Nico Tortorella Won't Stay Quiet

Nico Tortorella Won't Stay Quiet

The actor, model, and podcast host is raising queer voices and talking about what others won't.

Text Kat Ward / Photography Richard Phibbs / Styling Tasmin Meyer Ersahin

Almost any profile of actor Nico Tortorella you read—including this one, backhandedly—will remind you how handsome he is. (Check out the photos below for confirmation.) This is because it is both true, and because Tortorella, who identifies as bisexual, in every other way pushes at the boundaries of Hollywood's stereotypical leading man, defying gender norms and proudly talking about his sexuality and experience of life. When we meet in a coffee shop in Williamsburg, one of his home bases, he is relaxed and friendly, but will immediately transform with gleeful energy as we talk about his work and projects.

Summer of 2017 has been a busy time for Tortorella. In June, he starred as Lyle Menendez in Lifetime's TV movie take on the homicidal siblings, Menendez: Blood Brothers, where he worked with Courtney Love (who played mother Kitty Menendez). "I knew I wanted to do the Menendez: Blood Brothers movie because of Courtney Love, honestly," he says. "I saw her name and was like yup, I'm going to do that movie. I didn't even read the fucking script." It also connected him with directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, bringing him into the World of Wonder fold.

His regular gig, TV Land's Younger, started its fourth season at the end of June.He plays Josh, a walking Brooklyn stereotype (tattoo artist, hot, musician, young) involved with Sutton Foster's pretending-to-be-26 Liza. After a third season finale break-up, Josh is poised to spend this new season being more than just a hot young boyfriend. "The way that Josh was structured originally was so much less than what he is now," Tortorella says about stepping beyond the show's love triangle. "He is completely driven by his heart and what his love represents. If that's not a direct mirror of my life imitated in the art, I don't know what is."

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Tortorella is eager and enthusiastic to jump into discussions about love and sexuality and gender, how we define ourselves and redefine ourselves and navigate the world. This enthusiasm finds its outlet professionally in the interview podcast he launched in 2016, Love Bomb, where Tortorella brings in guests ranging from his best friends to costars like Hilary Duff to drag queen MILK to talk about everything from coming out to grappling with religion to the mechanics of how and why we love. (Today's episode features him talking with PAPER Editorial Director Mickey Boardman about this shoot.) With it's second season also launched this summer, Love Bomb is clearly the project Tortorella is most excited to discuss and most open about. "I have gotten so much smarter from doing this podcast. It's the greatest thing I have ever done," he says. "I had been having these types of conversations with people in my life all the time. These are the relationships I like to have." It's little surprise, then, that our interview spins out of a traditional interview format into a rambling conversation about love, Hollywood's need for more diverse stories, claiming the bisexual label, and his devotion to RuPaul's Drag Race.

Younger season 4 starts this summer. Are you excited for what you're going to get do outside of the central love triangle?

Yeah! We pick up right where we left off and we get to see Josh after the fall. What does his life look like now? How is he going to navigate other relationships? What is he really looking for in a partner? I think we get to see Josh outside of the other series regulars, which is really nice. I have been wanting that. In television, the longer you work on a show, the more development characters get and the more the writers start writing for the actors that are playing the characters. I think that is definitely what is happening with Josh.

Do you feel that they get the younger generation correct?

Yeah. There is only so much time on this show. We are telling a white privileged New York story. When you boil this down, that's what it is. I would love to see more stories being told on this show, but we only have so much time. This story is being told for women's issues and age issues. Do I wish more was being told—yes of course, absolutely. At the end of the day, yes I want more, I want more, I want more; especially now when the world is so fucked. I want to be giving platform to the marginalized women. There is so much more to be done and that's really where the podcast comes into play.

That would be Love Bomb, the interview podcast you host, which started its second season this summer. You opened talking with your Menendez costar Courtney Love. How did that happen?

Obviously, I knew I wanted her to be on the Love Bomb. She doesn't do interviews with people. We spent so much time together on the movie that the minute we locked eyes, we understood each other. We speak a language that other people don't really speak. We just got really close. I can't thank her enough for coming on. I think that the podcast has a way of creating this insanely comfortable space. We get to hear a story and energy from Courtney that isn't seen all the time. There is softness about her. There is hyper intelligence about her. There is vulnerability about her. It's just so beautiful. It's just not the story that's told when you hear Courtney Love and that was most important to me having her on the show. That's what I wanted to happen.

What's most interesting I think about our episode is that we don't talk about the one thing that everybody talks about when you're with Courtney Love. We don't even mention [Kurt's] name for the most part. I think that really is the core of the podcast. What is the story that I can tell that isn't being told?

You get into some pretty heavy conversations with your interviewees—talking about sexuality and gender, abortion, coming out, grappling with family issues. Is that the goal of each episode?

That's not the goal going into it. I'm not like, "What are the worst things that I can talk about?" It's a very organic conversation that happens. I didn't know that this was what the show was going to turn into at all.

I had been having these types of conversations with people in my life all the time. These are the relationships I like to have. If I'm bringing someone into my life and I'm having a conversation I want it to be real. I want you to be unapologetically yourself. I don't have time for the bullshit. I just don't anymore.

But were you initially thinking of focusing on sex, love, and sexuality, and how did you come to that?

I was working on a TV show before this podcast. The show focused on specific labels in the community. It was going to be a gay episode, bi episode, trans episode, poly episode, asexual episode. So that's what I thought the idea of the podcast was going to be. Very quickly, within the first three episodes of recording, I was like I can't do this at all. I can't box people.

I am a strong believer that labels are very important for a lot of people. It gives people community and a home and there are powers in numbers. But the most important thing that I learned from this podcast is that every single person has a story that is drastically different than any other person that identifies the same way. The sooner that we can treat everybody as an individual and treat every story as important as the other, the quicker we are going to be living in a happier place.

That is the key theme for everything. We all just need to love each other more than we do and stay positive about things. Now with social media, we get to see more people's stories. It is my job to give people the platform that other people have had for so long. I am in love with people and even more in love with their stories.

You're not into labels, and you've said in the past that you were hesitant about claiming "bisexual". What brought you around to identifying as bi?

I use the term bisexual now because just the fact the term bisexual exists and the B exists in the community is such a beautiful thing. People fought for so long to have it there. I don't believe in the binary of gender. I have an issue with the bi part of bisexual. But that is what we got. I fall somewhere under the umbrella of bisexual but I have to put the fist in the air for the B.

I think that it's one thing for somebody that isn't in the public eye to be able to be a lot more free in how they identify. I have a responsibility at this point, to myself, and to the community and to the kids—really this is about the kids. I'm diligent in my vocabulary, in the language I am using. I just have this responsibility and I'm not perfect; I don't have the fucking answer for all of these things but I'm doing the work on myself.

At least very recently, the ideas of gender and sexuality are getting more open and malleable, but we are also living in backlash to that openness. What can you do on large scale and on a small personal scale to fight that?

I think the most important thing that we can do is do the work on yourself and try to fully understand who you are and what you want. Tell your story. Put it out in the world on social media or fucking start a blog or music channel. The more stories we get out in the world, the less they can do about it.

At the end of the day, the right wing extreme has as much power as they have right now. If someone wants to sit down and tell me that I am diseased in one way or another, I am not going to sit here and try to convince you. You live on that side of the fence; I live on this side of the fence. People on our side of the fence have to fucking scream as loud as we can to each other, too. We all have work to do. On the left side, we have so much work to do to understand each other. Everyone needs to stop being so fucking sensitive about everything all the time on both left and right sides. There's not one one bad guy right now, there are tons of bad people on every side of the spectrum. And there are more good people we care about. We need to celebrate those people.

I think the responsibility really relies on Hollywood to tell these marginalized stories that just need to be told. The fact that Moonlight won this year is incredible, but it is one tiny, tiny step into something so much bigger than what we're doing. That's not an easy thing for a white cis guy to say in Hollywood. It's not the easiest time in Hollywood as an attractive white cis dude to book jobs. We have been lead men for so long and now that's shifting—but thank fucking god that's shifting. I am more than happy to take that back seat right now. All that stuff helps propel these other stories.

Do you know if your family listens to your podcasts?

They don't, honestly. I know that one of my little cousins would listen to them, but nobody in her family can know that she does. She texts me and it warms my heart. I come from a really conservative family for the most part. My ideals don't line up with everybody else in my family, which is okay at this point. I haven't had much backlash from it, anywhere!

I think it will be interesting to see what roles I will wind up getting after all of this. I'm sure there's a few studio heads somewhere that are like, "No fucking way am I hiring Nico as this next superhero or leading man or something." I'm sure that exists somewhere. But fuck you, if that's the reason you don't want to hire me to play somebody else. I'm not coming onto your show to play myself. Okay, fine. Bye girl. I'm over it.

That's such a rigid way of thinking that people still employ: "you can't possibly play this straight character convincingly because of your personal life."

It's also relative to everybody's story, too. We live in a weird place doing weird things and having weird conversations to having weird lives. I'm going to play in it as long as I can. That really comes from RuPaul. He has done such incredible things. Every time I hear him talk I'm like, that's it. I can get emotional just talking about him. He has done work that has been so hard.

He's really been a pioneer for queer culture in popular culture.

His story! He is a black drag queen. In what world should he have the platform that he has right now? No money, no anything, coming up. His work ethic. Just everything. And look at him, he has everything. He is pure, pure magic.

When you look at Drag Con, especially this year, it's amazing because there are so many kids attending and loving it.

I've never had more FOMO in my entire life. Thank god it's coming to New York. I've been working really closely with World of Wonder developing the podcast into a T.V. show. The director's of the Menendez movie were Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey (founders of World of Wonder). I'm in the RuPaul family now.

I'm definitely guest judging next season. You can confirm that. I didn't even know what a drag queen was until I started watching RuPaul's Drag Race. There is nothing on television that makes me happier than watching that show. I can't really put my finger on it. Come on, these are men dressing up as women dancing and singing on stage. That's what we should all be doing. We should all be fucking dressing up and playing. They're like kids—play make believe. There is something so beautiful in that. It so much bigger than a man dressed as a woman. So much bigger.

You're going to L.A., you got Younger and Love Bomb—what else is up for you next year?

The T.V. version of Love Bomb is in early stages. We are going to figure out where it's going to be and what it's going to look like. I love working in television. I could not ever imagine giving up acting. This is only going to be more fuel to play greater characters. As obsessed as I am with stories inside of our community, I am as obsessed with stories outside of them. I want to play the good and the bad people of the world. That's my job. I want to win some awards.