There was more than just a pay cheque at stake for Wilson Cruz while he waited to see if My So-Called Life would be picked up for a TV series.
“I was still in the closet when we made the pilot, but I had made an arrangement with myself that if the show got picked up, that I would come out to my parents,” the actor recalls.
It took months, but Cruz eventually got the call—and on Christmas Eve 1993, he told his mum and dad that he was gay. “It didn’t go well with my dad,” says the actor, who was 19 at the time and living at home.
“He kicked me out. I lived in my car. I slept on friends’ couches.”
But three months later, he began filming My So-Called Life—and when the short-lived, critically acclaimed drama launched in August 1994, Cruz became the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character as a series regular on a television show.
Cruz won rave reviews for his work on Life, but the series was cancelled after one season, and he admits he worried about his next gig.
"I would say, 'So what do you think is going to happen when the show's over. My team was like, ‘We don’t know. We’re gonna have to wait and see.’ ”
But the gigs did come. In 1997 he joined the US West Coast—and, eventually, Broadway— cast of Rent as the effervescent drag queen Angel, and in 1999 he was added to Party of Five. Over the years he’s guest-starred on everything from The West Wing to Grey’s Anatomy to Shameless.
But it was during a lull in his career that the actor found one of the most important roles of his life: Cruz had joined the GLAAD board of directors in 1997, but in 2010 he took a more hands-on role and, as he puts it, “held down the fort” when they searched for a new president.
“It was a really great experience for me,” says Cruz, who remains a spokesperson for the non-governmental media-monitoring organisation.
"I have to say that I think it's informed my work."
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