By: Clara Lefton/TRT Reporter
A celebrity photographer, LGBT rights activist, reality-TV star of LOGO’sThe A-List, former model and actor Mike Ruiz has done it all and then some, but he wasn’t always quite so established.
“I came to this country with $300 bucks in my pocket, a dream and I worked my a$$ off,” explained Ruiz, who grew up outside of Montreal, Canada. “I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
Never forgetting his roots, Ruiz has become very active with the Ali Forney Center, a charity that works on housing for homeless LGBT youth, and he’s launched a T-shirt line to help spread its message.
“It’s really important to me to give back to the younger generation; especially the ones who have no hope,” he said, “and let them know if I can do it, anybody can. There’s hope for everybody.”
Despite the leaps and bounds his career has been taking, he made time to chat with The Rainbow Times right before the premiere The A-List’s second season. A busy bee, he was able to squeeze in an interview while preparing for an upcoming photo shoot.
Clara Lefton: How will you be watching the premiere of season two?
Mike Ruiz: They are actually having a premiere screening party next week (July 25) we are all going to … it is mandatory to attend.
CL: Do you normally get to watch episodes before they’re released?
MR: We do, yes. They send us the episode a couple of days before. If it airs on Monday, we’ll usually get the episode on Friday. Also, we’re not receiving an advanced copy for the premiere; we’re seeing it for the first time. There’s going to be a lot of press there and a lot of general public at the [New York City] venue where they’re going to have the screening.”
CL: Any hints you can give us about the next season of The A-List?
MR: They have a very extensive confidentially agreement, but I can tell you that there’s a lot more layers to it this season. There’s another cast member, which changed the dynamic pretty considerably, and there’s still some residual tension from last season happening. But there’s been some pretty big shifts in alliances. … It’s definitely going to be an explosion. The second season is definitely one-upping the first.
CL: What gave you the idea for your recent T-shirt line?
MR: It was part of this gallery show I was doing. I turned the camera on and transformed myself. For the gallery show I printed out some promo T-shirts just to give away, and I used one of [those] images and handed them out. Then I just started getting requests. … I did a small run and they sold out, so I did another run and am in the midst of selling those. …We’re not selling tens of thousands of them, but it’s a fun novelty item. It also benefits the Ali Forney Center and the T-shirts have been getting a lot of press. (They’ve been) seen on celebrities, and the images end up all over the Internet.
CL: How much is going back to the Ali Forney Center?
MR: It’s $2 per T-shirt, but it’s not a big cash cow for the Ali Forney Center. How it’s really benefited them is the awareness that it’s raised for them. It’s made a few bucks for them and as a result I have started doing other things now with the Ali Forney Center. We have a big fundraiser coming up and I’m helping with sponsorship.
CL: Who were your childhood heroes?
MR: When I was a really young child, like 5 or 6, G.I. Joe was my hero. … My childhood wasn’t that great, so it was a form of deceit, but I put all these qualities on G.I. Joe. Like I used to [tell] my friends that G.I. Joe would come and rescue me. But G.I. Joe got me through a lot of rough patches as a kid.
Then when I was teenager I had pop-culture sort of heroes and people that I looked up to, and that molded me as a creative person. Those are all obvious ones [from] the ’80s: Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson. They just helped me establish a mindset. … I knew somehow I was going to end up in entertainment. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but they were all beacons of hope. Like [how] Madonna had a hard love story: She came to New York with no money and made the career that she did for herself. That inspired me as a kid and as a result I feel I need to give back. And that’s why I work with so many youth programs.
CL: What was the craziest fan experience you ever had?
MR: I had to sign somebody’s breast once, which is odd. I didn’t realize I had those kinds of fans. … I was on Canada’s Next Top Model for the whole season and they had a music awards (show and) some girl pummeled her way to the red carpet and pulled her top down.
CL: Did you attend pride this year?
MR: I was in the New York parade. I was actually on the Gay Men’s Health Crisis float. … Then the week after I was the grand marshal of the pride parade in San Antonio, Texas. Two vastly different experiences, but both amazing for their own reasons.
CL: Do you have any connection to San Antonio?
MR: They’re trying to make an A-List Texas, so they’re trying to make advances in equality. There’s still bullying and a lot of repression still exists in Texas, so the whole platform this year was anti-bullying. Since I’ve done stuff for The Trevor Project and the Ali Forney Center they felt that I was a good spokesperson to broaden that message.
CL: What is the worst job you ever had?
MR: I never really had a job that I loathed, but (at) my job at McDonald’s in my late teens … I was emptying one of the french-fry fryer vats into a big cauldron and bringing the cauldron into this tub at the other end of the parking lot. It was Canada in the dead of winter, there was ice, and I’m carrying this thing of hot oil and I slipped. It flew up in the air and I was doused with hot oil. Luckily, I didn’t get any scarring from it but that was the worst work experience I’ve ever had: being fried to death in McDonald’s french-fry grease.
CL: Are you taking any vacation time this summer?
MR: No vacation this summer. The A-List is taping until the first week of August. … I never really did vacation anyway because my photography business is year-round. Also, one of the perks is I get to travel (with) jobs. In December, I was working in India so I ended up staying; I extended my trip for a little (and) went to the south of India. … I’m travelling so much for work that the thing I want the most when I have any time off is to pretty much just stay home.