Tony Ward

Interview by
Jeremy Scott
Photography by
Robin Black


Tony Ward is a lot of things: a world-famous model, an Adonis, a painter, a photographer. He likes to be photographed — preferably nude. He starred in Hustler White. He is a Gemini. A California dude. He is straight and a gay dream. He dated Madonna. He was in Sex (her book). He is sex. He is a husband and a father of three, and he loves his mom. The L.A.-based fashion designer Jeremy Scott sat down with him to delve into all these things and to try to fit together the puzzle that is Tony Ward.

Jeremy: How did you get into modeling?
Tony: I remember when I was a kid, I watched An Officer and a Gentleman. When I saw Richard Gere doing push-ups, I was like — ‘I can do that! That’s me! That’s what I wanna do!’ So when I was 18 I moved to L.A. I had a manager at the time, Bob Stickle. He was creating me, in a way, developing who I was. He put me in acting classes, dance classes: jazz, tap, ballet. He was very serious. He had managed Shields and Yarnell in the ’70s, and when he first saw me he was like, ‘I’m gonna make you a star, you’re gonna be huge!’
Yeah. Given his background, he was probably more interested in me becoming an actor, and I studied a bit of acting. But I fucking hated acting classes. I mean, for the people there it was almost like psychotherapy! And I realized that I wasn’t an actor dude. I just didn’t fit in. So, when modeling came along, and Bob got my face in front of Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts right off the bat, I thought, ‘Okay, do I wanna travel around the world and see things and make a lot of money? Hell yeah!’ But, you know, even though I’m not a studied actor, I still love acting. I love the feel of it. If you have a passion for what you do, and it brings you some kind of self-esteem, and joy, and all that, I think that’s enough. It’s the same for me with painting now. I think being technical would be awesome, but I don’t know if I could have the patience anymore to learn it. I might try it at some point, because I do feel the challenge — I do face things at times when I’m painting, like, ‘Fuck! I wish I knew what I was doing here!’ But, you know, I like to work through it. I like the on-the-job training.
It makes sense that you would continue in art when you’ve been around all these artists since you were 18 years old. Especially after being exposed to people like Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber, and the myriad of other people you worked with after that. At that point, going to school or not going to school doesn’t really matter anymore — you’re already working with some of the most creative visionaries.
I know, right? I feel so grateful for having been around some pretty genius people for so long. I could also still be sitting at K-Mart in San José in a kind of a drone mentality, which I did when I was a teenager.

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The third hand in this picture belongs to Tony's painting partner Danny Rivas

How about Bruce LaBruce, with whom you shot Hustler White? Was he also a creative force in your life?
Totally! What I loved most about Bruce and Ricky Castro, the co-director, was this really turbulent collaboration…it was awesome! But I appreciate it even more now, years later: Hustler White was so apropos. It was so about me. I also kind of started as a hustler. I mean…I was hustling for older guys, photographers, who would shoot me in clothes. Then they’d pay me 70 bucks and I’d let them shoot me naked, and sometimes even suck my dick… that’s how I put together my first portfolios! And then, years later, I played this hustler, and I realized — I hadn’t even really thought about that for so many years — ‘Wow, I’ve always been kind of a hustler in some way.’
How did the connection with Bruce happen?
I had been friends with Ricky since I moved to L.A., and he introduced me to Bruce LaBruce in the mid-’90s. The cool thing about the movie was that it was only half-scripted. Half the time they were just like ‘whatever’. Ricky’s and Bruce’s mantra was always like, ‘Bad acting is the best acting’.
At the time it was being made, did you have any idea what kind of iconic images you were creating with that movie?
Not really. To me it was more like a celebration of the boys out there plying their trade. You know, I got to hang out with them, and it was cool to see what the hell they’re up to out there and, you know, what they go through. Some of the stories were based on real stories.
So you had no idea that between doing Hustler White and dating Madonna, you would become a gay icon?
Oh…I don’t know about that, dude. I think I’m a little bit more humble about it, or maybe just shy or something. But I understand — I know what you mean. The moment I stepped into this town, I knew what I was and what I wanted. I had a fucking enormous muscled ass — and it was on the cover of fucking [’80s porn magazine] In Touch. And I was photographed for Rock Shot cards, which were kind of like Hallmark cards, but always nude and gay-themed. And later the images Bruce Weber took of me also became postcards. I’d always created this fucking crazy body because I wanted to be adored. I have a big ego and when I look back at my career as a model, especially, there is a legacy there that I appreciate.
So where were the pictures for this story taken?
They were taken at my buddy Danny Rivas’ place in Valley Village. That’s where he and I always go and paint and plan how we’re going to take over the world and force our art down people’s throats, whether they like it or not! We’re just gonna put it in everybody’s face…But the shoot was fun, because I was trying the whole time to get Danny naked!
Once a hustler, always a hustler!
Danny is a very shy guy and he doesn’t wanna pull his wiener out for anybody, and I’ll pull it out at the fucking drop of a hat! I always think that we should be all running around naked, because we’ve got so many fucking barriers on us.

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Mr. Ward and little Tony

You’re gonna put me out of business. [laughs] How much would you say you are in touch with your feminine side?
I’m fucking chill with it. I don’t know, like, to me the hermaphrodite is the perfect being. I remember thinking that even when I was a kid.
Oh wow, really? What did your parents do?
My mom was a hard-working woman. And my dad was a truck dealer and drug addict. He was an alright guy though. They were good people, but they only stayed together until I was seven. My mom was very…I wouldn’t say feminist, but she was a very strong woman. She was one of the first line women for a phone company. She climbed the poles and hung telephone lines. So, she was tough — she had muscles. She was butch.
If your mom was kind of butch, did it give you a new perspective on women?
Definitely. I was only impressed by or attracted to strong women. When I was a kid, my ideal woman was bodybuilder and Mapplethorpe muse Lisa Lyon. I didn’t like any girls in my school — except for a couple of the gymnasts. The regular girls just looked like little chubby soft things to me… What can you do?
Were you following the ideal that your mother set for you?
Yeah, they always had to have big calves. [laughs]
That’s very romantic. Shows how much you love your mom…
I love my Mom! She is my idol, my little goddess. She was so good to me. She never had any judgment on people. She always said: ‘Don’t hate anybody, ever, for anything — there’s no need for it, and you’re gonna grow up and be a good person because of it’.
So she is very liberal and open-minded?
Yeah, very. She grew up Catholic but she never forced religion on me or on my brothers. She always said: ‘Make up your mind and choose what you think about life and what you wanna do with it.’
So when you were, like, ‘Hi Mom, I’m dating Madonna’, she wasn’t, like, ‘That slut!’
No, dude, she was like, ‘Who? Whatever!’ But it’s interesting, because that’s another strong woman. I’ve had a lot of good people in my life who have taught me how to live my life and things. And I’m forever grateful. I owe so much that I can never pay back. And when I had kids I realized that I have a great debt to the people that have affected my life so much. You know, being important or being famous or making a fuck-load of money is not important to me. But, when you see that you actually impact people’s lives in a positive way, that means so much more than anything else.
And what does your woman think of your artistic life?
She couldn’t care less! At first, I was, like, ‘You really don’t give a shit about what I can do!’ She’s so, like, unaffected by it. She didn’t know at all who I was. She’s Japanese and I took her to the premiere of Hustler White in Japan. It was crazy. There were so many young girls asking me for my autograph — they lined up around the block, down the street — it was really funny. When she saw that she was like, ‘Oh my god! Really?’
What’s her name?
Shinobu. She’s awesome. She really gives me room to be the artist that I am. She’s always like, ‘You’re fucking nuts, go for it.’ You know, she’s really been so supportive. She’s not like a cheerleader and clapping like ‘Yeah, you’re great!’ But she lets me have the freedom to just go and do my thing. So I’m really blessed.
How many kids do you have?
I have three — two girls, Lilli and Ruby Love, and one boy, Torah.
How old are they?
Torah’s ten, he’ll be eleven soon. And my daughters are eight and five years old.
And how much of yourself do you see in your kids now?
Man, they’re way fucking smarter than me, and I love it. Even my five-year-old is smarter than me! I’m not even joking. They all speak two languages, Japanese and English, and they’ve got way more capacity than I’ve got in my brain. So that’s good because someday they’re gonna have to take care of me. (laughs)

Originally published in BUTT 27