Adamo Ruggiero is a Canadian actor best known for his role as Marco Del Rossi on the teen soap DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION. He reprised his role in the Degrassi Goes Hollywood movie which aired this summer. He starred in the holiday movie Make the Yuletide Gay, along with veteran soap actor Ian Buchanan, which is now out on DVD. In additional to being a talented actor, Ruggiero is also an out and visible gay man. In this exclusive interview with WE LOVE SOAPS TV, Ruggiero talks about his most famous role to date, being a role model and future plans.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Can you tell me a little about your background? Did you grow up in Toronto?
Adamo Ruggiero: I actually grew up in the first suburb just west of the city called Mississauga. It's a huge massive city and it's part of the greater Toronto area. I grew there essentially my whole life.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was acting something you always wanted to do?
Adamo Ruggiero: I was also interested in the arts since I was a little kid. I was a really big Disney freak. I spent my whole summers watching Disney movies. I did a lot of school plays, and then I got into community theater. Literally at 13 I got an agent and tried to do it professionally.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did your parents feel about you pursuing an acting career?
Adamo Ruggiero: My folks are really cool and open-minded and liberal. I was really lucky. My mom has owned her own business for 20 years so she is a huge encourager when it comes to starting up your own business or whatever your interests or dreams are. They were great sports. I think at the beginning they were nervous not so much about me getting in the industry, but how they would help facilitate that because they didn't know anything about it. It was kind of a trial and error process with my mom but she was always my supporter, in a good way, not like a crazy stage mom. She would drive me where I had to go after I did the research, and consoled me when I cried if I didn't get something.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Your IMDB says you originally auditioned for the role of Craig on DEGRASSI before landing the part of Marco.
Adamo Ruggiero: I did, back in the day. I auditioned for DEGRASSI a couple of times and I remember earlier in the year it was for Craig because he was going to be the first character to come in for season two and jump in immediately to a huge double-part premiere storyline. It was going to be in correlation with Joey Jeremiah, as his step son, and was going to be a really big character. But I didn't get it. At that point DEGRASSI was still in the works of building up its cast and tone and the kind of stories they wanted to put out there. They kept me in mind and knew they had to bring some other characters to life. Specifically my producer Linda [Schuyler] really wanted to bring the gay issue to life with a main character on the show, and she hadn't had the opportunity do that on the original DEGRASSI, and it was something really close to heart that she wanted to do. So they called me in and I went back and that one worked out better. No tears after that one.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Were you familiar with the original DEGRASSI?
Adamo Ruggiero: When I auditioned I was not. I was born in the mid-80s so I missed the DEGRASSI wave. I was a 90s kid so I had my 90210. I really had no clue what it was, and in a way I think that was a good thing. If I knew how big it was, I probably would have been a lot more nervous.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I somehow missed the original DEGRASSI wave as well, but when I discovered THE NEXT GENERATION I went back and watched the original. It's so funny seeing Snake and Joey so young.
Adamo Ruggiero: Oh, I know. I did the same thing as you. When I got the role I was going back and watching it. I actually bought all the DVDs and I'm watching it in order. It is crazy to see them in a completely different generation and makes me appreciate the title of our show even more.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The new 90210 has now done the same thing with a new generation with some of the older characters mixed in.
Adamo Ruggiero: I think there was a rumor back in the day that the original 90210 was inspired from the original DEGRASSI.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It sounds like you knew where the Marco story was going to go when you got cast in the role?
Adamo Ruggiero: I never really remember the specifics. When I went in for the audition I didn't know if it was going to be a gay character. I was working with scripts that were neutral. I had a monologue and was acting alongside a female actress. I did know though once I got the role and shot the first episode, and my gay storyline was coming up in the middle of season two. Our producer Linda Schuyler was once a school teacher so she's really fantastic at not only the professional aspect of things, but mentoring us and taking care of us as young people. She called me into her office and gave me an idea about what they wanted to do with my character. A lot of the DEGRASSI episodes are issue-based, some of which kind of come and go, and actors do get warnings to be prepared for it. But this issue-based one was essentially more character-based so that meeting sort of defined my whole journey on the show.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was it like to play Marco's coming out story on DEGRASSI? And did you get a lot of feedback from fans who were going through a similar experience at the time?
Adamo Ruggiero: Yes. That was a huge part of playing this character. I got a lot of letters from kids that were going through the same thing from all ends of the spectrum - from I'm gay and don't know how to tell my family, or I did tell my family and this happened, or I'm experiencing this type of intolerance at school, or I did come out and it was fantastic and thank you for your character. I got all kinds and it really, to me, at that point, confirmed what the show was all about. It wasn't just about glitz and glamour and being on TV, but that it was an educational show, and with that education a mandate came, a responsibility not just as an actor but a role model. A good friend of mine, Lauren [Collins, who played Paige], had a big part of her character at the beginning based on being date raped and she was receiving a lot of letters. When we were growing up it was a definite challenge.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: DEGRASSI has dealt with issues I've never seen on any other show. Not to make light of it, but Emma had oral sex with Jay and got gonorrhea. DEGRASSI not only told that story, and told it well, but I never heard anyone complain about it. DEGRASSI has covered so many realistic issues.
Adamo Ruggiero: That is truly the message and point of our show. Linda, I keep going back to her because this was her baby for years, in the early parts of her career, was noticing a kind of lack in terms of the education system for these issues. I went to a Catholic school and I'm pretty sure 99.9% of the things on the show they wouldn't even bring up, like STDs or being gay. Her mandate was always to mix entertainment and education to attract young people but give them an education that was lacking when she was in the classroom. I think we got away with those big things because we treated the subject with respect and at the same didn't glorify it in ways that would misinform people. With each character there was a consequence, positive or negative, and there was an action taken afterwards whether it was to get help for this, or learn your lesson this way or that way.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You started on the show when you were 15. Did you ever imagine you would stay on the show so long or that in 2009 a DEGRASSI movie would be released?
Adamo Ruggiero: Honestly? Not in my wildest dreams. I'm one of those few people who was blessed with a very lovely surprise early in my life and career. I would have never in my wildest dreams expected this. At the beginning my dream had come true and I was acting on a show in a Toronto. I would not have imagined it to go where it is, or imagined it would have shaped my life as a young gay person as well. I was talking with Lauren and said if I hadn't got the role, I genuinely don't know the person I would be.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In Degrassi Goes Hollywood, how would you describe the place Marco is in his life at this point?
Adamo Ruggiero: I feel like the show is very issue-based, and the movie is relationship-based. Where we left Marco [on the show] and where we pick up is very much connected to Paige and Ellie, his two best friends growing up. They lived in a University house and then they all kind of split up. Marco made an amazing journey. He went from being shy and insecure because of the gay issue, kind of a trapped in a closet feeling, to not only coming out but being proud of being out. When we left him he was completely content but he had some specific issues, having gotten involved with the wrong crowd. Marco was trying to find himself, not as a gay kid, but just as a kid making that transition into adulthood. Where we find him in the movie is interesting because he always relates himself to his two best friends. His whole goal in the movie is to keep control of his best friends. I think that's symptomatic of the fact that he is comfortable with who he is and confident and loves himself and finds that there are those qualities missing in Paige and Ellie. He's trying to give them advice and trying to steer them, which is charming to see because he is always the lover and trying to make people happy. But that's what happens when everybody gets older. Everyone has to follow their own path and make their own mistakes.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How much of the movie was actually shot in L.A.?
Adamo Ruggiero: We actually shot 99% of the movie in Toronto, which is a huge testament to our set designers and location scouts. Everybody did such a fantastic job. We recreated L.A. in Toronto. Toronto is usually used as almost any East coast city, but never really a West coast city. We only shot two days in L.A. when we needed the direct exteriors like Hollywood Boulevard and a big ocean. We shot at Venice Beach. I wish we shot more in L.A. Every time I would show up to the set they had palm trees rented. It was insane.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did you feel about the way the movie ended. Marco and Paige were kind of left at an awkward place?
Adamo Ruggiero: I think Paige is the protagonist of the whole movie and carries it and is the lead. Paige always fell flat on her face and she does literally in the movie. She always had this perpetual habit of messing things up. In terms of Canadian film, we're the kind of filmmakers that have these kinds of anti-heroes, that defy what the happy ending odds are. So I think Paige and Marco represent that. They have a real ending to a real relationship. I like how we mix that Canadian way that is not always so positive and heroic and Hollywood-esque, with that sense of optimism with Ellie and Manny that would be very Hollywood and classic American cinema. It really is Degrassi Goes Hollywood.
Our show has always done a really good job of representing the consequences of someone's actions. Paige did treat people really badly, she did make bad choices and didn't respect herself in the movie, and as a consequence, she didn't succeed. That was a really important message to send especially in terms of how Hollywood is these days. It seems a lot of kids have this bubblegum image of what these celebrities really are because they're on the cover of Us Weekly or PEOPLE or the tabloids. They think they have these big glamorous lives and you really never know what happens behind closed doors. I think Paige brings that to the forefront. She suffers the consequences of her bad behavior.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Will we see Marco again at some point?
Adamo Ruggiero: Yes. I do make a cameo in Season 9. He has an episode and is making a little bit of a cameo later in the season as well. Probably not to the same extent at all, but to keep his DEGRASSI roots alive, he will be there.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You have been an incredible role model for the gay community since coming out yourself. Growing up as a gay kid in the 1970s and 1980s I wish I could have had someone like you who was visible and an inspirational. Is it important to you to speak out about equality and to play gay positive roles?
Adamo Ruggiero: First of all, thank you. I appreciate that because that really is kind of what has unexpectedly become the mandate of my career. I truly believe that getting [the role of] Marco and being gay myself at similar ages and similar times was too much of a coincidence to mean nothing, so I really wanted to take the reins on this and spread that message out there. Especially because I have not only been blessed with a great opportunity in terms of an outlet to share my voice but a beautiful city and incredible family that has give me all the encouragement I need to step in front of the cameras and talk honestly about it. And I genuinely do think there is a huge lack in representing the gay community that has been changing over the years, especially the last five years. I actually didn't have one growing up as well. The only character I could think of was the character on DAWSON'S CREEK and the internet wasn't as popular so I didn't really have anyone to look at to hear speak about their personal life. I was in a great family and environment versus someone who isn't. So I do feel kind of inspired to speak to LGBT youth, and now it's becoming LGBT adults just like myself.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When I was growing up there was Steven Carrington on DYNASTY and that was about it. We have made a lot of progress, but it's a little frustrating for me that we haven't made more. Even when shows introduce a gay character, or a gay romance, they usually aren't portrayed in the same way.
Adamo Ruggiero: I think there is still the kind of subtlety of gay relationships that are lacking in television and film. At this point being gay is really still issue-based in the media. Even Marco can fall under that umbrella. Because it wasn't so common to talk about, you had to shine a really strong specific light about everything a kid goes through, which was really important. Definitely that exists with things like Brokeback Mountain or Milk, which are issue-based stories. What I think does lack is a kind of subtlety and simplicity of gay relationships that can stand beside straight relationships and not be that singled out, like just two boyfriends or two girlfriends that represent how normal our community really is. I think when you're moving at an increasingly accelerated pace in terms of getting the gay message out there, and we're seeing more characters on television and in pop culture, we see a light at the end of the tunnel and want to speed up and get there as fast as we can and say, "We made it."
I think we're on a really great track in that we are accelerating and toward the light and to a more positive time. But I think we also still need to be a little bit patient. The biggest aspect of this is education and coming out for gay artists, and gay people in general. Being gay is quite selfless as a gay artist because you're not just representing a character or doing it for yourself or filling up your bank account, but you are now responsible for enlightening and educating the people around you that may not have been desensitized or may have never ever met a gay person. I always feel like we need to be a little more patient but trust that we're going on the right path.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What are your long terms goals in the business? TV? Films? Theater? Behind the scenes? I want you to produce something because you seem to have a great vision.
Adamo Ruggiero: Thank you. No one's ever said that to me before. It's hard to think about what my true goals are. I feel like I'm learning about myself as I go. But I definitely can say I've found a voice and found a place that I'm really happy and comfortable and inspired and driven in terms of being a gay character and representing gay characters. A lot of people are asking if I'm worried about being type casted and I'm not worried at all. This is something that I've wanted and I've opened up my arms to. I want to play all different kinds of gay characters and represent all aspects of the community, and really put that message out there that it's okay to be gay once and for all. And also to integrate gay characters and gay lifestyles, just like any community would have, in television and in movies.
I have interest in producing and directing and my best friend is a writer and he and I a lot of times do stuff together for fun. I hope to play more gay characters especially in films and features. Whatever comes at me I'm welcoming with open arms. I never really project where I'm going to be. I kind of just accept everything that comes my way and see where it takes me.