Meet The A List’s Mike Ruiz

You may know celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz from his appearances on America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race, but as the new Logo reality series The A List proves, there’s more to him than meets the eye. As the lens turns on this truly talented artist with a generous heart and a positively sparkling personality (he’s a delight to talk to and oh, so funny), Mike managed to take some time out of his busy travels – calling in from Germany – to talk candidly about his career, his A List experience and lots more!  

Socialite Life: Hi Mike, this is the first time I’ve ever talked to someone in Germany…I’m excited!
Mike Ruiz: Well, I hope I represent the entire country effectively!

SL: Are you over there doing a photo shoot?
Mike: I’m in Frankfurt, and I had some clients to see in Paris and I’m seeing a bunch of art buyers and ad agencies and stuff.

SL: I got to get a “sneak peek” at the first episode of the show and I thought it was fantastic.
Mike: I’m glad to hear that! I was on the edge of my seat! (Laughs)

SL: I’m sure you knew it was going to be a hit already…
Mike: I always like to hear a positive response to it. It was a positive experience for me.

SL: How did you get involved with the show?
Mike: How did I? Good question…Jimmy Floyd, who was casting it, just approached me on good old Facebook and asked me if I’d be interested in participating in something like this – a docudrama. And he was quite insistent. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do a docudrama because some people were telling me it would be career suicide, some people were telling me it was going to be the best thing for my career, so I took a big old gamble and decided to go for it!

Check out more of our interview with Mike after the jump!

SL: You’ve had some experience in reality television, I was introduced to you on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Mike: Oh, yeah, I just did a few episodes of (Drag Race) season three recently.SL: Excellent! I loved your photo shoots on the show and was wondering if you had any plans to put out a book of your work.Mike: I’m working on it. You know, I’ve been doing a series of celebrity transformations, from which I’ve had my first solo gallery show in New York City and that kind of inspired me to want to compile a book of these transformations. It’s definitely something that’s in the planning stages, so I’m hoping by mid-2011, I’ll have something out.SL: We get to see one of your celebrity transformations (former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland) on the show, and there are tons of great ones on your website, but what do you think is the most dramatic transformation you’ve done?Mike: The most dramatic one – that I think is the most jarring to people – is the one I did with Kim Kardashian. I shot her for the cover of YRB and they see her name plastered all over and they’re looking at the picture and they can’t understand why Kim Kardashian’s name is on someone else’s cover (laughs). That’s been the one that the most people were like, “WHAT?” That’s been the most jarring for the general public and it got a crazy amount of press – as soon as I released those pics, they went viral. So, that was the most impactful transformation that I’ve done thus far. SL: Who’s been your favorite celebrity to photograph?Mike: Well, you know, I love them all, what can I say? I love Kathy Griffin, because I did a transformation of her and she actually included it on one of the episodes of My Life on the D-List and she’s a great supporter of mine and she’s always talking me up – I love her for that. And she’s just very generous of spirit and she’s very giving. And, from that, we’ve bonded on a level other than professionally. She’s just a really awesome person. She’s the first person that comes to mind when I’m asked who my favorite person has been to work with Kathy and, of course, I love RuPaul just for what he has done for the LGBTQ community and beyond – and pop culture in general. I’ve been inspired by RuPaul for two decades now. He’s just somebody that I love working with – we gel creatively and on so many other levels as well.  SL: Well, I saw that you directed RuPaul’s movie Starrbooty. Do you have any plans to direct films again?Mike: It’s funny you should ask…I don’t have aspirations of becoming Steven Soderbergh. I was presented with the opportunity to do Starrbooty and it was a total labor of love and a totally self-indulgent, creative project that RuPaul and I wanted to do just to get a couple of chuckles – we never thought it would see the light of day. So, as a result of that, I actually just emailed Ru after the wrap of Drag Race season three – I wanted to let him decompress a little bit – and I had been talking to him about doing a sequel to Starrbooty. I’m hoping that it will happen, RuPaul seems amenable to it, so I have my fingers crossed! In the interim, I direct two or three music videos a month. I love directing – as far as feature-length film goes, I’m open to anything. You know, if you asked me five years ago if I’d be a cast member on a TV show, I would have said “WHAT?” so, who knows? SL: How do you feel having your life played out on TV? Mike: Well, you know, because most of everything I do is work-related – both socially and (obviously) professionally – everything I do is already pretty visible. The way I conduct myself personally and professionally is pretty much the same and I’m pretty cognizant – especially when the cameras are rolling – of how to conduct myself. Honestly, I haven’t been embarrassed by anything I’ve done. There wasn’t anything caught on camera that I was like “Oh, s**t, I wish I hadn’t done that!” It’s the result of years of having to conduct myself in a certain way to get to where I am professionally. You know, it wasn’t a problem, I’ve had cameras on me, I’ve done a bunch of reality TV already and I’m pretty familiar with the process. To have cameras follow me around was kind of a non-issue, I was pretty oblivious to the cameras because that’s how I conducted myself anyway.  SL: You’re involved with a lot of charitable organizations. Can you tell me a little more about that?Mike: I am forever trying to raise Trevor Project’s visibility. Why they resonate with me so deeply is that when I was a kid, I was alienated and isolated and I didn’t have anybody to talk to about my sexual identity and coming out and it was excruciating. And there were times where like every teen who’s oppressed that way – especially growing up in a blue collar environment in Canada – I thought there must be an easier way than this and you know, and that’s really unfortunate for anyone to have thoughts like that. And what Trevor Project is, it’s first and foremost a teen suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youths. I went to a fundraiser of theirs and some of the youths were speaking and I just lost my s**t just because I was hearing myself talk at the age of 15, and it was really heartbreaking and moving and I thought I really need to contribute to this cause and every opportunity I have, I talk about them. And, of course, I just allied with GMHC. I’m on their honorary committee, I’m going to be participating in their Fashion Forward event in November and I’m really excited about that. It comes from having lost so many people to HIV and AIDS and it’s a big part of what’s molded me as a person is being subject to that kind of loss on a pretty regular basis because I’m 45 years old, so I went through the thick of it. I’m very passionate about that as well. SL: Going back to your photography, who (if anyone) has influenced your particular style – or are they any photographers you admire?Mike: I would have to say that the biggest aesthetic influences on what I do would have to be Pierre and Gilles. They were pretty prolific in the 80s and early 90s and they were kind of ubiquitous back then – everywhere you turned, you would see images of theirs. I just thought there was such a hopefulness to their imagery and a beauty to it – and it offered me a visual escape and I’ve kind of adopted that into my own work. I kind of like to define my work as somewhat hopeful and a place where people can go visually to kind of escape the hardships of daily life and they’re just colorful and perfect and that’s how I want life to be (laughs) – beautifully retouched and perfect!SL: You’ve worn so many hats throughout your career. Is there something you’d like to accomplish that you haven’t yet? Mike: No. I’m sure things will come along that I do that I will be thrilled about, but honestly, I didn’t graduate from college, I never studied photography, I never went to film school, so I’ve exceeded every low expectation I’ve ever had for myself (laughs). So, I’m pretty content with having accomplished the stuff that I have – both professionally and personally. From here on out, everything is just super icing on the cake. And, you know, I take steps towards different things, like I have a couple of TV things of my own in the works, that I’m hoping will manifest…and I would love to do a Starrbooty sequel, but I don’t even know what is going to be available to me in two or three years and it’s hard for me to speculate. I don’t like to have rigid plans because then a lot of opportunities come and go without me noticing.     SL: Well, after this show, you might have to add “sex symbol” to your list of accomplishments!Mike: (Laughs) Well, I certainly won’t deter from anyone using that expression in conjunction with my name, but I don’t think that I could, in good conscience, call myself that!SL: The show also makes New York City look like quite a desirable place to visit.Mike: You know, I travel constantly – and I love traveling – but ever since I was a little kid, there was something about New York City that drew me and to this day, whenever I land back in New York City and I see that skyline, I think to myself, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I live in New York City.” It’s just an awe-inspiring place to live with the energy and what’s available to you, it’s a pretty incredible place and I feel really fortunate that I live there and that I’ve created the life I have for myself there. SL: Is there any place in New York you’d recommend as a “can’t miss” site for visitors?Mike: Honestly, it’s not super exclusive or decadent – as a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite – it’s a very welcoming place. It’s the place I eat three to four nights a week, it’s called The Dish and it’s in Chelsea on 8th Avenue and 20th Street. It’s my favorite place to go – it’s like the gay Cheers. It’s very welcoming and the food is awesome – it’s good old home cooking and for a first time traveler it’s a warm welcome to Manhattan.SL: Since you’re a world traveler, what one place do you think everyone should put on their “bucket list” to visit?Mike: India. In fact, I’m going back there in December. I was there last October. Everything they say about how India changes a person is true, because the collective energy that Hindu culture creates is such a beautiful thing. After you’ve spent five minutes there, it just washes over you – if you’re open to it, of course. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place visually, but the collective energy there is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I absolutely recommend it – and I recommend that people only go there if they’re open to the positive experience of it and aren’t predisposed to think, “Oh, I’ve heard it’s dirty and it’s smelly and poor.” If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re going to find it. You can find that on the next block from where I love in New York City if you’re looking for it. India, across the board, is spectacular. There are things about it I can’t even articulate that are so visceral. It’s an incredible place to visit. SL: If there’s a season two of The A List, do you think you’ll be on it? Mike: Yeah, that’s what my contract says! (Laughs) Of course, because it was new to me and because I’m in a field where I direct, it was difficult for me to let go of the reins on this and initially, it was really kind of taxing on me. But then, I started going with it – and I trust everyone at True (Entertainment) and Logo implicitly – and it ended up being one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had. I would definitively participate in a second season…providing there is one (laughs)!   Want more from Mike? Check him out on the premiere of The A List this Monday night at 10pm EST on Logo TV!