AUSTIN, Texas — It's tough not to find Nico Tortorella charming. As he walks into the Four Seasons in downtown Austin, he's wearing a tan, wide-brimmed fedora and a long coat in a southwestern-striped print. He's got a devilish smile that brings the whole outfit together. If it was another man in the outfit, you might say the look is ridiculous. On him, it fits like a glove.
The 28-year-old Illinoisan uses this charm to great effect as a co-star on TV Land's delightful sitcom Younger. On the show, he plays Josh, the love interest to Sutton Foster's 40-cosplaying-as-26 publishing assistant, Liza Miller. But in real life, Tortorella is one of the most visible queer, not-strictly-gay men in media, first coming out publicly in June 2016 as "fluid" and later accepting the label of "bisexual."
His charisma is largely a boon when it comes to talking so openly about his sexuality. At times, Tortorella has been smart and insightful, inspiring deep conversations about love and sex on his podcast The Love Bomb. But as affable as he may be, declaring himself "the future man" in a 2016 interview with Vulture (a title he claims he never gave himself, contradicting the Vulture piece) comes off as self-parody.
At the ATX Television Festival, ahead of Younger's season four premiere on Wednesday, Tortorella talked about the show, his very straight character, his own sexuality, his podcast and his privilege. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mic: At the end of the third season of Younger, Liza's co-worker and best friend Kelsey [played by Hilary Duff] learned what Josh has known for months: Liza is 40. From the trailer, it seems like Josh and Kelsey are forming a new bond over sharing this secret. What becomes of their relationship this season?
Nico Tortorella: They were both betrayed by a woman that they love, in one way or another. It only makes sense for them to find some sort of peace in each other. This is a Darren Star [creator of Sex and the City] show, so we'll see what happens, you know?
Josh has a way of handling struggle in a specific way. He can lock sadness out — he'll go through it, and then it's done. It's not real anymore if he doesn't think about it. And I think Kelsey is actually pretty similar in that. Her work ethic asks for that type of behavior.
You've had a couple of scenes in past seasons with Hilary before, but this season offers you much more opportunity to act opposite her. What has it been like working with a new primary co-star?
NT: Most of my work has been with Sutton in the last three and a half seasons. This time, I didn't see her for the first chunk of shooting. I was like, "Where's Sutton? I miss her!" But I love Hilary so much, and we have such a funny relationship that's riddled with sexual tension. It leads to a great time on set.
Now that Liza and Josh's journey is done for a while after their breakup in season three, what is next in Josh's personal growth?
NT: This season, we get to see Josh outside of the rest of the cast, which is pretty nice. He's in a place where he's trying to figure out what he wants out of his own life, out of a partner, where is the best space for a partner in his life. Josh is a hopeless romantic, at the end of the day. He leads with his heart. I think he just wants to be in love, one way or another, and he looks for ways to heal the wound left by Liza.
Speaking of love, I want to deviate for a little bit and talk about your podcast, The Love Bomb, which just returned for season two. What lessons from season one did you learn and bring to the new batch of episodes?
NT: The structure of conversations naturally shifted. At the beginning of season one, I was still figuring out, just, what I was doing, what I was talking about and why I was doing it. I had a couple of ideas about what it was going to be, and it very quickly became something totally different. In season one, what I learned more than anything is that every single person — no matter how they identify or whatever — needs to be treated as an individual. We all have really specific stories that are ours. The sooner we can listen to each other's stories, instead of trying to put community stories on people, it will all make more sense.
Love is really the fabric of life, and the way it gets woven into our stories is so fascinating. At the end of the day, sexuality is an incredible thing, but it's a byproduct of love. As a society, we have a hard time separating [love and sex], and I'm interested in that separation.
What is the root of your interest in love and sexuality? How did that become a defining interest for you?
NT: I don't really know, to be honest with you. In me discovering myself? It probably stemmed from getting sober 2 1/2 years ago. I really started taking a look at myself. Most of my friends are queer, in one capacity or another, and I'm just surrounded by people having these types of conversations.
Look, I'm not an expert on any of this stuff. I'm in this "sexploration" of love, I like to say, right now. I'm figuring it out, I'm having a conversation and it's amazing that people are listening to it. If I had this conversation to listen to when I was a teenager, how amazing would that have been? Nobody talks about this shit. People talk about sexuality from specific standpoints. Nobody talks about the broad fluidity of it all. Especially no one talks about love. It's bizarre. Everyone has something to say about it, but there aren't open conversations about love.
You grew up in a conservative household. Was that part of why you didn't come out until just last year?
NT: I had been living my life for years before somebody was interested in talking about it publicly. The second somebody from Page Six was like, "Do you wanna have this conversation?" I was like, "I've already been having this conversation, what are you fucking talking about?" It wasn't this big coming-out story, because I wasn't really in anything to come out of. I've always been queer in one way or the other, I just didn't know the language as well as I do now — or as well as I'd like to in the future.
I use this term "fluidity" — which far transcends sexuality. Fluidity is, for me, this ability to shift instinct, to shift wants and desires. But also, there's fluidity with language, too, and labels. I just like to play with words.
Since you brought up labels: There's a privilege in a lack of them. You are a white, cisgender male, who presents more heterosexual than anything.
NT: I present that way on TV.
Was there any part of you that questioned why people before the Page Six reporter weren't asking about your sexuality?
NT: Yeah, of course. I think there's something I'm just really coming to terms with in the last couple of years: what that privilege means, and what's my responsibility, in Trump's America, in 2017? With this podcast, and with all the work I'm doing at this point, I've never been more driven by inclusivity. I've never been more interested in giving all marginalized communities — not just inside the LGBTQ [acronym], but outside of it, too — a platform to have conversations. If I can do that, even in the smallest way — I'm not saying, "Look, I'm fucking changing the world by giving this person a microphone." But in the smallest way, if I can get some of these stories out, and people are listening, that's the most important thing we can do.
Since the beginning of time, from the Bible to Hollywood, we've been told one specific story: man, woman, love, kids, that's it. And white, for the most part. Since the beginning of social media, there's been this massive download of other people's stories that weren't seen before. That is so amazing that we have to keep sharing as much as we can. We only believe what we see, really, and we've only seen one thing for so long. So if I can help, in any way, other people see other stories, then fuck yeah.
You had an episode of The Love Bomb last season where you talked openly about your relationship with social media influencer Kyle Krieger in retrospect. Is it more comfortable for you to talk about relationships on your podcast after they've ended?
NT: I'm definitely more comfortable talking about the past than the present, because there's something really sacred about what's happening in the present. When it's ready to be shared, in the right way, it will be. I've done that with Bethany [Meyers, a popular fitness model on Instagram]. We've been in an open relationship of sorts for 11 years now. We talk about that a lot, and we will have another episode this season. There's other people in my life right now, where we're trying to figure out how it's all going to work.
Within the last six months, I've really come into what it means to be the best partner. I don't know whether monogamy is for me. I [feel drawn] to a more polyamorous sort of life. I'm an at an amateur level — I'm a baby poly — and that's the work I'm doing right now. I'm not quite at the point where I can talk about it, but I'm very close. I want to be talking about it. I have my story to tell, but there's other people involved. I want everybody to be on the same page before I start talking about it.
You are one of the few male actors — or, broadly speaking, celebrities — who is so open about his sexuality. Is there any fear in being so frank about that?
NT: No. At one point there was. Pre-sobriety, there was fear. I was muting parts of my life, because I didn't want to deal with them. But I haven't gotten any sort of backlash from Hollywood yet. Not to my knowledge — there could be some old guy in an office who's like, "No, I'm not gonna hire him because of who he is or who he's fucking." That could happen, but I don't wanna work with that guy anyway at this point. I have so many opportunities in front of me, and so many doors have been opened because I've been having this conversation.
I don't think I'm this fucking saint by having this conversation. It's stupid that we haven't been having this conversation since the beginning of Hollywood. Why have we been so protective? We're coming into an age right now where being unapologetically yourself is the most attractive thing in the world. At the end of the day, the key to all of this — for me, personally — is just not taking any of it too seriously, and having a sense of humility.
On Younger, you still are playing a heterosexual male. Is there a point where you want to start experimenting with queer characters?
NT: I think that's magnetized, right? I'm having this conversation, and people are listening and going, "Oh, we want him to play that part." But I'm not doing this so I can play those roles. I've always wanted to play those roles — before anything else, I want to play an array of characters. I want to play the entire fucking spectrum. In doing this work, in doing this study of the human condition, I'm absorbing other people's stories. That's just fuel for future acting jobs. The more I know about people, the more I can play them.
I want to ask about the Vulture interview you did last year, where you described yourself as "the future man."
NT: I never said that. Those are his words.
You're quoted as saying you're the future man.
NT: "I am the future man"?
Yeah, that's the direct quote.
NT: Really? [Maybe it was] out of context, pulled from something else I was saying. There's parts of that interview I'm annoyed with, honestly. I love that interview, but there's parts where I'm like, "I can't believe I said [that]." I was saying some shit like, I could never imagine marrying myself marrying a dude. I was in a point of my life — I was pretty close to being engaged to this girl when I did that interview. I said that, I think, because of the relationship I was in.
I regret saying that, honestly. That part of the interview really sticks to the binary idea of gender that I just do not believe in. Every time I read it, or every time someone says something about that part of it, it just makes me sick to my stomach.
Even as you're exploring all this, is it safe to say you're still enjoying Younger? It's already been picked up for season five, so your journey with it is hardly over.
NT: Of course. This show has been a complete blessing. Josh is great, and a lot more like me than he isn't. He may not have had a boyfriend, but he's a wonderful dude, and I love playing him.
Younger season 4 premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern on TV Land.
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