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His So-Called Life

December 1994


by Robert Rorke

When gay 15-year-old Rickie Vasquez is thrown out of his house in a December episode of ABC's 'My So-Called Life', actor Wilson Cruz will be replaying a scene from his own life. Last Christmas Eve the 20-year-old Brooklyn native was thrown out of his own home in Rialto, California, and for the same reason: He told his fat her he was gay.

"There was this huge family gathering," he says. "My grandmother had just come in from Puerto Rico, and we had all of our cousins." His father pulled him aside."He had been trying to ask me for years, and he said, 'I need to know if you' And I said, 'Would it make a difference if I was or wasn't?' And he said,'well, I guess you already answered my question,' And I said, 'Let me answer it a little more directly: Yes,I am.'" After Dad tossed a few cans of beer Cruz's way, he told his son to leave and not come back.

Time will tell whether that real-life dialogue shows up in the script, but Cruz says other tales of his adolescent growing pains have helped shape Rickie's so-called life ever since the show's 1993 pilot episode, when he and co-creator and writer Winnie Holzman became close. Recognizing television's dearth of credible gay and lesbian characters-much less gay teens-the pair wanted to make Rickie as realistic as possible. "I didn't want Rickie in the shadows somewhere," says the actor, "like a lot of gay characters on TV, where you don't really see the person, you just kind of see hints of him here and there."

Like Matt, the gay eunuch on 'Melrose Place'? "I'm here to say that [Rickie's sexuality] is not going to be a problem on our show," Cruz laughs. "The network's are being extremely supportive and the writers are very much committed to carrying the story line to the hilt. And I'm proud to say that Rickie gets bigger and bigger as the episodes go by." The show has already dealt with Rickie's crushes on school hunk Jordan (Jared Leto) and on another boy, who broke his heart.

'My So-Called life' has wowed the critics but has been a ratings disaster. Despite the low numbers, executive producer Marshall Herskovitz remains confident that the show will last out the season, perhaps in a later time slot. He hasn't forgotten the vitriolic response of some viewers and sponsors when two men were shown in bed together on his previous series, 'thirtysomething', and he's determined once again to stand his ground. "We can never conceive of the audience as something to be mollified," he say s. As for sponsors: "The labels they use to justify their cowardice--"It's T&A," "It's too violent"--don't apply to us. They'll have to admit they're scared. Our intention is to absolutely show Rickie's sexual development."

After years of theater, singing at Disney World, and a recurring role on Fox's short-lived 'Great Scott', Cruz sees 'Life' as his first big break. While some showbiz types warned him "that I wouldn't be able to play any other roles after this, that I would be pigeonholed or typecast," Cruz says he couldn't pass up the "incredible opportunity" to play Rickie. He's placing his faith in the audience: "I think we don't give the American public enough credit. They know we're actors, for God's sake."

“School is a battlefield for your heart.”

Angela Chase, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"