"Growing up, I never thought he would ever accept my sexuality, but because of a TV show, he was able to change his mind," the actor tells PEOPLE
Wilson Cruz is looking back on the groundbreaking television series that changed his life forever.
In Apple TV+’s upcoming documentary series, Visible: Out on Television, the openly gay actor, 46, recalls how his role as Rickie Vasquez on the beloved 1994 ABC drama My So-Called Life helped him come to terms with his sexuality.
Cruz tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue that My So-Called Life, which ran for just one season despite critical acclaim, managed to inspire his father to reconcile with him.
“It was through his watching of the series that he was able to understand what my life was really like,” says Cruz, 46. “And we were able to have a conversation a year later because of the story that he was able to watch. And so you look at this man who was incredibly conservative. Growing up, I never thought he would ever accept my sexuality, but because of a TV show, he was able to change his mind.”
The series also made Cruz the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character in a leading role in an American TV series — and one episode in particular helped inspire Cruz’s father to finally accept his son’s sexuality.
“My character Rickie Vasquez gets kicked out of his home on the show and there’s a whole episode about it,” he says. “And I got kicked out of my house at Christmas just like Rickie did. And my father watched that episode. And when the credits rolled, and about 10, 15 minutes later, my phone rings and he said, ‘Hey, I think we need to talk.’ “
“And it was because of his watching the show. And so I went home and we had a conversation that we probably couldn’t have had unless he had sat down and watched,” Cruz says.
- For more on Wilson Cruz, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
The actor now calls his dad “my biggest advocate” — which is exactly why he decided to be involved in the Apple TV+ documentary series, which also features emotional stories from openly gay celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper, Billy Porter, and more.
“I wanted to pay homage to that, to the power of what television is able to do in order to open up people’s minds,” Cruz says. “And this is an homage to them, to that medium and to the people who took those risks.”
Visible: Out on Television debuts Feb. 14 on Apple TV+.