with him in the way that I wanted to. I was just so scared about everything that would follow if I did come out. I went a little crazy, but once I got my feet on the ground and realized who I was, I was able to let go of all the fears that I was carrying on my back. It was part of becoming an adult. As a kid I really didnt have that skill and didnt know how to deal with it.
When did you know you were gay?
I came out publicly when I was 21 in January 2008, but I came out to my friends pretty early on. When I was 15 I came out to my first friend. Her name was Brittany, and she was just the coolest chic ever. She was the only one who knew for a long time. Then later on in high school I shared it with a lot of my other friends. I think to some extent I always knew, even in elementary school. I dont think I wouldve put the word "gay" to it then because I was too young, but I never did what the other guys did. I was hanging out with the girls a lot and doing a lot of feminine things. I didnt think of it in terms of being gay or straight, but I did feel separated. It wasnt until I was 13 that I knew what it meant to be gay or straight.
What is something you did that may have turned some heads?
For my high school graduation I sang the Spice Girls song Goodbye.
Just like Marco, you came out to your mother in your bedroom and your father in the kitchen. What are your parents like?
My mother is very glam and fab. Shes so elegant and is not afraid of furs and great boots. I always tell her, You are most likely the reason Im gay. My dad is a big soccer fan and is just fantastic.
How did your older brother respond to you being gay?
He is my hero. He is the coolest guy. Hes the typical straight guy. Hes also a thinker with a very open mind. In fact, he actually approached me. Im not sure if Ive ever told this story before. He sent me a text message and wrote, Hey, you know how Marcos mom knew? Well, I know too. He said I know what youre going through -- let me help you. Ever since he opened that door, I learned a lot about stereotypes. Of course there are stereotypes within the gay community, but we also have them about straight people, too.
We have this perception of the clichd straight jocks, which my brother would totally fit into. But his open-mindedness that he always had -- I never gave him credit for it. He is my biggest supporter, though. I never would have expected that, so it was a big eye-opening experience. I underestimated him, and I think we underestimate a lot of people out of fear.
Adam Lambert is another young star, who, like you, is very secure in his sexuality. Did you see his performance on the American Music Awards?
[Hesitantly] I did.
And what were your thoughts?
Oh, I knew this was coming.
I truly admire how open and how confident he is in how he projects himself. He makes no apologies. We have to have people like Adam Lambert who show that its OK to be gay and to be yourself. At the same time we have to work hard to educate the people around us and not alienate them. Its a double-edged sword. Coming out is about educating everyone around you, but you have to balance the messages. Adams willingness resonates with me, but we have to show that we are an important and -- actually -- a normal community. Its very much like the pride festivals. We put ourselves out there and have such amazing messages, but at the same time some people dont know how to deal with all the colors and the flamboyance. We should be able to kiss who we want to kiss and represent the community, but we need to deal with the paperwork that may come with it after the act.
Who is your biggest idol right now?
Lady Gaga. I know its such a clich gay thing to say, but Im A-OK with it. Shes fantastic. I think shes brought art back to pop culture. She has a huge amount of individuality, and I absolutely love it.
You once said your first celebrity crush was Mary-Kate Olsen. But who was the first celebrity male you had a crush on?
Oh my God! This is going to sound weird, but I remember growing up and my brother and I were really big X-Files fans. We used to watch it all the time. I know its the weirdest thing, but David Duchovny. I just thought he was so cool, and it was probably my earliest crush as a kid.
Are you currently involved in a relationship?
Nope. Im single.
What do you look for in a man?
Oh, thats the story of my life. Im not looking for anything specific or fancy. What I fantasize about is nothing like who I end up dating.
And what do you fantasize about?
I want a man-man. He has to be confident with himself and have a sense of humor. Im a bit of a neurotic, so I need a stable man -- preferably with a beard and nice jawline.
Would you like to get married one day?
Thats such a hard question because I havent met somebody. It seems like such a far away thing for me. I am a romantic at heart. I do appreciate having someone there with me. I cant be independent all the time, so I do hope to find the man who can spoon with me forever. I want someone to curl up with me in bed.
You said youd like to play more gay characters in the future. What kind of gay characters would you like to explore?
I want to play a character who struggles with issues outside of being gay. My straight friends go through the same kinds of things that gay people my age do. Were worried about finding a job or how to deal with our families. I think if we show a character who doesnt talk about his sexuality so bluntly, it will be more powerful. We could just show a guy going home to his boyfriend and how they deal with being together. We all go through the same shit.
Finally, what are you the most proud of?
The two Pride episodes I did on Degrassi.