Interrupted by polite fans, we discuss his plans for the future. He’d “love to be Ed Sullivan” someday; he has a concept for an interactive kids’ show. But I realize I’m privately bridling at any suggestion of him moving behind the scenes, becoming a host like Ellen, like Rosie, instead of opening movies: I want him to be the Great Gay Hope—the one who shows that it can be done. “I appreciate that,” he tells me. “But it feels weird to own that.” He doesn’t want to be the “litmus test,” he tells me, “because I’m suddenly ‘that guy.’ ”
Maybe this is its own kind of Houdini act, as difficult as coming out of the closet or even escaping teen stardom. Lower yourself into the role-model box and you might never break those chains.
I offer him a deck of cards and ask him to demonstrate a trick: to show me how to “force” a card on the audience. He does so, patiently, with a polite “Well played!” But he also lets me know there are limits to his tolerance. “It goes against my nature to be teaching journalists the secrets to card tricks. Soon I’ll be like the Masked Magician, a pariah. Some dumbass named Valentino who isn’t welcome in the magic world, so much.”
He has to fly back to L.A., but before he leaves, he describes the scavenger hunt his friends arranged for his birthday. Despite his fascination with games, he ended up 1,000 feet off course: “I had a compass, but it was supposed to be reversed.” Lately, he’s been poring over the journals of online scavenger hunt players, reverse-engineering their methods from the inside out.
That’s the thing about puzzles one hasn’t mastered yet, he tells me. “I like to know that there are solutions. I don’t have to solve it necessarily. But I like to know it can be done.”