By: Chris Azzopardi*/Special to TRT—
When it comes to Hollywood interviews, they’re “just so [email protected]#king straightforward and boring and everybody asks the same questions and it just gets redundant,” explains Nico Tortorella.
But our interview is different, he says.
“This is a straight-up Love Bomb episode,” acknowledges the 28-year-old actor, likening the conversational tone of our exchange to his love- and sexuality-centric podcast, now in its second season.
Though he touches on Menendez: Blood Brothers, his Lifetime movie about the infamous, parricidal siblings, and the upcoming season of TV Land’s Younger, Tortorella greatly expounds on his ever-evolving sexual identity, which has been an ongoing dialogue–internally and externally–since the actor revealed his label-less fluidity a year ago.
Now identifying as a “proud” bisexual, the Chicago-born dreamboat candidly discusses his desire for a polyamorous relationship, struggling with his sexuality as a kid before finding his queer “safe haven” within the theater and his current mission to normalize the abnormal.
Q: Your sexual identity has really evolved over the last year; in 2016, you revealed you were label-less and “emotionally fluid.” Then, you said you identify as bisexual.
A: I really like the term bisexual, and I fall somewhere under the umbrella that is bisexuality. I use the word bisexual because people have fought for so long for this word and the fact that it even exists in part of the LGBTI-etcetera is just a beautiful thing, and I’m not gonna be the person to take, like, fluidity or emotional fluidity or pansexual. I’m comfortable somewhere under the bisexual label, and I’m proud of it.
Q: After you revealed that you’re open to dating men, did you hear from more gay male admirers?
A: I think it was actually more when I came into touch with my own sexuality—not in terms of who I prefer, but just me as a sexual being. I just became more aware of different energies.
Q: When did you embrace your bisexuality?
A: Honestly, I think with the work that I’m doing on my podcast – really exploring sexuality as a human condition has educated me on many different people’s lives and the importance of labels and the unimportance of labels, for that matter. I’m in a really interesting place where I can talk about these things, but I’m really doing the work outside of myself on it.
Q: When were you first aware that you had a gay following?
A: That’s an interesting question. I grew up in Chicago on stage, and I was constantly surrounded by a bunch of queer people. I really got along with them as a little kid and they really liked me too, so I don’t think there was one moment in my career, like, “Oh, now I see I can get along with these people.” I feel like it was always there. It was always in me; it was always part of me.
Q: Recently, on your Instagram, you posted a pic of you sporting a shirt that says, “The Future Is Non-Binary.” What’s the story behind that shirt?
A: I bought it when I was shooting the Menendez movie up in Vancouver at this little thrift store. And yes, the future is non-binary, but I am a hardcore believer that so is the past. It has been forever, but for whatever reason, during these past 300 years, we have–and it probably has to do with religion–created the binary. And listen, nothing else exists. But finally, over the last 50 years there’s been this amazing breakthrough and clearly now it is the zeitgeist. I’m just so fascinated by that whole story.
Q: Do you think people are too sexually rigid because society forces people to choose boxes to put themselves into? Is Hollywood influenced by this rigidity?
A: Look, in Hollywood these are the stories that are being told that everybody’s watching. And if you look at mainstream television, basically since it’s been created, there’s only been one story that’s been told. For the most part, it’s about the heteronormative, white family and that has been what’s been pushed in our faces for so long.
Finally, in the last 20, 30 years, things have really been changing. So the answer is yes, absolutely. It’s what we know; it’s what we’ve seen. Religiously, it is what we’ve been taught. It is everything. So, I think, yes, for so long people have been so oppressed in who they are because it doesn’t match what we’re being shown. Now, in the age of the internet and social media, there’s just so much being thrown down our throats constantly–pun intended (laughs)–and it’s like, it exists. Finally, it exists. Finally, people’s stories can be told. And my purpose in life is to extend these stories. I’m in love with people and I’m in love with their stories.
Q: How do your views on sexuality influence the roles you choose as an actor? Are you looking for roles that challenge people’s views on sexuality?
A: Yeah, for sure. It’s a natural thing that happens once I put myself into the role, and those types of projects seem to be floating in my direction, which I’m all for. But I think as an actor it is my job to transform, and as obsessed as I am with the community and our stories and everything, I’m obsessed with people in all facets of life. It’s my job to become them. So, I really think that there’s always gonna be a whole slew of different characters I play.
Q: Jacob Wells, your character on FOX’s serial-killer thriller The Following, enjoyed the company of both men and women. What was your read on his sexuality?
A: It’s funny–at that point in my life I had a boyfriend in L.A. and a girlfriend in N.Y. and it was pretty intensely life imitating art. Granted, we weren’t killing people (laughs), but I was living that and wasn’t comfortable with myself to the fullest extent probably because that was before I got sober. I was somewhat of a mess. But I was really navigating what that meant to have two lives, almost.
Q: How have your Love Bomb guests enlightened you and your approach to your sexuality?
A: It really is an extension of who I am. My sexuality is a part of my story – it’s not all of my story – and to just normalize things that are deemed abnormal is really important. That’s my driving force at this point, so it affects everything that I do because it is me.
Q: What topics do you seek to normalize during this second season?
A: In the second season, I have everyone from Courtney Love to Todrick Hall to Johnny Weir. Some really, really heavy episodes. And it’s everything from ageism to intersectionality. The most amazing thing about this show is that every single person who comes on has a completely different story, and nine times out of 10 the story that is told is different than the one that I thought I was going to hear. That’s where the real magic is. So, the spectrum is wide. It’s a universe, really.
Q: What was it like sitting down with Courtney Love for The Love Bomb?
A: I love her so much, and I’m just gonna open with that. The second we locked eyes and had, like, an exchange, it was magical. We’re kindred souls, and we spent a lot of time in Vancouver (shooting Menendez together). We went to a native-led sweat lodge and were just in interesting parts of our lives at the time and really opened up to each other. So, when it was time to sit down with a microphone–I mean, I felt like we were having the Love Bomb_conversation for months before we even had the real conversation in the studio. It was amazing. We had gotten so close by that point that there wasn’t a wall, and she has such an incredible story. I mean, she’s an icon, she’s royalty. People are really gonna see a softer, human side to her that I think is just so lovely.
Q: Did she go thrift shopping with you?
A: We went shopping together a couple of times. She’s kind of like a gay man just in general, and I think she stands by that. I love that about her.
Q: Let’s talk Younger. Based on last season, Liza and your character, Josh, seem to be broken up. During season four, will we see Josh rebound with a boyfriend, perhaps?
A: Yeah, I was just gonna say: The big secret of season four is Josh and Charles are gonna get together. (Laughs)
Q: Who wouldn’t love that?
A: I mean, I would, let’s be honest. But no, there’s definitely not gonna be a boyfriend for Josh anytime soon–not that I know of, anyway! But I think after Liza he’s definitely exploring other options, and we really get to see a part of Josh’s life that’s lived outside of everybody else’s story in this fourth season, which is nice. And since it is a Darren Star show, Liza and Josh won’t be that far apart from each other for that long.
Q: There’s been talk about you developing the The Love Bomb into a sketch-based TV series. What’s the status on that?
A: The idea has evolved into something. I left a development meeting this morning, which I can’t talk too much about. But it is definitely happening. It is moving at a really sensible pace, and it’s the one thing that I’m most excited about right now. Honestly, there’s great acting jobs in the future and different movies and TV shows even, but this is the soul.
Q: What about it excites you?
A: It’s just an extension of the podcast, I think. Everything I learned on the podcast I wanna take to the next level. The way I see it in my head is, it’s some sort of segmented show where I’m talking to different people all over the world and learning and really diving into different cultures and people and sexuality. It’s a sexploration of love.
Q: I hope that it’s been picked up by a cable network so you can push buttons and boundaries.
A: I’m gonna get naked at some point, I promise. (Laughs)
Q: You really are challenging people’s feelings on sex and nakedness, aren’t you?
A: And love too! People are so [email protected]#king uptight about love. Love is supposed to be one specific way. You’re supposed to get married and have kids and that’s it – oh, and you’re probably supposed to marry the opposite sex. That just isn’t the case for so many [email protected]#king people.
Like all my gay friends who are in open relationships.
Even on that note: Why is it socially acceptable for two gay people to be in an open relationship, but if you hear about a straight couple in an open relationship people are like, “What? How does that work?” It doesn’t make sense to people.
Also, being somebody that dates both, how do I maneuver that conversation? Like, “Look, I want a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time–are you cool with that?” That’s even more confusing. But I’ve done it, and at the end of the day that’s who I am. I think I’m coming more and more into my own acceptance with polyamory and how I think that I can just be the best partner, if that is an option.
Q: Have you always been as comfortable in your skin as you seem to be now?
A: I just wanna make it clear that it was not always easy for me. For sure, as a kid. I had a really bad stutter from 8 to 11. I wasn’t doing any theater, and sexuality in my household was one thing and one thing only. Anything heard or talked about or seen outside of it was gross in one way or another. I mean, big Italian family in Chicago. It didn’t exist anywhere in my family. I didn’t have any gay relatives. It just wasn’t anywhere.
Q: Did you grow up Catholic?
A: Yes, yes. And the theater is a safe haven for queer people everywhere; it just is. That’s where they go to let the flags fly to transform, to create, to fall in love, and it was the best training that I had for acting, for sure, and just for human experience. And once I started seeing (gay people), I started getting more comfortable talking about it with my family. But the struggle was real. When I got sober, really, is when I decided that I wasn’t going to not be unapologetically myself, and I really just stepped into it.
*As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).