Younger Star Nico Tortorella on Beauty and Self-Identity

Earlier this summer, as I sat on my cushion at the Mndfl meditation studio in Brooklyn, one thing became abundantly clear: I needed to interview Nico Tortorella. I was at a reading of the Younger star’s poetry book, All of It Is You, and watched in awe as they fielded questions from the audience, treating the book like a tarot deck. Volunteers were asked to make personal inquiries then pick a number, at which point Tortorella would flip to that page and let the visible poem be the answer. Sometimes, the writer would pause thoughtfully after reading it aloud, rubbing their thumb and pointer finger together as if pulling an answer from mid-air and offer an interpretation that might resonate with the inquirer. People laughed; people cried. The positivity in the room was palpable. Part of a Pride event, the reading was shorter than usual, and Tortorella insisted I only got a taste of what one is typically like—I could only imagine.

An avid Younger fan, I had never seen this side of Tortorella. I was used to seeing them as their character Josh: a sweet, brooding tattoo artist who I still hope ends up with Liza, by the way (team Josh forever). While Tortorella believes Josh is a part of them (which we’ll discuss later), there’s a lot, lot more to the actor. Tortorella, who identifies as gender-neutral, is a passionate activist. From wearing a gown to the GLAAD Media Awards to hosting numerous Pride events to speaking openly about their gender fluidity, they are constantly advocating for inclusion and the breakdown of gender binaries. They are also infatuated with poetry, constantly sharing new work with their followers on Instagram. But perhaps what makes Tortorella most captivating is that they are unapologetically themself—a rarity in our increasingly presentation-based, social media-driven world. As we discussed drag, beauty standards, self-care, and more, the multihyphenate offered insights that showcased a deep self-awareness.

Below, find our full conversation.

Nico Tortorella poetry reading
@nicotortorella / Instagram

What do you hope that readers get out of your book, All of It Is You?

I think more than anything, I hope readers see themselves in the book, the multidimensional, dynamic versions of ourselves that exist in absolutely everything. This book is about falling in love with yourself in its entirety—the good, the bad, and everything in between—and recognizing the simultaneity between everyone and everything. Even more so post-delivery in the performance aspect, I have really been able to find—I know it sounds like a reach, but in one way or another—my own version of God in these pages and through the performance. And I am able in these lives shows to share them, this god, with them—the people. If all of it is you, well, then you get where I’m going.

What was the creative process like in writing this book?

It was a lot. I wrote the whole book in 45 days. Poetry is, at least my poetry is, a really channeled process. So I was writing like five to seven different pieces a day. I mapped out the entire book beginning to end, starting like from the get-go. And I started from the first one and made my way all the way through the last. I was living in three different places in those 45 days. I was in Brooklyn at the beginning, then I was in Peru for a couple of weeks in the jungle in the Amazon, and then I was Upstate in the dead of winter. I split the book into three sections: I was in Brooklyn for “Body,” Peru for “Earth,” and Upstate for “Universe.” It’s pretty interesting how that all worked out. Completely unplanned, but like divinely planned, you know what I mean?

Shifting over to Younger, your character Josh is a lot different from our perception of you in real life. Do you feel like that’s fair to say?

Yeah. Yes and no. I mean, we only know so much of Josh. Josh doesn’t even have a last name. Every other character on the show has a last name. The show is 22 minutes long, and there are eight series regulars, so we only know who Josh is in relation to Liza really more than anything. So I think that if we were actually able to explore the depths of Josh’s character, we would actually be a lot more similar than what is on screen.

Nico Tortorella on Instagram
@nicotortorella / Instagram

How do you get into character to play Josh?

It just kind of happens naturally being with the rest of the cast. It’s not like there are a lot of scenes where Josh is alone in his own thoughts; that doesn’t really exist. But when I’m with Molly [Bernard] or Hilary [Duff] or Sutton [Foster] or Debi [Mazar], Josh just comes alive through the other characters. Josh is a version of who I am for sure. He’s probably the closest to Nico of any of the characters I’ve ever played. He’s just this watered-down, super-straight bro-y version.

I read your interview with GQ, and you told them that your cisgender appearance is a form of performative drag in itself. Can you elaborate on that?

Yes. I mean, everything is performative in nature. We’re all born naked, right? The rest is drag—come on, RuPaul. Because I get to play such a straight cis dude on television, that’s how the world knows me. I literally play make-believe and play dress-up for my work. That’s what we do as actors. We play dress-up and play make-believe. And Josh’s character is super cis and dude-y, so that’s what I get to do when I play him. But even a couple of weeks ago, when the genderqueer character was introduced to the show, when I read that on the page, I was like, oh, this will be interesting. Then I got to act out the scene where I was like ’Sup, dude? Like, trying to question what the fuck is going on. That was like the next layer. But then, being able to watch it back, I understood the person that didn’t see gender-nonconforming or nonbinary people as valid a little bit easier because I got to see myself play that role.

It’s ironic that your character Josh was confused by this gender-nonconforming character.

Yeah. That is part of what the privilege is of playing a role like Josh on television. We’re on in 170 different countries, and people around the world know me as that dude who doesn’t understand non-binary issues, as the super-straight, white, cis dude. So it makes my activism outside of my make-believe job that much more easily digestible, right? Like, Oh, if that guy Josh can talk about this shit, then it’s okay for us to talk about this shit.

Nico Tortorella photo
@nicotortorella / Instagram

Your authenticity is something that really comes across. Through all of the noise of the entertainment industry, how do you stay so true to yourself?

I don’t really have an option anymore. Once you start speaking the truth and baring the real version of yourself, you can’t really go backward. And the response from the media, from the fans, and from myself has been so positive for the most part that I think I just realized that because of who I am, because of what I look like, because of the privilege of my ability to have a platform like this in the first place, I have a responsibility at this point to just keep going. I think we as a culture, we as a society just put so much emphasis on the end result. Like, This is what I’m gonna be when I grow up or I’m only gonna be happy when I get this, but it’s all about the little moments in between. It’s about the journey and the exploration, and that has really been my authentic self. The core of the message that I’m preaching is we’re all fucking transforming, transitioning every single day in one way or another. We need to be talking about it.

How does your idea of beauty intersect with gender identity for you?

I think inclusivity, right? I think that gender identity, for me, has really been a work in progress, as with anything. Understanding the binary that exists in the construct of gender, right? And how it mirrors the binary that exists everywhere outside of gender, this divide, this division. And appreciating all of it, the 1 to 0 and everything in between. That is really what the book is about for me, and celebrating. That includes beauty, that includes confidence, that includes recognizing the entire spectrum that lives between the 1 and the 0. And celebrating the 0.11, then 0.1234, etc., etc, etc. Beauty and confidence is infinite, and it doesn’t look like one thing. Or two things. It’s infinite. We’ve been taught one thing for so fucking long on what is supposed to be beautiful or what it means to be confident or what our adult lives are supposed to look like through media. And all that shit’s fucking changing now through the social media revolution.

You recently married your partner, Bethany Meyers. Have they changed your ideas around beauty at all?

Oh my god, yeah, of course. I think that our messaging is obviously super individualized, but the through line is exactly the same. It’s about breaking, deconstructing this image that exists of what we’re all supposed to be, what we’re all supposed to say, and what we’re all supposed to look like. I mean, their app, Become, is all about the deconstruction of beauty and what a beautiful body is supposed to look like. Or what working out is supposed to feel like. It’s not about losing 10 pounds; it’s about fucking feeling good. I can tell you most people who lose 10 pounds really fast don’t feel good. So yeah, our message is one and the same.

Nico Tortorella and Bethany Meyers
Cindy Ord / Getty Images

I read that you’re into meditation. How did you start, and what advice would you give to people who feel like they can’t get into it?

I started a long time ago, when I was a little kid, honestly, just through the help of different family members and books and stuff. But my advice would be that everyone thinks meditation is supposed to look like one thing or feel like one thing. You’re supposed to sit in this position with your back straight, not leaning up against anything for a period of time, close your eyes, not have a single thought about anything, breathe deeply, and astral travel—but fuck that. Meditation can be whatever you want it to be. It can be awake; it can be a train of thought; you can lie down for 10 minutes, and that is a form of meditation. Forms of meditation are infinite, and you have to find what works for you, and I would say a really great place to start would be YouTube. The most important piece of advice would be to just listen to your own inner voice. As annoying as it can be at times, we all know. There’s a reason it keeps saying the same thing over and over and over again. Trust your gut, trust your instinct, and trust your voice because it’s the loudest voice you’ll ever hear.

What is your personal meditation routine like?

Oh man. I have a few. It depends on the day; it depends on where all the planets are and the time of the year. I work a lot with crystals and different medicines. I spent a lot of time in the jungle with shamans in the Amazon, I have read a lot of Eastern text about meditation, so depending on the day, I form my own little ceremony. It’s always a little bit different.

Nico Tortorella Polaroid
Getty Images

Besides meditation, what are the other self-care habits that you practice?

My live shows have really been almost like my therapy. My way of sharing my own theory and what’s going on in my mind with an audience, you know? I do a lot of chanting in my shows. I have my microphone and my looping system that I use for the show; it’s always in the middle of my living room Upstate. I’ll just perform chants all day long that don’t necessarily sound like any one specific thing. I use the word chant loosely, but I just say different things that are going on in my head with a tuning board and some different pitched sounds. So I guess the answer to that question would just be creation. And art. Whether it’s visual, whether it’s words that I’m writing on a page, or a book, whether it’s sound, or closing my eyes and meditating, it’s all the same thing. That is really self-care. It’s the ability to create and just to spend time alone. That’s on the top of my list.

Related Stories