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Nonbinary actor Vico Ortiz has had an incredible couple of years, popping up in everything from American Horror Story: 1984 to The Sex Lives Of College Girls.

But, without a doubt, their biggest breakthrough yet came in HBO’s charming, surprisingly queer pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death (which returns for season two Oct. 5), playing the bad*ss Jim Jimenez. Initially, Jim’s in disguise as a mysteriously mute and macho member of the SS Revenge’s crew, but they gradually begin to show their true self, and the series becomes a surprisingly nuanced exploration of nonbinary identity thanks to Ortiz’s complex performance.

Of course, we can’t talk about Our Flag Means Death or any of Ortiz’s many screen credits until the major Hollywood studios and producers decide to pay writers and actors a fair wage and bring an end to the WGA and SAG strikes…

Thankfully, Ortiz keeps very busy these days, so we’ve got plenty of other excuses to talk to one of our favorite queer rising stars. Not least of which is their new podcast with iHeartMedia’s My Cultura Network, Date My Abuelita, First!, an inclusive dating game in which three lucky contestants compete to win the heart of an eligible partner—the catch is, they have to win over a tough-to-please “abuelita,” played by Ortiz’s co-host Liliana Montenegro.

Amidst their new gig as Date My Abuelita, First!‘s host with the most, we called up Ortiz to be the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our enlightening conversation, the actor opens about why they consider themselves a “live-action cartoon character,” the healing powers of their polyamorous relationship, and they witchy Disney character from their childhood their still crushing on.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, video game, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own coming-out journey, or that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness? Why does it stand out to you?

It’s a little hard to pinpoint one specific piece of media… I feel like I consumed a lot of animation when I was a kid… who am I kidding, I still consume tons of animation.

And a pattern I’ve noticed throughout the years is I’ve always been drawn to characters whose expression and behavior is grand, bold, zany, out of the box. Similar to Arlequino from Commedia dell’Arte. I consider myself a live action cartoon character, which explains a lot of how I approach life, how I approach queerness. Life is a stage filled with magical realism. Anything is possible. Duality. Contradictions. Multi dimensional layers to being, existing. And I love having fun along the way!

Your new podcast, Date My Abuelita, First!, finds you working alongside the great Liliana Montenegro, our “resident Abuelita.” What’s something the two of you have in common that surprised you? What are some topics the two of you initially bonded over?

Abuelita is lowkey/highkey pretty raunchy and I was delighted to be surprised with that. I didn’t find this out right off the bat, it’s been a slow discovery the more episodes we’ve been recording. But I knew something was up with how eager she was about using that chancelta [slipper], ya know? Hehehe.

Her and I are also hopeless romantics, but the way we approach romance is quite different which is deeply fascinating. Considering how much of a Libra I am, I tend to approach romance from a more structural standpoint. Before I dive with my heart, my head thinks about it thoroughly (I do have my Venus in Virgo), whereas she dives heart first fast like the Pisces she is. Which is why we compliment each other so beautifully. We balance each other out. She’s got the heartfelt intuition and I am pragmatic. Also, English is our second language, so it’s been really fun to lean on that, specially behind the scenes.

The podcast takes some inspiration from classic dating game shows like The Dating Game. What’s an example of a game show you think you would excel on and why?

Ohhhh my goooddnessss… well.. there was a time where I think I would’ve been an excellent chaotic contestant in Too Hot To Handle. I don’t think I would’ve necessarily won, but I certainly would’ve been entertaining to watch. Especially where I was emotionally before the lockdown. Which was… zero emotional availability, trying to break a codependency pattern by being hyper independent and purposefully flings to avoid looking inside my very broken hurting heart.

On a non-dating game show though, I think I’d be a great contestant on a bartending game show. I was a bartender for quite some time and ran the cocktail program for a couple of bars back in the day… My nickname was Ninja and I used to excel on “Bartender’s Choice” cocktails, which I considered improv bartending. You tell me your spirit of choice and I’d create something specific to your taste buds.

Since Date My Abuelita, First! lets you play Cupid a little bit, we’re curious: Why do you consider yourself a good matchmaker? What qualities make for a good romantic connection?

I know I’m young and still have much much to learn, but with the experiences I’ve gathered so far, I think something that is incredibly important as I approach dating, is understanding and honoring my capacity and leading with curiosity. Which also is a great quality in a matchmaker.

I’m curious about people and the way they relate to themselves and the people in their lives, which gives me a better understanding on how they’ll show up in romantic relationships. We all have red flags, we all have things we’re working on and green flags we love to share with the world. What it comes down to is, are you carrying yourself with compassion as you work on your things? Do you have the capacity to hold yourself accountable? Is there space in you to invest time and energy to connect with someone else who’s also in that healing, learning, growing journey?

It’s also ok if you don’t have capacity, or if you don’t know what you want. As long as you communicate that with a new connection. That way that person is consenting to what they are getting themselves into. We perform so much and oftentimes that leads to resentment and unsatisfactory dynamics. Transparency, regardless of where you are at in your journey will lead to safe connections, no matter if they are short or long term.

Earlier this summer, you had a beautiful post on Instagram where you opened up about being polyamorous. What’s something these relationships—and sharing them with the world—has taught you about yourself?

It’s definitely taught me the deep healing powers of being vulnerable. For a very long time I would shy away from showing up vulnerably to others because I was taught it was a sign of weakness. When you see me posting about my partners, I am going through a process of deep emotional vulnerability, of healing past wounds of shame and guilt.

And what a gorgeous journey that has been thus far. It’s raw and it’s tender, and although there are times of discomfort, there is so much joy and celebration on the other end. Worth every second.

You also have a badass drag king persona, Vico Suave. If Drag Race ever catches up with the times and allows kings to compete, would you consider it? What sorts of challenge do you think Vico Suave would absolutely crush?

I have to admit that I haven’t seen Drag Race… I have however seen Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, the season where Landon Cider (a king) won!

I think I’m fantastic when it comes to storytelling on stage… I use drag as a form of performance art and I love telling whimsical, magical realism stories that represent my culture and my journey…. plus adding little spicy things like lap dances, and burlesque elements. So anything regarding performance, I would absolutely crush! If my face wasn’t so sensitive to make up I would looooove to do wild and crazy make-ups. But for now I keep my facial hair pretty simple, that’s why I am amp up with choreography and storytelling.

Who’s a fictional character you had a crush on at a younger age (or maybe still do!)? What do you remember loving about them?

Big crush on Esmeralda from The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. I never put much thought on why I loved her so much but now that y’all ask, it definitely tracks with the folks I surround myself with. She’s kind, caring, independent, witty. She wants outcasts to be accepted and be treated humanely. She was called a witch. I have a soft spot for witches and overall magical people.

Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

So many! Alok Menon, Ezra Michel, Ashlee Marie Preston, Schuyler Bailar, Elle Deran, Dylan Mulvaney, Yaz, Villano Antillano, Chase Strangio, Brian Michael Smith… the list goes on! These are people who I look up to, whom I seek content from, who I feel moved, energized and inspired by how they speak and show up for themselves and the community.

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