21-year old Adamo Ruggiero first became a gay icon at age 16. Too bad the Degrassi: The Next Generation actor hadn’t yet come to terms with his own homosexuality. In fact, it wouldn’t be until this year that Ruggiero – who has a long history of extracurricular activism – would come out to the public.
The part-time film student and full-time artist recently gabbed with our editor about the pros and cons of playing Marco Del Rossi, why Canadians don’t care about celebrity and how his acting experience gave him a new view of the U.S.
Andrew Belonsky: Hi, are you?
Adamo Ruggiero: Hi, Andrew. How are you?
AB: I’m very well. So, what are you up to today?
AR: Oh, me? Oh, nothing, just paperwork. Organizing my life.
AB: You’ve always gotten a fair amount of attention in Canada, I’m sure, but I imagine you’re getting much more attention now that you’ve done the Fab magazine interview. What are things like for you these days?
AR: Oh, well, it’s been very exciting. It’s been a pretty exciting ride. I didn’t really know what to expect, if people would care. It was really for the kids watching the show. But I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, everyone’s giving me the opportunity to share my stories in all different mediums, on radio, on television – all this support shows everyone how important the cause is.
AB: You’re 21-years old, correct?
AB: So this is a lot of pressure for you. Do you ever – I mean, you now essentially have to watch every step you take.
AB: But maybe it’s not the same because you’re in Canada and there’s less paparazzi up there.
AR: There are no paparazzi up here. This whole thing with Degrassi, the actors on the show, there’s really no celebrity system. We were just regular kids working on this show and were always ambassadors to the issues we were presenting as characters. Taking on the gay role developed me into a role model. There’s always been that responsibility on me and at times it has been overwhelming, but at this point right now – coming out and opening up -I feel more in control of it. I’m actually more confident now. I have nothing more to hide. It’s a lot easier.
AB: Why do you think Canada isn’t as enamored with celebrity as we are here in the States?
AR: Well, I feel like, I can only talk about Toronto, but I think the thing with Toronto – we’re a family company, we’re all working on the same projects. Our industry’s so close and there’s really no rivalry between people – we’re all friends, we’re all buddies. There’s no celebrity to it. I mean, we have our own little concept of celebrity: Toronto personalities and things like that, but they’re always attainable. You see them on the street, “Oh, the Degrassi kids”. Everyone’s just really normal and down to earth and that’s just the culture, because it’s a lot smaller. There’s a whole construct of American celebrity and we are definitely established on television abroad, so a lot of our “celebrity” is projected.
AB: How did you approach your mother? I understand you did it in your bedroom, like Marco, but can you tell us how this went down?
AR: My mom’s a gem, fantastic – she’s very accepting. She’s not clueless and she was not clueless at all. I think the time came when – I was seeing someone at the time – this was about three years ago, I was a kid. I was seeing someone and my mom asked me where I was going and I opened up to her and I was like, “Mom, I’m seeing this person” and it was a guy, of course, and she didn’t seem taken aback at all. It was almost as if she was waiting for confirmation. As soon as I came out, she was like, “Okay, now let’s talk about your father”. It was like she was waiting for me to come out and we could do it together. It was quite a scene.
AB: You’ve described your father as “an intellectual,” so I’m assuming he took it well.
AR: Yeah, I mean, my father was born in Italy and came here and he’s from a different generation, from different times, but he’s the sweetest, most gentle man and is so compassionate. I know he supported my mom’s business and me being an artist and my brother’s a soccer player and traveled the world. He’s such a supportive guy, but I had to be as realistic as possible and know that despite how gentle and understanding he is, it was going to be hard for him to grasp. It was going to be a learning experience for the family, especially for him. So, I stuck with him and hung out with my dad and got really close. He was so ready to learn.
AB: I imagine there must have been a lot of cognitive dissonance for you when you hadn’t come out but you were playing Marco, who is gay. You said in the Fab interview that the story lines are very much based around the actor’s personal lives, so what was going through your head when you were getting these scripts? Do you think the writers were trying to tell you something? Do you think you could have done it without Degrassi?
AR: There was a lot of self-doubt. I was playing this character and he was coming out and here I was not being myself. It worked in two ways. It was positive in that I had my own coming out manual, the show helped me, but negatively it really involved overcoming my own issues. My whole personal life was broadcast throughout the world and I wasn’t ready to face those questions and see the answers. There were a lot of times when I felt like a fraud, like “Who am I to play this character?” And I got all these letters about how I was helping people out and I was like, “Oh, God, what am I doing?” It was really intense. Ultimately, in retrospect, who knows if I could have done it without Degrassi? I don’t know. The show helped me test the waters emotionally and who knows what would happen if I never had the opportunity.
AB: I’m very envious of Canadian citizens. You guys are so close to the United States – obviously, we’re neighbors – but it’s an entirely different world. It’s far more progressive. We would never, ever have anything like Degrassi on an American network – not when I was growing up, at least, and maybe not even today, because there’s such a right wing fervor in the United States, which certainly Canada has, but it’s not given as much political legitimacy. The right wing has become so ingrained in our political system. How do you view American politics? You must follow it a little, right?
AR: It’s hard not be influenced here by it. We look up to America like our big brother. We have this subconscious pull. America’s always set the tone. In term of politics, but we’ve never really been immersed, we don’t know how – there’s not as much political participation. The difference is that we don’t have as much to lose. We’re a young nation, we’re coming to age and we’re all getting – we really have nothing to lose. It’s interesting, because we look up to you, but at the same time, I also get all these letters from places that I thought were so great, but the kids are afraid of getting beat up. We never had that here and I’m proud of that.
AB: What you were saying about American kids afraid of getting beat up – there’s a story from Los Angeles, I’m not sure if you saw it, but an 8th grade kid was shot by a classmate allegedly because he was too feminine. It’s wild! I mean, I try to stay optimistic about the United States and where we’re going, but it’s so difficult sometimes.
AR: It depends on the next president. I look to America and I see the enormous, large crowds supporting people to lead their country and I think, “How gorgeous is that?” What a beautiful image – I watch it and I get butterflies! The passion is inspiring – that passion for a country. You guys are something. To look at you guys, where people care about their country, it’s amazing.
AB: Would you ever move to the United States?
AR: That’s been a huge question. I really have – I kind of have a love affair with Toronto, it’s one of my favorite places, I’m really happy to have grown up here. The opportunities are great, but so are the challenges. I’m not really sure what my future holds.
Regardless of where he goes post-Degrassi, Adamo promises to stay in the arts. Let’s hope he stays on our screens, too!