In the early 90s, My So-Called Life promised that my high school years, still a half-decade away, would be consumed by crying in bathrooms and French kissing Jordan Catalano. One of those things was correct and the other was a giant lie from which I’m still not recovered. But the show remains 18 perfect episodes of television (plus that weird Christmas ghost episode) that the exactly one teenager I know still finds completely relatable, even twenty-five years later.
Because I still have no life, so-called or otherwise, I have spent hours imagining whatever became of Angela, Rickie, Brian, Jordan, Sharon, and my darling, doomed Rayanne after high school graduation. In my heart, Angela and Rickie go separate ways but never lose touch, so just let me keep this conversation they had for Variety’s Pride issue as validation and don’t correct my projections, okay?
Claire Danes, who played Angela, was 13 when the show began filming and Wilson Cruz, who played Rickie, was 19. The two talked about how the experience of being cast on the show changed their lives, especially for Cruz, who wasn’t out yet:
“My agent sent me the script, and she didn’t necessarily know that I was gay. I read it, and I had to decide whether or not I wanted to disclose to her. I waited. I had made a deal with myself that I would come out if the series went. I wanted people to know that I, as a gay man — a gay boy at the time — really put my stamp of approval to what we were doing. So that’s when I told my parents, and that’s when I was kicked out.”
In My So-Called Life, Cruz’s character is homeless for a time, a part of the story that was all-too-familiar for Cruz after coming out to his family:
“I lived on friends’ couches and in my car until we started filming the series. I remember we were with Winnie on our way to something, and I told her what had happened with my dad. Months later, I get this script where Rickie goes through a very similar thing. When I look back on that whole experience, I think of my fictional world and my reality converging. It was cathartic.”
If you want to know at which point in the article I started crying, it was here:
“So when I walked in and met with [casting director] Mary Goldberg, it felt really personal to me. We went through the scene. There wasn’t a lot in the pilot, because I didn’t say a lot. Mary looked at me like, “Thank you.” I started to well up. I walked to the door to leave, not knowing if I was going to come back or not. I turned around and said to her, “Before I go, please do me a favor and tell Winnie Holzman, this would have meant so much to me when I was 16 years old to see this guy on TV.”
WC: I started to cry a bit. She came up to me and just looked at me, and she goes, “‘I’m not going to tell her, because I have a feeling you’re going to be able to tell her yourself.’”
For Danes, an awkward teenager who hated attempting to navigate the bizarre social rituals that accompany high school, the part felt like a rescue as well, on a smaller scale. But when the pilot didn’t get picked up, then did get picked up last minute, filming the show felt strange, as she’d already “mourned the loss of it.”
But she also says My So-Called Life helped her put language to many of the complicated, often incomprehensible emotions of adolescence:
“So then I was rescued on so many levels. One, I didn’t have to go to school suddenly. I was privately tutored. Also, I had this language delivered to me by a brilliant writer. She said everything that I wanted in my heart but didn’t have the means of articulating.”
As someone who has lived a life based on the philosophies that a pierced nose is not a personality and yourself is not a definite thing, like a toaster or something, hard same.