A conversation with actor and LGBTQ+ advocate turned poet, Nico Tortorella

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Nico Tortorella talks about their book, why they choose to speak so candidly, and being a queer actor in Hollywood today. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “This book is the realest work I’ve ever created. It represents more of me than anything I’ve put out into this world,” writes Nico Tortorella in the introduction to their first book, “all of it is you.” The book is a collection of over 100 poems split into three chapters — body, earth, and universe — spanning the beginning of life (the first poem is entitled “sperm”) to the depths of the universe (the final two are “ufo” and “god”).

Tortorella — who prefers they/them pronouns — is an actor, a podcast host, and an LGBTQ+ advocate. In interviews, they often speak about love and sexuality, and Tortorella does not shy away from talking about their own personal experiences with either. In fact, they seem to relish it.

Photo-17.jpg Photo by JL JAVIER

As a podcast host, they invite a “person that they love” to dissect what they say is the common thread that connects us all — love, and how it shapes and is shaped by our own identities and sexualities. As an LGBTQ+ advocate, Tortorella is vocal about their fluidity: they are openly bisexual, queer, and polyamorous, and often appears in runway shows and shoots clad in genderbending ensembles. Now as a poet, Tortorella invites readers into their innermost thoughts, about life, the universe, and everything, love and sex most definitely included.

We recently sat down with Tortorella, who was recently here for the Manila International Book Fair, to discuss their book, why they choose to speak so candidly, and being a queer actor in Hollywood today. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

You're an actor, an LGBTQ+ advocate, and you have a podcast called The Love Bomb. How'd you decide to get into poetry?

I was writing a bunch of poetry for the podcast and when the podcast ended, which was a deliberate choice, I started shopping around a book. And it was actually the book that I'm writing right now, which is like a narrative memoir hybrid. And in one way or another, this opportunity came [to] do the poetry book first. And it's so rare to get offered a poetry book in the modern world. So I took it, I jumped at the opportunity, and I really had to buckle down and get to work. I wrote the whole thing in 45 days. They gave me two months to put the book together, and so I just did it. [Laughs]

What was that process like?

A lot of work! It was like a 40 day, 40 night full spiritual immersion. It was a religious experience. And it still is. Transformative, really.

Why is the book called “all of it is you”?

When I came up with [the title] I went on this internet chase. I was like, okay, who am I borrowing this from, who said this first? And it didn't pop up anywhere. Which I'm still shocked by. I just birthed this mantra. That's what it is to me. It's become a mantra. And it speaks directly to the reader, directly to the person that picks up this book, you. If you read this title, you think that it's immediately talking about you, which is so wonderful because it is. That's the whole point.

Nico Tortorella Photo by JL JAVIER

I listened to a few episodes of your podcast and I noticed that the intros to your podcasts are sort of like spoken word poetry. Then when I read the book, I kind of saw a similarity...

There's a rhythm to it, yeah.

Is your poetry inspired by spoken word poetry? And if so, who are your favorites?

That's interesting. I don't really follow that many spoken word poets. I wish I did more. But I just kind of created my own little nook in the space. I mean, some of my best friends work in the queer poetry space [like] Alok Vaid-Menon, Travis Alabanza. But I would say that the inspiration came from my own rhythm of life. And writing songs in high school.

You talk about love and sex and sexuality a lot (in real life and in your poems) and it's interesting because celebrities often shy away from talking about these things. Why decide to be so candid about it?

Because once I started talking about it, and the response was so moving, I couldn't stop. It became so much more than my own experience. It became about everyone else. And Hollywood has changed so much, ever since I have been in it for the last 10 years. But even in the last year, the Me Too movement, and to really see this turnover of these men in power... it's just a different landscape than it used to be. And politically, the way everything across the globe is unraveling, here, in the United States, it lends an opportunity to speak in a way that we never really could, because our leaders are. So one way or another, I'm grateful for that. We have all of these gross men in power, but it's giving rise to us. And I just think the stakes are being raised everywhere across the board.

Nico Tortorella Photo by JL JAVIER

In the book you have poems like “menstruation” where you talk about how “tampons and pads should be chargeless, our eggs should have more equity than our shit,” and just basing off everything you said earlier, I’m curious to know if you consider your poetry as a form of activism?

Yeah, absolutely. I think waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you love yourself is a form of activism. I think activism can be found in anything and everything. Activism is a form of self-care. I don't want to say it's easy to get out on the street and march because it's difficult, but what does personal activism look like? To fight for yourself every single day. That's the behind-the-scenes activism. That's really the most important. Because without that nothing else matters.

In another poem, “identity,” you call yourself “cisgender, queer, bisexual.” I know that you choose to identify as bisexual because you’re aware of how pervasive and harmful bisexual erasure is. As an actor, as a leading man, has the stigma around bisexuality affected you?

I don't know that I'll ever really know the answer to that. I think that if there are some high powered, white, cis[gender] male executives that are like, “No, we don't want to see Nico for a role because of what they say,” I'll never get that news. But I did just have a conversation with my old team about, because I've raised the stakes now that I'm talking about gender fluidity. It's a completely different conversation to be like, “Okay, maybe I'm not a man.” How does that change for me going out for roles? It does in a lot of ways. And my response was, we need to stop giving any sort of power to the conversation of this closing any door. Because look at how many doors this is opening. I wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation with you right now if I didn't start talking about these things years ago. And it's opening the doors that I actually need in my life, in my career.

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Catch Nico Tortorella at the SM City Cebu Northwing Atrium at 1 p.m. on Sept. 15, and at the Main Stage of the 39th Manila International Book Fair at 2 p.m. on Sept. 16. “all of it is you” is available in National Book Store branches nationwide.