It was 25 years ago that Ryan Phillippe played one of the first openly gay teenagers on television on the daytime soap One Life to Live.
Phillippe played Billy Douglas, a high school student who comes out as gay, on the series from 1992-1993. It was Phillippe’s first professional acting gig, and a quarter of a century later the actor looks back proudly at his place in gay history.
“There had never been a gay teenager portrayed on television at that point. It was before Will & Grace, before Ellen came out, it’s before any of that stuff,” Phillippe recently told Too Fab while he was doing press for his new movie Wish Upon.
“I remember the fan mail that my mother and I would get from gay teenagers or from parents of gay teenagers who found a way in to relate to or talk to their child through this show,” he explained.
Even though he was only 17 at the time he does remember “understanding and appreciating that back then even when I was only a teenager myself.”
Back in 1992 Phillippe told Entertainment Weekly that when he auditioned he had no idea that Billy was gay:
“They told me, and I said ‘Oh! Okay!’ but a shock went through my system. I thought, ‘What is my family going to think? What about my friends?’ But I realized that for Billy, the torment is a hundred times that.”
Before filming began for Billy’s debut on the show executive producer Linda Gottlieb brought in psychiatrist Richard Isay to talk with Phillippe about portraying a gay teenager.
“When he told us that three times as many gay teenagers kill themselves as do straight teens, I realized that maybe this role is where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “Maybe some kids will see that there are ways to deal with this positively.”
Billy was written out of the show in 1993 when Phillippe decided to leave, but he still cherishes the role:
“I’m proud to have done it, I’m proud that that’s something I can say was a part of my career.”