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The Interview

Troy Ruptash

by Windy City Times
Out-actor Troy Ruptash stars opposite The Gymnast icon Dreya Weber in the 2010 festival circuit jewel (and Reeling 2010 movie) A Marine Story. In addition to the film chronicling the harsh realities of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military and one woman's struggle to survive outside of the battalion, Ruptash recently wrapped a timely vampire piece starring with The L Word's Mia Kirshner called 30 Days of Night: Dark Days.

Ruptash was poised to take over the Olympic ice-skating world at the age of 17 when he decided to falter and fake an injury during his warm-up performance for nationals—on purpose. The Alberta, Canada, native was teased relentlessly by members of his own team because of his sexuality. Ruptash left behind the dream of being on the Canadian Olympic team in order to live his truth. His acting career would soon begin and flourish.

WCT: (Windy City Times) You won your first national ranking as the Canadian novice men's bronze medalist at the age of 13. When you were in elementary school, rumors had begun to circulate that you were gay. In fact, you were nicknamed a "FAGure Skater." What kind of emotional toll did that have on you as an impressionable gay youth?

TR: (Troy Ruptash) The nickname "FAGure Skater" goes back to the elementary school playground in the small town where I grew up when everyone knew that after school I wasn't going to hockey practice with all the other boys. I was the one boy joining the girls to practice my jumps and spins on the figure skating session… in stretchy Lycra pants! [It] didn't go over so well with my peers.

That's when the whole "FAGure Skater" thing started—as well as "sissy," "fairy lady on ice," "fruitcake," "faggot," and a bunch of other [nicknames] that I'm sure are buried somewhere in my subconscious! But luckily, I started spending more and more time at the ice rink and developed friendships with a bunch of girls and, when I started training in the nearest large city, even some other boys who also chose to don Lycra as opposed to sweaty hockey gear. I was safe. No more standing out or being ridiculed.

WCT: How did it feel a short time later when you were "outed" professionally?

TR: [It] was so painful. It was like: "Wait a minute. ... This is my safety zone … these are my peeps … my Lycra peeps … they think in terms of ‘faggot' just like everyone else? How can that be? There is homophobia in figure skating, too?" When word got out that I was "into the boys," suddenly my place of safety was gone. My Lycra peeps turned on me.

WCT: How did that affect you and your career?

TR: I think what that did to me was make me feel like there was something wrong with me and that I had to hide who I was in order to be accepted. It created a really strong place of shame in me that I've worked hard over the years to heal and eliminate from my psyche. Internalized homophobia can be a very difficult thing to recognize and acknowledge and, therefore, heal, but I've done it. It's still tricky sometimes. It doesn't help that I entered the film and television industry where according to some people being out will be the death of your career.

I had an agent once who knew that I was gay tell me to hide it not only from casting directors and producers but also from the other agents in the office. "They just see you in a certain way, and you don't want to mess that up." And this agent is himself gay! Hmm… "Internalized homophobia… table for one?"

That's why it's so important to me to be "out" in my career. I don't think it's going to ‘hurt' my career in any way but if it does, so be it. I feel good about who I am and know that I am not perpetuating or contributing to the homophobia that is still a part of our culture. When someone hides their sexuality in order to "be seen" in the industry in a certain way or to make sure that they will still be considered for certain roles—in my mind, they are putting their career ahead of something much more important. The fact that homophobia is still embedded in our culture allows policies like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to remain in place. In my opinion, once it's completely eliminated from our cultural experience, policies such as this one will never be implemented in the first place.

WCT: You actually left the ice after faking an injury during a performance when you were 17. That led to you taking courses in acting, moving to New York City and then settling down in Los Angeles. Do you ever wish you could go back in time and do that performance on the ice over again?

TR: That's interesting. I've never really ever thought about that or had the desire to go back in time and do things differently. However, I do have something in me now that won't allow me to quit until I've reached my goal. I'm not going to let other people or challenging circumstances determine my outcome ever again. This time I'm not "getting off the ice" until I'm DONE! I guess you could say that faking the injury was the beginning of my acting career!

WCT: You have two new feature films out this fall. One is titled A Marine Story and the other is titled 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. Let's start with A Marine Story. What can you tell us about this film?

TR: In A Marine Story, Dreya Weber plays a decorated Marine officer and I play her husband named "Joe"—a Navy Seal. Dreya's character, "Alex," returns home unexpectedly from the war and is quickly recruited to help a troubled teen prepare for boot camp. When the true reasons for her return become known it threatens the future for both of them. The movie highlights the absurdity of the military ban on gays through the personal story of this one courageous woman.

WCT: Ned Farr was behind the extremely successful film The Gymnast in 2006 [winning 28 awards with 18 of them being for "Best Feature"] and he worked as editor of A Marine Story. Had you worked with Ned before A Marine Story? What did you think of The Gymnast?

TR: Yes. Ned was behind the wonderful film The Gymnast and he is the writer/director/editor of A Marine Story. We had worked together before. I did a short of his entitled Dream a Little Dream for Me. It's a clever and unique short about an artist who is troubled by his inability to have any dreams when he goes to bed at night as compared to his girlfriend's vivid, extraordinary nocturnal dreams. Dreya plays my girlfriend in it and I think there are some plans to put it on the A Marine Story DVD as part of the special-features section. Definitely check it out.

I love The Gymnast. I think it's a very special movie and has what I think is one of the most genuinely moving scenes I've ever seen in a film. I won't say anything about the scene for those who haven't seen the movie. I will say, however, to make sure you watch the entire end credit sequence.

WCT: A Marine Story also stars Paris Pickard, Anthony Michael Jones, Christine Mourad, Jeff Sugarman, Gregg Daniel and Deacon Conroy. What was the atmosphere on the set like during filming such a timely story dealing with LGBT civil rights and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?"

TR: I think that we all felt fortunate to be involved with a project dealing with a subject matter that is so important to us. [A subject] that is affecting a lot of the people involved with the movie as well as their friends and loved ones. I know [that] for me, it felt good to be a part of such a timely story and to know that, through this personal story, the issue was being addressed in a way that would create an impact for viewers.

So many of the people that I worked with on this film are very good friends [of mine] and you just can't beat that kind of on-set experience. Both Ned Farr and Dreya Weber are very dear friends [of mine] so to be directed by Ned and to play off of Dreya was very special for me. There was a lot of love there. In addition to all of that, my partner Craig Richey composed the score for the movie. So this was definitely a "family affair."

WCT: Do you feel that there are important and substantial roles for out actors in Hollywood? It seems as though, looking back in cinema history, the "gay best friend" role was where we saw ourselves (if we were gay men) on the screen.

TR: Wait, there are out actors in Hollywood? Kidding. I know there are…. some…. finally, but not nearly enough.

And, well, do you mean substantial and important gay characters in films right now, because there definitely aren't enough of those, but as far as substantial and important roles for out actors, there definitely are some. That is, unless people think that as an out actor you can only play gay characters. If that is how people think, and unfortunately I know some of them do, then we have a problem.

I don't expect Jake Gyllenhaal to be gay [in real life] to do an amazing job and be totally believable as a gay man in Brokeback Mountain so I see no reason why people can't buy an out actor playing a character who is straight. For the people who feel that they can't do that, well, they need to broaden their thinking and perceptions.

That's why I think it's so important for gay men who are in the public eye to come out. If people start seeing and experiencing a more diverse collection of gay men, then their idea and vision of gay men will expand and won't remain locked into some narrow stereotype—your "gay best friend" reference, for example. Hopefully soon we'll see a gay James Bond or any array of other gay characters whose sexual orientation is no more of an issue than any heterosexual character we see in a film. You know, they just happen to have a same-sex love interest in the movie but the "gay" issue is no more a part of the story than that.

WCT: Have you been able to travel with A Marine Story along the festival circuit? If so, what has the reception been like with attendees?

TR: I have been able to travel the festival circuit with the film a bit and there's more to come. I went to San Francisco for Frameline in June, I was here in L.A for Outfest, will be going to Sacramento the beginning of October and then to New York in November. I spoke with Ned and as of now he said the film is scheduled to screen in about 60 to 70 upcoming festivals. It's great to go to festivals with these films because of the whole "family affair" aspect of it. It's like taking a vacation with your friends with the added bonus of seeing this cool movie we all worked on together, going to the parties and meeting audience members who really appreciate this film and the fact that it was made.

The audience reception thus far has been incredible. I think that there are so many gay people who are looking to see themselves and their stories represented on screen and the fact that this movie deals with such a relevant social/political issue affecting gay people makes it even more meaningful and powerful for those who see it.

WCT: Now, let's chat about your second feature film out this fall. You play the character, Agent Norris, in 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. There is a lot of hype and positive praise surrounding your portrayal of a straight man in this film. Some have even compared you to Neil Patrick Harris in part because of the non-gay roles he has played while being an out actor in Hollywood. How does that comparison sit with you?

TR: I'm really glad that there has been a positive response to my portrayal of Agent Norris. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to play him because I think he's an interesting and complex character. I really enjoyed exploring the menacing quality that is always lurking beneath the surface with him. It's not always out there and in your face (well, I guess a couple of times it's REALLY out there), but I always wanted it to be palpable and it was great working with Ben Ketai to find different ways to do this project.

As far as the "playing a straight man in this film," it's interesting because actually you don't really know if "Norris" is straight. I think he is, and I understand that people assume he is because he "fits the bill," you know, the "male heterosexual" one. He's masculine, strong and doesn't exhibit any stereotypical "gay man" qualities, but really there is no indication or reference to his sexuality whatsoever. I think this goes back to what I was referring to earlier about people being exposed to all different types of gay men because when this happens, people will see a character like "Norris" and think, "Maybe he's straight, or maybe he's gay." They won't assume he's straight because he exhibits what are considered "straight man" qualities and doesn't exhibit any "gay man" qualities. We need to get rid of those stereotypes and hopefully we're in the process of doing that so people will start experiencing and focusing on the fact that gay guys can appear and be just like straight guys. You can't necessarily pin someone down as being gay, or straight for that matter, because they fit or don't fit into some idea of how we think sexual orientation defines someone.

That being said, I love the Neil Patrick Harris comparison and know what you are referring to as far as me being out and yet still able to play straight characters. I don't "read gay" as they say in the industry, but what I think it means is that I happen to be one of those gay guys who appears to be straight if you are basing it on those narrowly-defined stereotypes. The fact that I'm out won't ultimately matter because I don't buy into that thinking that audiences won't be able to believe me as a straight man. I think that's bulls**t. People aren't that ignorant and for the most part are mature moviegoers. I mean we don't need to have Angelina Jolie actually be a CIA Agent/Russian spy for us to believe and "buy into" her playing one so why should it be any different with regards to an actor's sexual orientation. I mean, really, it's time to move on from that out-dated way of how we view the movie-going public.

WCT: Do you follow the Twilight series? How about True Blood? What can you tell your readers about playing a vampire in 30 Days of Night: Dark Days?

TR: Actually, I don't follow the Twilight series or True Blood. (Although I'm definitely planning to rent True Blood and start watching it through from the beginning because I've heard too many great things about it to not make a point of doing that.)

Playing a vampire in 30 Days of Night: Dark Days was very cooI. I get to start off as human and become a vampire. Norris was so interesting to play because of the fact that his situation leads him to actually wanting to and, in fact, needing to become a vampire. It's the only thing that will save him. Playing the moment when the transformation actually occurs was pretty cool. Actually, the whole scene that leads up to the transformation was definitely one of my favorite scenes to shoot because it involves Norris committing a vampire act while still a human in order to prove his commitment and desire to Lilith [played by The L Word's Mia Kirshner], and it was pretty outrageous and gruesome.

WCT: What was it like working with Mia Kirshner in 30 Days of Night: Dark Days?

TR: Mia is such a generous actor to work with. She's very connected and present with herself as well as the person she's working with which, for me, is the foundation on which to build a solid and interesting performance. It's definitely great when I'm working with someone who offers that. It helps me stay rooted in it. There's also a real gentleness about her accompanied by a real strength and such a strong sense of herself. I think she's fantastic. I loved working with her.

We also had a chance to connect outside of the work and talk about our common interest in humanitarian work and human rights issues. She does some amazing work with a boys' prison in Malawi and has a wonderful book she put out called I Live Here. She's really quite wonderful.

WCT: Do you have any words of encouragement to offer your LGBT fans in these trying times of inequality and injustice across America and the rest of the world?

TR: I would say to them that everything changes. There were times in my past when I felt so defeated, very alone and certain that my experience was never going to change. But it did, and everything I have gone through has made me who I am today. I think it's so important to have a strong sense of who you are and to speak up about what you believe is right and what you believe is wrong. I don't usually like to think in black and white terms but when it comes to inequality and injustice it is black and white and we need to speak up and have our voices heard.

WCT: Lastly, what do you think about the boycotting of Target?

TR: I stand behind the Target boycott and think that it's important to keep it going. We do have the power to "hit back" when we've been "hit" by a company like Target. This is one of those examples of something that is black and white. It's either right or wrong. Tom Emmer's anti-gay views are wrong and any company that supports a PAC that supports him is wrong as well. This is one of those ways that we can "speak up" and have our voices heard.

Interview by: Sarah Toce for the Windy City Times

A Marine Story will screen at the Reeling Film Festival Tuesday, Nov. 9, at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark; see 30 Days of Night: Dark Days is out on DVD.

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