When Robbie Rogers came out in 2013, he immediately became a role model for gay athletes all over the world. So of course three years, one MLS Cup, a revealing memoir, and a menswear line later, the 29-year-old pro soccer star is the perfect person to give a gay teen a little pre-game pep talk.
Rogers appears as himself in the latest episode of ABC’s The Real O’Neals alongside fellow out athlete Gus Kenworthy to share some advice and encouragement with high school homo Kenny (Noah Galvin).
Queerty reached Rogers just as he was settling in for a flight from L.A. to NYC to chat about The Real O’Neals, the stereotypes out athletes face and how his pal Colton Haynes reacted to his role opposite Noah Galvin.
So how did you end up on The Real O’Neals?
They just reached out to me through my agent. I was pretty apprehensive. I really hate doing any kind of acting. It’s the scariest thing in the world to me.
Had you ever acted before?
Little things, just for commercials. Nothing really quite like this. I mean, I get nervous just going onto one of [boyfriend Greg Berlanti’s] sets just to like watch one of his shows! [Laughs] All the lights and the cameras and the people on set… But then I read the script and Greg kinda pushed me to do it. I’m actually really, really happy I did, but at first I was like, This is gonna be so scary! And I was also happy I did it just to overcome the fear a little bit. It’s much different playing in front of 40,000 people and being in front of those bright lights and cameras [on set].
Did those jitters finally go away once you were on set?
Yeah, eventually. I got home and I said to Greg, “I have a lot of respect for your actors!” You’re on set for so long! I’d been training that morning so I was tired…
Do you think you’ll do it again?
I mean… I don’t know. It just depends. If it was for something fun, I would. But I would never try to be an actor. It’s not for me.
So, the theater bug didn’t bite you. That’s a thing, right?
Is it? Yeah, I definitely didn’t get bitten by that bug.
Your role is interesting because you play yourself, but it’s not just a fictionalized version of yourself, it’s a fictional character’s daydream of you. So, basically his perception of you. Did you have much input into the character?
I think I only had one note on the script. It said something like “I’m the first openly athlete…” something like that. And I was like, “No, I’m not the first.” There were people before me. I didn’t want to take credit away from anyone else.
Did you know Gus Kenworthy before shooting with him?
Not really. We have mutual friends. We sat together a little bit before and just got to know each other, talked about what we were doing there [on set]. He’s a really nice guys and I think he enjoys acting much more than I do.
I think so. Actually, I know he does. He was really good and had a lot of fun with it, whereas I was like, When do we get out of here?
Does everyone assume that you know each other because all gay athletes know each other?
[Laughs] Probably! I don’t know. They didn’t say anything, but I’m sure they did.
How did the two of you get along with Noah Galvin?
Great, actually. He’s a really sweet guy. He’s hilarious, so funny. He’s really quit a talent. I really liked him. He was really sensitive to us on set. Obviously we’re not professionals like him, so he’d laugh and we had a great time.
I’m guessing you read about Noah Galvin’s Vulture interview this summer.
Yeah, I didn’t read about it, but I’m friends with Colton [Haynes], so I heard about it.
Were you…concerned about what he might have to say about you down the line?
Oh, I don’t care about that kind of stuff. You know, obviously people make mistakes. I think Noah—I don’t want to speak for him, but he probably regrets all that. Especially in a community that’s persecuted, we have to stick together and support each other. I’m sure he’d take that all back. I texted Colton before I did the show, just letting him know, to be sensitive to him as well. But it’s also very rare that there’s a show that has such an emphasis on the LGBT community, and whether people agree with how they’re portraying it or not, whether they enjoy the actors or don’t enjoy the actors, I’m happy it’s out there on ABC.
I didn’t read the whole interview, to be honest with you, and I haven’t spoken to Colton much about it.
Well, when you texted Colton, what did he have to say about you doing the show?
He just told me to enjoy myself. I told him I was playing myself and he said to just have fun. He didn’t get into any of the other stuff. No gossip, sorry! [Laughs]
Have you seen the episode yet?
I haven’t. I’m so nervous about it. I have an event the night it’s on, so I’m just going to record it. I think some of my close friends and Greg and my family are really excited to watch it. I know they all want to kind of laugh with me and at me.
Are you going to get friends and family together to watch it later?
Oh my gosh—I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think I’ll just watch it in the screening room and just have a pillow over my face.
So there’s a line that I want to ask you about. At one point Kenny is nervous that he might get hurt wrestling and you tell him, “Don’t be a cliché.” What do you think that line means?
I’ve grown up in the sports world, and the stereotype for gay men—this is why I was so afraid to come out—was that they couldn’t play sports, that they were more feminine than their straight counterparts in the sports world, and that, you know, we just didn’t belong. And I even believed that for a while. That’s why I came out after I stopped playing. I was so afraid of what people were going to say to me. Obviously, I’ve been with Galaxy now for four years and I’ve won a championship and I’ve resigned contracts and I fit in quite easily with my teammates. But I think there’s still a stereotype there that I think we have to educate people about: all gay men—and women—are very different from each other. I think [with the line] they were just trying to play off that stereotype. I don’t think I fit into that stereotype. I don’t think most men and women in our community do. Maybe that’s what they were trying to say.
But at the same time, Noah’s character is a pretty effeminate gay kid. And it felt like a weird thing to say to someone who very much is what some people might call a “cliché” or a “stereotype”—which are kind of negative terms. If this is who he authentically is, why tell him not to be like that?
Yeah, I guess, like I said, I think a lot of America stereotype different people. If you’re Hispanic, they stereotype you. If you’re Muslim, they stereotype you. If you’re LGBT, they stereotype you. That’s just how we are, unfortunately, as humans. Of course it’s not true, and you and I know that. But, thinking about that line, I think it was more about proving these people wrong. You can go out there and compete with them. You can do whatever your brothers and sisters are doing, whatever your teammates are doing. Just for him to overcome his fears and prove people wrong—proving the cliché wrong.
You came out publicly in 2013. Were you out in high school?
No, I didn’t actually come out until I was 25.
Were there any out athletes at your high school?
No. I grew up in Palos Verdes, which is like L.A. but not L.A. Everyone thinks very much the same. It’s like a small Texas town in Los Angeles. To this day I don’t know anyone that’s gay from Palos Verdes. And then I went to school in Huntington Beach, Mater Dei, which was a private Catholic school. So again, it’s the same kind of atmosphere. I didn’t know what the Trevor Project was, what The Abbey was, or any of that kind of stuff. I never went on a date until I was 25, until I came out to my parents. I was really scared.
What would it have meant to you to know that there were out gay athletes playing for your high school teams?
I think about that. I think about what might have happened if I’d come out when I was younger. It probably would have made me think a lot about it and maybe sped up the process [if there were out athletes at my high school]. I’m in a sport where the only other gay man committed suicide when he was in his 20s or early 30s. So I think it would have made a bigger difference if I’d had a role model to kind of mimic my career after professionally. I know it’s different for kids now.
What’s going on with the TV series you were developing, Men in Shorts?
No, that’s not happening anymore. We wrote the pilot and ABC kinda killed it. It would have been awesome. I was really excited about it. It was really just a comedy about me, when I’d go back to the locker room and people expected me to have all the answers for little gay Tommy playing soccer in Tennessee, and I’m like, I’ve never even been on a date! And the comedy of living with a bunch of straight athletes and being the one gay one, having to educate them as well. It would have been fun to work on that.
Watch the scene below (click the speaker icon for audio):