Q&A Quickie: Model Citizen Ronnie Kroell, Actor and Antibullying Activist

By: Brandon Voss

Sexy Chicago native Ronnie Kroell earned a lot of attention in 2008 as runner-up and fan favorite on Bravo's Make Me a Supermodel — and perhaps even more for his very revealing 2010 Playgirl spread — but the out 29-year-old actor-activist's latest passion is as executive producer of Friend, an upcoming film about two high school seniors in Tennessee dealing with their sexuality, gender identity, and bullying. We caught up with Kroell to chat about the important project and his lighter role in the gay A Christmas Carol update Scrooge & Marley.

Gay.net: Tell me about how you teamed up with filmmaker Elliot London on Friend.
Ronnie Kroell: Elliot and I met via a mutual friend, John Nelson, who saw similarities in our passion for people, life, and filmmaking. I teamed up with Elliot because I believe in his vision for preventing bullying in our communities with Friend. His work speaks for itself — like his short film "The Wedding Dance" — because it's artistic, relevant, on point with the sociopolitical climate, and it pushes us to think with forward motion.

Is the film’s subject and message something that’s close to your heart?
Friend's message is closer to my heart than anything I have worked on in my career to date. I personally was bullied as a kid, beat up, and called a faggot many times. It was painful and caused scars that will never completely heal. I can't even begin to imagine what it might feel like for youth today with access to technology and the potential to fall victim to cyber-bullying. In an instant, millions of people around the world can witness someone's misfortune. Look at what happened to Tyler Clementi, whose tragic story, conveyed by NPR, inspired Elliot to take action by traveling across the U.S. to interview teens about their bullying experiences. 

Producing a film like Friend seems like a logical step for you after all your work in support of HIV/AIDS awareness and organizations like GLAAD, HRC, The Trevor Project. Do you feel a responsibility to use your celebrity to do good and help others?
Anyone in the public eye has a responsibility to the community. It's because of my family, friends, and fans that I continue to experience career success — I don't take that for granted. I can continue to follow my dreams while helping others achieve theirs too — it's about group success. I can't sleep at night knowing that there are kids in our schools that don't have a safe place to simply be themselves and follow their dreams. I won't rest until Friend has been produced and we're touring schools, meeting with students, speaking to school administrators, and seeing a noticeable decrease in bullying and teen suicide statistics. We can all do our part and make a difference, but first we must decide to take action. The incredible Alec Mapa was inspired to take action and has joined the production team, and we invite the community to be part of this exciting adventure as well. Together we will not only make an incredible film, but we will also create educational tools and resources for the community to actively prevent bullying. It does get better, but only if we do something to make it better.

What can you share about your portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past in the upcoming movie Scrooge & Marley?
Playing the Ghost of Christmas Past was an especially fun challenge. Under the direction of Richard Knight, Jr. and Peter Neville, I did my best to channel the whimsical nature of Paul Lynde with a whisper of Robert Pattinson's sexy serious energy in Twilight. I had so much fun working on Scrooge & Marley, which is a gay re-imagining of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol with the timeless theme of redemption. The cast, crew, and production team are first class — Judith Light, Bruce Vilanch, David Pevsner, David Moretti, and more. 

Last year you appeared in films like Eating Out: Drama Camp and Into the Lion’s Den, and you’ve got more films scheduled for next year. What are your goals in the film industry?
They're pretty simple: To tell amazing stories in front of and behind the camera; to never stop growing and improving as an artist; and to inspire others to never give up on their dreams. Friend has the majority of my attention at the moment, but I'm always reading scripts and considering new opportunities to grow as an actor. I'm pleased to have signed with Patrick Welborn at Allegory Talent this year and thankful for his expertise in chartering my ever-growing career.

Scrooge & Marley will play select theaters and be available on DVD this month. Visit Friend's campaign site and make a tax deductible donation here