by Bambi Weavil
Adamo Ruggiero poses at Trevor New York, the eighth annual New York fundraiser benefitting The Trevor Project on June 30, 2008. (credit: The Trevor Project)
The talented and handsome Adamo Ruggiero recently came out this year as a openly gay actor to Canadian press and is a popular star on the highest rated show on The N Network in the United States called Degrassi: The Next Generation. Ruggiero is best known for playing Marco, a long-time openly gay character on the show and Ruggiero spoke with us about his coming out experience, Degrassi and his activism work, as he prepared for PRIDE in Toronto in June 18th:
BW: I am impressed with what I’ve seen on Degrassi: The Next Generation and how they’ve written your gay character, Marco. Why did the writers decide to bring in gay characters and what has your experience been like on the show?
AR: It’s a good story. My producer Linda Schuyler, she had produced the original Degrassi, and everything from Degrassi forward. I know with Degrassi Junior High, she wanted to put in a gay character, and not a guest character, but a character that would be there for a while and she said she never really had the opportunity.
I think something happened between then and now, where a colleague of hers had lost her son, who had committed suicide because of all the pressure he had with coming out. And so, when [Linda] was doing Degrassi: The Next Generation, she said she really had to represent this issue, which is so relevant in today’s world and so important to young people, to watch and learn from, and be able to resonate with. In Season 2, I was casted, and I didn’t know my character was going to head down that direction, but they were pretty sure. I know halfway through the season, Linda brought me into her office, and her idea came into fruition when she told me that Marco was going to be the gay character. So it’s been a long time coming!
BW: When the role was being developed did you believe, and even looking back now, that Marco was realistically written as far as coming out and dealing with his relationship with his boyfriend?
AR: Totally, I don’t know if it’s gone to all places in the States, but here this year, in Toronto I came out myself, and shared my story and how it was being a gay teen, growing up playing a gay teen character, while growing up on a show. You know Degrassi really, their goal from day one, has always been realism, to make the shows as realistic as possible. And also whatever the kids are talking about, no matter if they are at a party, or in a high school class, or whatever it may be, she wanted to put it on the show. And that was so funny, because that’s what I was dealing with in my life, while I was playing with this character. I like to look at myself as living proof of what this show was trying to do. It helped me, as I played it to help other people who were in the same scenario as me.
And so, for me to have looked at it as a accurate representation as I was going through it in those exact moments, it speaks to how authentic it was really in how it has tackled relationships, the coming out process, the family and the friends, and the coming of age as a young gay teen.
BW: How did your parents handle your coming out?
AR: My parents are really great. I am first generation Canadian, and luckily my Mom was also born here. My Dad was born in Italy, so I had a whole different set of perspectives that I had grown up with that have really shaped me, and all which I’m really grateful for. So it was just quite really lovely to see when I put this before them, how much that it didn’t matter what part of the world I’m from, or what generation you grew up in, they were there to support me and love me.
It was a learning process of course, and sharing with them my life and my experiences, it was a little difficult for them too, because I was playing this character, who was really hard for me at the time because I felt exposed but not exposed; it was like a battle of voices in my head. It was a growing up experience for all of us, and once we grew up and I got a little older, and more mature and started looking at the show and the way it’s affected me, and I think the only thing my parents were mad about or scared about, was how I was dealing with it. To make sure I would come out of the storm, and gave me everything I needed to go through it. I was very lucky.
BW: How do you feel since you came out this year? Do you feel more relieved since you’ve come out and don’t have to keep it quiet, especially having played a openly gay character on the show?
AR: Oh for sure, for sure. It’s just such a relief, I can’t say anything wrong now, and I can be completely and utterly myself. I really did it for all the young people that were in the situation I was in, trying to come out. Especially for those who didn’t have such a great support system, and I feel more relief now that I can speak to an issue that I knew I was meant to speak on, as opposed to hide it. I feel like I’m making progress as opposed to going backwards.
BW: Well congratulations! I know how not easy it is to come out; I was kicked out at first when I came out to my parents when I was 19…but they eventually came around, so I know I’m lucky….I know a lot of kids aren’t.
AR: What I always say to young people is everything I’ve been able to speak on is of course within my context, and when I hear situations or stories like you just told me, my heart totally does go out to them. It’s those very reasons why I did the cover of a magazine, and shared my story, and it’s wasn’t just for us, but it’s for our parents’ generation. And for the way we both have to co-exist with one another, and to me, it was mostly, it was the same ambition as Degrassi, was to educate, to enlighten and to share, and a lot of people who weren’t coming around to begin with, especially with the big outing of mine, have come around now.
I feel like we are all a kind of little ambassadors in our cities, and friends, our parents when we come out, sometimes it’s a cultural barrier, a generational barrier, and it’s our job especially in this day in age, to enlighten, to show our parents we are going to do a second draft of what they told us. Same concept, but maybe a second draft. I love to hear when young people come up to me and tell me their experiences so that I feel like I’m a part of the community. Which is ultimately my goal.
BW: How is the gay community like in Canada? What’s the climate like?
AR: It’s so funny you are saying that, we are rounding up for PRIDE week right now. It’s slowly approaching. I can’t really speak to much about Canada as a whole; it’s so massive, and I’ve only visited cities around the country very briefly. Speaking from Toronto, Toronto is so really liberal and wonderful city, what makes Toronto very cool especially as a young person growing up, [is that] we have a gay community and the Village, and a kind of street where people can go and be themselves if they really need it. There are great little pockets of culture all throughout the city, and I think what all those pockets of culture have in common is individuality, so not only do you have the queer culture and community in one spot, but there is a really cool mixture of everybody, that includes gay and lesbian. I did go to the Gay Village growing up, but I also found my other gay buddies in different parts of the city and I like that about the city. We have our Village, but we can be also a part of Toronto based on who we are, but I think it’s because of how liberal the city is.
BW: Has the media been good to you up there since you’ve come out?
AG: Oh my God, so great, I love Toronto media! (laughs) They have been so supportive, sending me congratulations, [asking] how they can help or if I wanted to do another story with them. No one here tried to tear us down, or start gossip, or things like that. It was more just really everyone being supportive.
“The N Crew” – Adamo Ruggiero, actor, Degrassi: The Next Generation, which broadcasts on MTV’s network, The N, poses with Sarah Tomassi Lindman, senior vice president and general manager, The N, and Lauren Collins, actress, Degrassi: The Next Generation for the eighth annual New York fundraiser benefitting The Trevor Project on June 30, 2008. (photo credit: The Trevor Project)
BW: Has the cast been supportive? Have you had any problems with that at all?
AG: Because it was like two high school experiences, I came out to them long before growing up, so it was old news to them. (laughs) They were like, ‘yeah, yeah we know,’ they were actually really proud of me, that I was sharing the story at large, and not just with them. It’s kind of like high school.
BW: It’s exciting to see a teen drama series have such responsibility in their writing. Another aspect I liked of the show was the progression of the relationship between Marco and Spinner. What was your take on that, since Spinner started as really homophobic and then started to come around, and I think that’s a important lesson kids have to see.
AR: I love the Marco and Spinner relationship. It was really honest, and really quite beautiful I think. Yes, Spinner didn’t come around in the beginning, but to me, that’s going to be what is going to happen in the real world. To have every person high-five Marco would be really unrealistic. It all supports that theory, that’s why I love Marco’s relationship with Spinner, they had a totally profound respect for one another, they never lost that. They were always such great friends and then suddenly, there was this barrier. And I think, it represented more of something they didn’t understand or know. It wasn’t really like, ‘I hate Marco’ it’s more like Spinner going, ‘This is something that’s new. I’m coming of age, I don’t quite understand the gay community and the gay culture. And I don’t also understand that you can be yourself and you can still be Marco and be gay.’
So what I thought was interesting was the relationship of both of them really coming of age, having to deal with the new trials and tribulations of what they are going to face in life to come. I think that’s pretty cool, sooner or later, when Spinner starts helping Marco choose his outfit for his gay date, and I love that, because it was Spinner coming around, and realizing it was Marco and that it wasn’t just, he wasn’t losing his best friend, he was actually gaining something, he was learning a little bit more about him, it was a learning process. And that’s what I mean that Marco was a little ambassador for Spinner, and himself, they both came of age, and this is what is happening in the world, I’m going to encounter people different from myself, whether it be culturally or sexual orientation, or anything like that, and this is the way, I think, we deal with difference. And that’s why I love this other storyline because it was dealing with difference.
BW: Can you give our readers a teaser of what’s to come with Marco?
AR: The season that just aired, was Marco not being in a relationship, and saying, ‘hey, who am I as a person?’ And it was his turn to figure out that now I’m not in a relationship, and I am comfortable with who I am, with my sexuality and as a whole, where do I fit in, who I am as a person, what are my likes, what are my dislikes, and that really was what Season Seven was about for Marco. And when the University House split up, they went in different directions…oops, I don’t even know if that’s happened in the States yet (laughs), but you will soon see, there is a little bit of a conclusive chapter to the University House. There was a bunch of young people not in relationships going, ‘hey, I have to go figure out who I am,’ so after Dylan, there was another superficial relationship by Marco, but it was more about the age of him.
BW: Is this the last season coming up? I read that it might be.
AR: I don’t think there being a last season for Degrassi is just so foreign to us, we don’t even know. It’s so wonderful and, it’s gone so strong for so long, and it’s surpassed all our expectations, of what we ever imagined stepping into the studio in the first season, the second season. We wish it the best, and I wish it the best, I know a lot of us are doing different things and coming back when we can. But it’s like our high school, you always want to go back and visit, and say hi to everybody.
BW: Do you have any projects you’re working on outside Degrassi?
AR: Right now I’m doing a television show, and hosting a talent show on a network called YTV in Toronto. And I was attracted to it because there were a bunch of young singers and young people competing to go through a mentorship program; it’s like a reality show. It’s really cool, it’s a mentorship show and all these young people that remind me of myself when I started out in the industry and it’s called The Next Star. There are a few things I’m working on and trying to jump on the wagon soon.
BW: I read that you are a activist as well. What non-profits do you work with?
AR: Mostly just Toronto-based, like the show as a whole has been doing a huge movement with Free The Children, which has been such a important part of Degrassi‘s voice, because it’s young people helping young people. It’s something we’ve all been involved in, but I’ve been doing a lot of local things. For example, I’m working on a anti-gay violence campaign that is happening in Toronto, in a association with Toronto police and PRIDE weekend, that I helped shoot a PSA, and I was on a panel and putting it all together.
There are different things coming up, but some of the biggest ones was I helped with The Trevor Project two years ago and I’m headed back there at the end of June, which is such a great campaign thing for me especially. I shot a PSA for them, but it’s a youth suicide prevention help line for gay teens that are dealing with depression, or actually succumbing to the pressure. I was able to go down to LA and present, and to be a part of the PSA and the voice for young people, and to say that there are resources available in the States if you need it. There is a similar one in Toronto that I’m going to start helping out with very soon too, a kind of Canadian equivalent to the Trevor Project.
It’s mostly within the gay voice, that’s mostly where my heart is, especially for the young gay community for sure.
BW: What would you feel is the main difference between you and Marco that most people don’t realize? What is most taken for granted aspect?
AR: How we are different? Everyone is always like ‘how are you the same?’ (laughs) ‘Well I’m gay, he’s gay.’ (laughs) Marco is a really a lot more uptight than I am (laughs), that’s the biggest thing. He is a lot more uptight, everything’s in order. I was never the kid, I did well in school, I was in plays but I was never student council president, I never organized a lot of different things, especially in everyday life, I don’t get mad if people make that much of a mess. I’m just a lot more easygoing. I’m a simple guy, that’s the biggest thing basically. He’s really uptight and a nervous wreck.
BW: (laughs) Simple is good and is taken for granted in general…
AR: You gotta go with the flow….I’m a little more go with the flow. I don’t know if my friends will agree, maybe I’m just being subjective, but they may think we’re exactly the same but we’re not.
BW: We’ll make sure that it’s passed on that you’re not Marco. (laughs)
AR: I’m not Marco…I’m my own human. (laughs)
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Special thanks to Adamo Ruggiero, Scott Boute, and The Trevor Project! For more information and coverage on The Trevor Project, look for further coverage of the Trevor Project 8th Annual New York City Gala on OutImpact.com soon!
The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that operates the only nationwide, around-the-clock suicide prevention helpline for gay and questioning youth. The Trevor Helpline, 866-4-U-TREVOR, is a free and confidential service that offers hope through its trained counselors. In addition to the helpline, the organization’s Web site provides information on identifying and assisting potentially suicidal youth and “Dear Trevor,” a confidential resource where youth can ask questions about sexual orientation and identity issues. The Trevor Project also provides lifesaving guidance and vital resources to educators and parents.
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