Fans of the TV show “Younger” will know Nico Tortorella as the actor who plays Josh, but in recent years, people might know them more for their work as an advocate for LGBTQIA issues. The shift to they-them-their pronouns happened around the time Tortorella came out as bisexual and sexually fluid, putting up a brave challenge to traditional heteronormative views.
“Activist. Advocate. Ally. Anarchist. I’m all of the above,” they say while munching on peanuts at Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar. They’re wearing a wifebeater, ripped dark jeans and what looks like a DIY turban. “It’s really just acceptance across the board. And love. I never really understood as a kid why one love was okay and another one wasn’t. And who was making that decision. So for me, in the beginning it was just trying to understand how we got to this place. I don’t know that I’m 100% sure how we got here. But I have a much better idea now than when I started out. And I think from understanding where we came from, we can really get an idea of where we’re going. That’s the goal. To help.”
Toroterella is in Manila to speak at the Manila International Book Fair on the invitation of National Book Store. They’ve written a poetry book called all of it is you. that explores their views on a vast swath of themes and issues, from what it means to be human to unlocking the secrets of the cosmos and our place in it.
GMA News Online sat down with Totorella, who talked about his half-Filipino nephew, his writing habits and our Leonard Cohen faux pas. Excerpts:
You’re an actor, podcaster and now, published author. Was this how you imagined your life was going to turn out?
Nico Tortorella: Yeah. I always knew that I was going to be an actor. And I always knew that I was going to use it for a larger purpose, to use the celebrity to bring awareness to something much bigger than the industry. Did I know it was going to be gender and sexuality? No. But I’m really happy that it is. I think that’s just the first step of many.
If you didn’t become an actor, have you ever thought about what you would be doing now?
It would be something in the arts, for sure. Whether it would be visual or music, writing, I think that I do all of those things and acting really allows me the time and freedom and income to really do whatever I want outside of it. And that’s why I always imagined it would be for me.
You wrote a poetry book. Before you did this, when you were younger, did you write? Did you keep a journal?
Not super heavily, no. But I used to write poetry for different family members. I taught myself how to play guitar so I was writing songs in high school. And I had a podcast for a couple of years, where I wrote a ton of poetry. So that was really the next step.
Did you ever take formal writing lessons?
No, never. I’m not even a college graduate.
For any new writer, publishing your own work or getting others to read your work is kind of scary.
Yeah, it is scary.
How did you handle that?
The book that I’m writing right now is actually the book that I was planning on writing first. I knew that it was time, but I didn’t know that it was time for a poetry book. When I took it out and shopped it around, Random House came and said, hey let’s do a poetry book first. Genius. It’s so rare that you get offered a poetry book in the publishing world these days. So I jumped at the opportunity. I buckled down and wrote the book in 45 days.
Who did you first show your work to?
What was the feedback?
I mean, they heard every single poem as they were getting written. So, it was all really positive.
Being a famous actor and having thousands of followers on social media, do you find yourself double-thinking the things that you say or do, knowing that there’s an impressionable kid out there who might be listening?
Oh yeah. I have a responsibility at this point. It’s more about double-checking that everything that I’m saying is appropriate, that everything I’m saying is sensitive to different people in different marginalized communities. That I’m saying the right things at the right time. We’ve all been known to say the wrong things. I think because I’m more educated now, I’m more aware.
In the past, have you found yourself in that position, having said the wrong thing?
Oh yeah. I grew up in a pretty homophobic and racist family. Certain things were taught.
How are things now?
Better. Not perfect, but better.
Lightning round. What’s your favorite city?
Is that where you live now?
Do you have a favorite snack?
Walnuts and raisins.
You have dogs?
Besides your own, do you have a favorite TV show?
[Kahlil Gibran’s] The Prophet.
You’re hosting an intimate dinner party for three living writers. Who would be there?
Alok Vaid-Menon, my best friend. Ram Dass. And let’s see…is Leonard Cohen still alive?
I think so.
Hang on let me check (Googles him on his phone). Date of death: November 7, 2016. (laughs)
Umm…hmm…I don’t know. Maybe JK Rowling.
I’m sure your book is going to inspire a lot of young people out there to maybe pick up a pen or start typing on their keyboards and do some writing on their own. What do you think should they keep in mind?
No expectations. Just get it out. Don’t edit as you’re writing. Write as much as you possibly can. And just have faith and trust. Trust yourself. You may hate what you write in a year. But you may like it even more. Just no expectations.
You mentioned you’re writing another book?
It’s called Love Y’all. It’s a narrative-memoir hybrid. Much bigger book. Not poetry. Non-fiction.
Do you have an idea when it’s going to be out?
End of the year next year. Maybe fourth quarter. I gotta write today, actually.
Do you have that writer’s discipline?
I have to, yeah.
Do you have to have certain things? Like you know how some people have to have certain things when they write…
Yeah! Or have to have the room a certain temperature…
No, not really. I just need to be in the right mindset. I know more when I’m not supposed to be writing than when I am. My body’s like, nope, and when that happens, there’s no point in even trying.
But you can write pretty much anywhere?
Yeah. And a lot. I can get out a lot really fast. I wrote 7,000 words at three o’clock in the morning.
That’s pretty awesome.
Half of them might be garbage, but who knows?
Have you heard from your Filipino fans?
To a certain extent. I don’t know if I have a huge Filipino following on Instagram or anything. But from being here, the response has been really solid. And beautiful. And from what I can tell, it’s just been like loving group of people so far.
Did you know anything about our country before coming here?
I dated a Filipino girl for a little bit.
Cool. When was that?
A few years ago. And my brother is married to a Filipino girl, actually. So I have a half-Filipino little nephew. Do I know the language? No, not really. Just “mahal kita.” — BM, GMA News
Nico Tortorella was scheduled to speak at the main stage of the Manila International Book Fair at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 16, 2018 at the SMX Convention Center.