After coming out to his parents at 18, Wilson Cruz's father threw him out of the house, leaving him to live in his car for months. Cruz took off for Hollywood, but he refused to hide his sexuality. His approach worked and landed him his breakout role in 1994 on the TV drama My So-Called Life, playing Ricky Vasquez, a gay teenager.
As more TV and movie roles came his way, Cruz decided to try his luck on Broadway. In 1998, he took on the role of Angel, a young drag queen with AIDS, in Rent.
Today Cruz, 36, is more than just an actor. He's an advocate for the LGBT community. He's been honored by GLAAD with their Visibilidad Award, presented to Spanish-language members of the community who have made a difference in promoting equal rights, and he once sat on their board. We talked with Cruz about his approach to his career and why he's returning to his hometown of New York City, and we even got him to reveal his first celebrity crush.
Out: You first made the OUT 100 list in 1994. How is the Wilson Cruz of today different from the one of 16 years ago?
Wilson Cruz: There's a scientific theory that all of our cells regenerate, and we're actually a completely different person after seven years, so I don't think that person exists in many ways. In 1994, it was so very new and so very exciting. When you're 21, 22 years old, which is what I was, you feel like you have the ability to do everything and anything you could possibly want to do, and it's just a matter of willing it. I think now that I'm going to be 37, I know all of the hard work that goes into it. I think what I'm happiest about now is that I'm still here. I'm still making myself available to all of the opportunities that are presented to me.
Are those opportunities the reason for moving back to New York City?
It's home to me. I was born there. I left there with my family to come out here [to California] and make a new life. Then I went back years later and did Rent. Then I came back out here because I did the last season of Party of Five.
So are you coming back for Broadway?
I'm coming back to New York to make myself available to do Broadway because it's so difficult to be in California and be available to New York. It happens so quickly. You have to be in the room. It's not something you can put yourself on tape for. I was out there [New York] in August, and I took a couple of meetings. I was actually encouraged by those meetings to come back and spend a good amount of time. I'd like to base myself there again.
You've said that being openly gay has made you a better actor. However, do you feel it's kept you from certain roles?
There's no easy way of answering that because I don't really know. I'm not in that room when those decisions are made. I'm sure that at some point in the last 16 years somebody has said, 'You know, we can't hire him because of this or that.' See, those are people I don't necessarily want to work with anyway. Those aren't creative types who are open to thinking outside the box. The way that you stay sane as an actor in Los Angeles, or even in New York, is that you make yourself available, and the roles you're supposed to get are the roles that you get, and the roles you're not supposed to get, someone else gets. That's how you can maintain friendships and sanity in this industry.
That's a good philosophy.
It's the only way to survive. My job is to show up and do the best possible job that I can do. Someone else is in charge after that.
It's been said that it's harder for minorities to be open about their sexuality. Would you say that's true?
I wouldn't say that it's harder. I think it's different because of cultural reasons. I'm not going to say that my struggle or the struggle of my African-American or Latino friends is harder than our white counterparts. It's just different. We have Catholic influences. We're less tolerant. So it takes a minute for us. There's probably less information within our communities that makes the process of coming out different, but I hesitate to say it is more or less difficult for anybody else. I think everybody has a difficult time.