“I have a lot of people’s eyes on me, and ears. And I know what I represent in Hollywood, and in the community,” Nico Tortorella says, just before trailing off. “I had something really good I wanted to say and I totally forgot it.”
There are, by design, few easy answers for the 28-year-old actor, model and podcast host these days. He’s found a home on TV Land’s surprise-hit Younger, playing Josh, the tattoo artist and love interest of Sutton Foster’s Liza Miller. That and previous work on features like Scream 4 and television shows like The Following, have afforded him a platform upon which to be heard.
He’s taken that soapbox and, from it, decided to preach love, via his podcast.
“I think what I’m trying to do is more than sexuality,” he says of his show, “The Love Bomb.” “I think that society has a really hard time separating love from sex right now. The conversations I’m having are about love, and not necessarily about sexuality.”
To read the headlines of the past year is to think that Tortorella’s life revolves around the latter. Ever since a Page Six piece in which the actor says that he is sexually “fluid” in June, the obsession has been over labels. What is “fluid”? Isn’t that just bisexual? The combination of an attractive celebrity (a Google search for “Nico Tortorella shirtless” brings back almost 120,000 results) and a still-exoticized view of sexuality in wider culture can seem to be catnip.
But to listen to “The Love Bomb” is to hear a man Socratically searching, with his guest du jour, for answers to unanswerable questions about love, intimacy, friendship and sexuality – and all of their messy intersections. Kicking off most episodes with a self-penned spoken-word piece, Tortorella spends up to an hour with different people from his life – ex-lovers, friends, even a photographer he met in a kitchen – as they dissect their pasts, both together and apart, to look for clues about how and why we love who we love.
For a man who is plastered all over the internet (and this magazine!) in various shades of undress, emotional nudity is a much more important task.
“I don’t think there’s been one episode where there hasn’t been tears either from me or my guest, or both of us at the same time,” he says. “That’s part of this. The show doesn’t exist without that difficulty.”
In some ways, “The Love Bomb” is a continuation of the themes of a project Tortorella had been shopping for television, one focused on gender, relationships, and labels within the LGBTQ community. But after a guest appearance on “The Drop-In,” the podcast hosted by his friend and At Will Network founder Will Malnati, Tortorella found himself enamored with a new medium.
“I had never really listened to any podcasts, or been on a podcast before, and I got in the studio, and it was this really organic conversation that surrounded all of these ideas,” he says. “Within a week he asked me if I wanted my own podcast, and I was in the studio maybe eight days later.”
Since then, he produced shows every week, interviewing guests and creating a narrative. But to be responsible for someone else’s story can weigh on a storyteller; in the show’s ninth episode Tortorella sits down with an ex-Mormon, still grappling with the residue of the church’s teachings on sexuality. It’s at these moments, when conversation starts to sound like therapy, that Tortorella feels the intensity of the feelings surrounding these topics.
“The most difficult part is finding the best way to help – who I can talk to, who is listening to this episode who knows more than I do, because by no means am I preaching like I’m an expert,” he says. “I’m a storyteller, and I have a platform where I allow other people to tell their story. The hardest part is figuring out, once the story is told, is how to handle it.”
It leaves Tortorella in a rare position. Hollywood has traditionally told its leading men, at least of a certain age, to look good shirtless and leave everything else alone (of course, it’s always said this of nearly all women). The simple act of being open in this manner, of sharing his entire background on a weekly basis to an audience that a studio would later expect to, say, buy tickets to a film, creates another question without an answer: Does the acting industry penalize truth?
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” he says. “I don’t know exactly what the outcome will be, I don’t know if I am going to be judged by Hollywood. Obviously I had a lot of conversations with people on my team about how this was going to be handled, how it was going to be seen, and I just kept trusting my instinct. But only time will tell.”
Photography Sam Ramirez
Styling by Sara Dinkin
Grooming by Melissa Adelaide
Written by Robert Spuhler
Creative Direction by Kiley Coleman
Location by The Agency Real Estate