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How Red, White and Royal Blue star Polo Morín bounced back from being outed

One of Mexico's most prominent out gay actors, Morín is gearing up for global stardom with a role in the big-screen adaptation of the LGBTQ novel Red, White & Royal Blue.

By Alastair James

Words: Cliff Joannou; Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian

It’s a splendid summer morning as we decamp to Surrey for Polo Morín’s debut Attitude cover shoot. The Mexican actor is currently in the UK shooting the film adaptation of the hit book Red, White & Royal Blue, so Attitude has whisked him away on one of his few days off to take full advantage of that rare thing: an unspoiled run of good weather in the UK.

The location is a friend of Attitude’s stunning garden and pool, and Morín is here with his partner, Bernardo. As we settle in, the couple soak up the view of the rolling green fields, a far cry from the film studio he’s been rehearsing at in central London.

Art is imitating life for Morín after being cast in the project based on Casey McQuiston’s best-selling novel. In it, Alex Claremont-Diaz, the half Latin/half white son of the first female President of the United States, falls for Henry, a British prince and third in line to the throne.

Their affair plays out in secret, with the book featuring several very sexual scenes — until the situation is leaked to the media and their relationship is exposed to the world.

Although Morín doesn’t play the lead role of Alex in the film, the character’s story resonates with his own experience when in 2014 a blackmailer extorted him for money before eventually releasing nudes taken during a webcam session.

Polo wears top by Bike at Beyond Retro, swimwear by Dsquared2 (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

Only the images of Morín were shared, so it wasn’t apparent that the then closeted actor was engaged in a sexual act with another man. “They couldn’t see who I was with,” says Morín. “I thought, ‘Yeah, well, I was masturbating. We guys masturbate. So sorry for that.’”

The exposure didn’t seem to harm his profile. That is until he was outed in December 2016 when his email was hacked and photographs with his then-boyfriend were posted on Morín’s Facebook profile.

“It was just a bunch of photos of us travelling. We were in Spain. They hacked my emails and got the photos, and then hacked my Facebook account and published them as if I was coming out. Which, honestly, I wasn’t ready for,” says Morín, 31, reflecting on the situation.

Polo wears Caio bodysuit by Rufskin, leather trousers by Moschino, and sunglasses by Tom Ford (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

“I was already talking about doing it with my bosses and my producers, because it was something that I did want to do for younger Polo, because I never had that example in my youth. I wanted to be that person for someone else. But I was not ready, because I was really scared that I would never work again in Mexico.”

His outing resulted in him losing more than 100,000 followers on social media.

As the initial shock of the leaked photos passed, Morín’s public profile eventually bounced back — his Instagram now boasts an impressive two million. Yet, despite these ‘scandals’, he has managed to navigate the line between being one of Mexico’s most popular actors who is out about their sexuality while also scoring a range of gay and straight roles.

As his career continues to flourish, Morín is acutely aware of the slow pace of change for LGBTQ+s in his native Mexico. Latin America’s religious society still has
a way to go before it becomes fully accepting.

Polo wears Caio bodysuit by Rufskin, leather trousers by Moschino, and sunglasses by Tom Ford (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

“You guys are way ahead of us in that sense. That’s what I was telling Tom [Daley] yesterday. Because he’s married and [has] got this beautiful kid, Robbie, and he was asking me if I want to be a dad. And I was like, ‘If I lived in London, I would love to do it.’

“But, honestly, I don’t want to do it in Mexico, because I don’t think it’s fair for a kid, because there is still a lot of homophobia over there and he would grow up in an environment of violence and bullying in school.

“I do want to be a dad, but not in Mexico yet,” Morín says as we sit by the water’s edge post-shoot for his interview, his piercing blue eyes catching the sunshine as he looks back on a life that started in a small town in central Mexico, and now sees him proudly representing as the kind of role model he never had as a young boy. 

Do you feel safe as an openly gay man in Mexico?

In Mexico City, I do, honestly. All over Mexico, I don’t know — maybe because I am famous there and everybody knows that I’m gay and I have been talking about it for a long time now. I think outside the city, in small towns, it’s got to be hard and pretty dangerous, especially for trans people.

What was your early life like?

I grew up in Celaya, which is a small town in Guanajuato, south-east of Mexico City. It’s a really, really, really small town. I grew up in an environment with a lot of homophobia. And even my dad, he was really homophobic, he would say mean stuff. And now he regrets it and he’s apologised a bazillion times.

What I’ve learned is that, at least in Mexico, people are not… I mean, they are homophobic, not because they are mean or evil or even because they know what they’re doing, it’s just they grew up with it and were educated that way.

What I am trying to do and what I think in Mexico we have to do is, instead of being angry about it, we have to educate people. Because most of the time, whenever I meet someone that has been homophobic or transphobic, and then you tell them how it is and what it is, they actually think it is something totally different.

I guess it’s bringing people in, isn’t it, rather than pushing them away.

Right. I feel like it’s the best weapon against it, education, and actually giving people a second chance. It’s Mexico and men have to be macho and they have to be really manly. And if you’re a guy, you cannot cry and you cannot be sensitive. That’s the way it used to be. I don’t think they even thought about it.

My mom and my dad are Catholic and they are really religious. So, before I came out publicly, I came out to my parents and it was hard for them. They didn’t have to, but they wanted to accept my life and the way I was. But it was against their beliefs and they had to evolve.

And they are still Catholics, they still go to church, they still go to Mass, they’re still a really happy couple. They were just uneducated.

Polo wears swimwear by Dsquared2 (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

Do you remember what it felt like the first time your dad apologised to you for the things he said?

Yeah, I do. I was 19. Honestly, right now I still feel like it was maybe partly my fault because I never told him. Even before I came out, I assumed that he was going to be really mean about it, so I never told him that I was gay. I just thought that they wouldn’t agree, and they would be angry about it, so I didn’t even give him a chance.

So honestly, whenever he apologises, he’s crying about it and he’s like, “I’m so sorry. I really hope I didn’t damage your feelings, your mind.” I just wish I had told them before.

When I came out to them, they didn’t say anything. I was crying and I was like, “Please say something.” Because, once again, this is Mexico and this is a small town and they’re super Catholic. They go to church every day. I thought maybe they wouldn’t speak to me anymore, and that I wouldn’t have parents anymore.

And so, I was like, “Just please say something.” And they were like, “Don’t make us say anything, because whatever we say is probably going to be wrong and it’s going to hurt you, so please give us at least a small amount of time so we can go and talk to a psychiatrist, talk to a therapist, and talk to a priest, so we can do the right thing, because we don’t want to hurt you.”

The only thing they said is, “We love you no matter what.” It was probably, like, a month [before we spoke again], which was a long time for me. But then they came to me and they were like, “OK, so now we want to talk about it and we want you to feel comfortable.”

They investigated it a lot, they did research and watched documentaries and went with their psychologist and talked about it, and they have been amazing ever since.

Polo wears crop top from Beyond Retro, and swimwear by Dsquared2 (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

When did you first realise you were different?

I always knew. I tried not to because I remember being really young and feeling attracted to other boys. You know how straight young boys are falsely disgusted by girls and they’re being annoying with all the girls, pushing the girls because they like them? That was me with a lot of guys.

And I knew it deep inside, it was like, ‘Oh, I have a crush on this guy, but I shouldn’t be feeling this. This is wrong.’ So I would fight it. But honestly, since I can remember, I always knew.

Who did you first come out to?

I don’t even know. Which I guess is a good thing because it was probably not traumatic. I guess it was my best friend. And she actually came to me and was like, “OK, Polo, we’ve got to talk. So I know you’re gay. I know you’re dating this other guy and just want you to know that you’re not on your own. Just please talk to me about it.”

And I was like 14 when that happened, which was a nice thing for her to do.

We spoke earlier about when you first read Red, White & Royal Blue, you related to the story, and the positive example of Mexican representation at a time when so much in the news and coming out of the Trump presidency was so anti-Mexico, and his constant barrage of “Keep Mexicans away, keep them out of the country.” How did that make you feel?

Discriminated [against], of course. I go to the US a lot. My ex-boyfriend used to live there, for starters. He was studying in Miami. And I was doing auditions and working in LA and New York.

I remember there was one experience when I was really young in San Diego. I was with my parents, and both of them are blonde and blue-eyed, as I am too, and my sisters.

We went to this restaurant and the owner came to our table and they were like, “Where are you guys from? Spain?” — because we were speaking Spanish. He was the nicest. And so my dad said, “No, we’re not from Spain, we’re Mexican.”

He literally walked away, and no waiters, no food, nobody went to our table anymore. I was probably eight and I was honestly traumatised by that, because I was like, “Why does this happen?”

My parents explained to us that there was this misperception of Mexicans in the US, they didn’t want them and this whole thing. I thought that incident was a one-off. But then Trump was elected and a lot of people started coming out as really racist. And because the president was racist, it was OK. He made it OK to be racist. It was very threatening.

Today, I appreciate the fact that the world is sort of shrinking, because of globalisation. At a certain point, if you wanted to be either famous or an actor, the US was the only option.

Nowadays, Spain is producing great movies and shows. The UK is doing it, France, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. There was a time when it was only Hollywood for an actor, but I feel like we are moving forward in terms of that.

Your role in Red, White & Royal Blue is an amalgamation of two characters.

Liam and Rafael, sort of. I play a journalist, who is a former partner of Alex.

Is it going to be as raunchy as the book?

I mean, it remains sexy, but it’s not as sexual, I don’t think.

Polo wears customised crop top from Rufskin (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

Alex’s character arc really resonates with your own personal story in a way, how you were in the public eye and outed by the media.

It does, it does. And on top of that, he goes through all the Mexican issue, too. He’s the son of the president of the US and still gets discriminated [against] all the time, which is literally my story, both being queer and Mexican.

Actually, I did want to audition for Alex, but he was supposed to have black hair and darker skin, so yeah, it wasn’t my profile, I guess.

How did you feel when your images were leaked?

My first reaction was freaking out and just being really scared. But now, when I look back, I’m positive that I was relieved. There was this huge pressure in my chest because I knew that it was going to happen sooner or later, and I was so scared.

And I thought, ‘Either this goes really badly or it goes really good. Or I don’t even care anymore. This is me, so I have nothing to hide anymore.’ Whether you like me or you hate me, this is me.

I don’t know if disappointed is the word, but every time a fan would come to me and be like, “I admire you so much and I love you so much,” deep inside I’d be like, ‘No, but you don’t, because you [don’t] know who I am. Because you know the fake version of Polo, right?’

I never dated girls publicly to fake it or anything, but I didn’t come out before, so I wouldn’t believe them. And then after this happened, I do believe them, so I do feel relieved.

What happened to the guy that hacked the emails? Were there repercussions for them?

Not at all. I think legally we’ve come so far, but this was, what was it, eight years ago? At the time in Mexico there was no legislation about it. I did go to the police and sue because I knew who it was and I knew what they did, but there was nothing I could do.

They were like, “Well, you should be more careful.” That’s what they said, literally. A couple years before that, I did webcam sex with a guy and they published it, and it was terrible. I was so, so depressed and there was nothing I could do. There was no law that covered that area.

That must have been awful.

It was really bad, honestly. And then it was the same thing: I was so scared, because I knew that it was going to come out sooner or later. At first, they blackmailed me, and I thought it didn’t exist. I thought it was just a fake. And when I didn’t pay, they showed it to me.

Polo wears Gucci at MatchesFashion (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

How much did you pay?

Not much, honestly. Well, back at the time it was a lot because I was still living at my parents and I was still a student. It was maybe not that much money, but it was significant for me. To the point where I couldn’t pay it anymore, so I had to go and ask my dad [for money].

My dad was like, “If you really want me to give you money for that, I will, but come on. It’s going to go on forever. They’re going to keep extorting you forever, so my advice would be just stop it and whatever happens, happens.” So I did and I honestly thought they were not going to publish it, but they did.

When I look back at it again, it’s the same kind of feeling, I was so scared of it for so long, but when it came out, I was relieved at the same time. It was like, ‘It’s out, so whatever happens is going to happen, but I don’t have to be scared of it any more.’

But there was nothing I could do. I did go to the cyber police and to the police and I tried to do something about it, but there was nothing to protect me. Today, there are laws that cover it, and I’m really happy for people that don’t have to worry about that. 

You have said that you believe you lost 100,000 followers over a couple of days after you came out officially.

I was a little hurt. But at the same time, I knew that it was going to happen, because it’s Latin America and we’re still really homophobic in many senses. And I still get it all the time. I get comments like, “Oh, Polo Morín, he would’ve been such a huge star if he hadn’t come out.”

I get it every other day. I lost tons of followers, but then I started gaining different kinds of people. I became really popular in Mexico because I did this show called My Heart Is Yours. So, I got a lot of fans that were really young girls that looked up to me and were in love with my character. Then, when I came out, I lost a huge amount of followers and fans.

And if they’re narrow-minded people, you don’t want them following you.


Polo wears tank top, stylist’s own (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Hair by Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Tom Ford Beauty; Fashion Assistant: Sacha Dance; location with thanks to Ian and Karen Meekins)

You’ve talked before about refusing to play characters for a while because of how gay characters are represented in Latin America. Has that perception of gay characters changed?

I don’t think it’s changed that much. I think [TV shows] do it in a very disrespectful kind of way. I was working constantly with [studio and channel] Televisa and I was the straight lead. And then all of a sudden I came out and they wanted me to be really feminine and be the gay comedy [character]. It was always the funny one you have to laugh at.

And then one time at a different network, they offered me a part and the producer literally said, “But I want you to do the kind of gay character that people would respect. There are not going to be any kisses, not feminine.” This is only seven years ago. That’s a crime now. That’s discrimination.

I came home and I cried. I felt really bad. And at the time I didn’t do anything about it because, as I’m telling you, we are so uneducated. I didn’t feel like I had the power to. And I wish I did.

And I wish I had not only the power but the knowledge of knowing that was wrong. I knew that I felt bad, but I didn’t know that it was wrong. I thought maybe I was just being too sensitive.

In the new Netflix series Donde Hubo Fuego (High Heat), you’re playing a straight role. There’s a lot of discussion about gay people playing gay roles. But for me, I think it’s always great to see an actor who is gay being given a straight role.

I’ve been so happy with Netflix because they have told me many times that they do not see me as the ‘gay actor’. They see me as an actor that happens to be gay, but they couldn’t care less. In Who Killed Sarah? my character was gay and it was awesome. But it was an amazing character, I loved it and it was really cool.

But then after that, they were like, “There’s this other character and it’s a firefighter and he’s a stripper and he’s straight. Would you do it?” And I was like, “Of course I would, I’m an actor.”

So hopefully that keeps happening because once again, I’m an actor and I should be able to play different roles. Being straight or gay or queer doesn’t define who you are. I mean, it is a part of who you are, like me being short or blond. It is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me.

The Attitude September/October issue is available to download and order in print now and will be on newsstands from Thursday 4 August.