Adamo Ruggiero Makes the Yuletide Gay
By Dustin Fitzharris
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 doesn't realize is Olaf isn't 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 he's looking for in a man, his first celebrity crush, and what he thought about fellow 2009 Out 100 honoree Adam Lambert's 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: It's 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 don't 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 that's 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?
He's a very independent, very sure of himself guy. He's 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. It's been a journey.
How did you get involved in the film?
Rob Williams [the film's 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 isn't 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 wasn't 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. Aren't you concerned with being typecast?
Honestly, I'm 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 it's okay to be gay and that you can be successful. I don't mind being typecast. I feel there are a lot of stories out there that can be told about the LGBT community, and I'm so lucky that I've 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 I'm 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 didn't 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 didn't 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 didn't have that skill and didn't 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 don't think I would've 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 didn't think of it in terms of being gay or straight, but I did feel separated. It wasn't 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. She's so elegant and is not afraid of furs and great boots. I always tell her, 'You are most likely the reason I'm 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. He's the typical straight guy. He's also a thinker with a very open mind. In fact, he actually approached me. I'm not sure if I've ever told this story before. He sent me a text message and wrote, 'Hey, you know how Marco's mom knew? Well, I know too.' He said 'I know what you're 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 clich'd 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.