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— Self-worth

Dino Petrera

The actor who believes when somebody is willing to share themselves openly, it creates a space where you feel safe to reciprocate.

Actor Dino Petrera, sitting in front of a mirror putting on makeup

What do you consider meditative?

Taking time out of my day to sit at the mirror and put on all these fun products, starting with skincare, of course, in a way it’s applying the theory that I’m worth this time and I’m worth this energy and effort. Fundamentally it’s a demonstration of self-love and self-care. When you invest in yourself, it shows. It also ties into my history of coming to terms with my sexuality and gender identity.

I used to have a tendency to pick my face and for me, makeup started out as almost a secretive ritual. I used to always put this mask on and I couldn’t let anyone know that I was wearing makeup. How good I was at it, is anyone’s guess, but I was always thinking, let me hurry up and do this before anyone sees me in the bathroom. But as I got older and had more experiences that inevitably gave me opportunities to lean into who I was meant to be, I was able to make it more of a tool and a device for me to show who I was. Is that going to be brown or black mascara? Is that going to be a little color on my cheeks, or maybe it’s just a nude face? It helps me assert who I’m going to share with the world that day.

Dino Petrera's kitchen with a photo of Oprah and uncooked cookies on a sheet pan on his stove

How do you practice self-care?

My mom was a huge baker growing up. She’s the typical Italian mother baking Christmas cookies and there was always the smell of sugar and vanilla in the air. Having some more time, isolated home alone, forced me to get creative as far as, okay, what am I going to do besides stare at a screen all day? I found doing things to keep my hands dirty or away from a technological device was the best means of maintaining some sanity. That even translates into cooking. I have a guilty sweet tooth, so baking is definitely my first choice. But getting creative and making more intentional choices about what I’m going to nourish myself with feels like a demonstration of self-love and self-care.

The most valuable resource that we can give ourselves, as Oprah says, is time. And so to find an activity that takes time, whether preparing your food, putting on makeup, or preparing yourself for the day, that’s a physical way of investing in yourself, saying I am worth this time.

Actor Dino Petrera, holding his dog as he looks at him

Has anyone or anything had a significant impact on your life during the pandemic?

My puppy. He is a ball of energy and offered a lot of growth in me. When I first got him, it was very stressful to have to get up on someone else’s terms. But that put me into more of a regular pattern as far as waking up when he has to go to the bathroom and then using that time to start my day. I find it’s so enriching to take advantage of those moments that he and I have together. A lot of times, that looks like me having my coffee because, thanks to him, I need that. He’ll bring a toy while I’m slowly sipping it and I’ll throw the toy across the room and we’ll play fetch. Every now and then, whenever he brings it to me, I’ll make him pay the Piper and give me a little snuggle or some kisses or whatever I need to fully prepare myself for the day.

Actor Dino Petrera, sitting in front of a mirror opening makeup

How has your mental health been lately?

This time of year, I feel like everyone’s mental health is a little questionable. I realized I started slacking a little bit as far as making time for talk therapy and the usual things. I definitely built a better foundation on my own in quarantine, as far as knowing what strategies in a day work for me versus habits or pitfalls that I can tend to give into. But I feel there’s always a certain amount of anxiety this time of year with holidays and even subconscious trauma that we’re not necessarily aware of. But for some reason, internally, we start having a resurgence of feelings and sense memories that come up. I do think that I’ve gotten better at identifying that and then asking for help.

You speak openly about having a hearing impairment. Was it always something that you were comfortable talking about?

Working on Never Have I Ever really transformed my relationship with that identity. Because I, as an actor, always felt like it was something I needed to hide. The first day of shooting, I went into my usual routine where the camera was placed behind my shoulder. I thought this means I probably have to take my hearing aid out because it’s more visible. I wasn’t completely sure what the framing was, so I turned to the assistant director to get confirmation. When she heard that request, she disappeared to video village where the directors and producers were sitting and came back and said, “Nope, they would like for you to keep your hearing aids in.”

I was kind of confused. And then I realized I felt like the odd man out on this show up until that point because I was the white boy. Now, I was aware that I was also fitting my own minority and it felt great knowing I was still unique and special in my own way. That offered me a platform to then take responsibility for how representation does matter. And that was something that I’d never really reflected on. Growing up, seeing representation was a little limited, but also something I couldn’t fully appreciate when I was trying to hide who I was. Having to reprogram my perspective came with a certain degree of responsibility where I knew I needed to speak about this because who knows what it could offer somebody else. I’ve had some people reach out to me, thanking me for being open about it. And it’s been really empowering.

In an interview you did, you said, “My career literally involves pretending to be someone that I’m not.” Would you say any of your roles feel more true to who you are and what you advocate for?

Something that I’ve learned over the years is how easy it is for me to get lost in a character. My personality type is I tend to adapt to whatever I think the room requires me to be. And while that may be helpful as a performer, it inhibits me from having a true sense of self-awareness or identity.

Jonah in Never Have I Ever is definitely the closest to home that I’ve hit and I think it might be because he’s more of a minor role on the show. So there’s a lot more backstory that I get to be aware of that the audience doesn’t necessarily know. But it’s fun to get little nuggets of truth from the writers the more as it goes on. For me, it’s about a whole experience of every take and what that brings out in character and then inevitably what I’m bringing to the character.

Actor Dino Petrera, scooping chocolate chip cookies in his kitchen

What has the evolution of your career taught you about yourself?

It’s definitely taught me how valuable it is to know who I really am. Like I said, it’s so easy to get lost in every character that you play and to let that sort of define who I think I am because I’m so used to trying to walk into a room and sell myself as what I think someone needs me to be. The more I get to know what interests me and what fills my cup, that inherently transpires into healthier relationships with people because authenticity is necessary for vulnerability and honest connections with other people. If you’re going to try to edit yourself too much or overproduce, then you’re really getting in the way of having some pretty wild and genuine experiences.

How does intimacy and relationships impact your mental health?

I identify myself as a bit of an ambivert. I love human interaction. I definitely need to have some sort of conversation with someone at least once a day, which was something I learned specifically in quarantine. I had to make time to either have an extended phone call with a loved one or a friend. I also enjoy my downtime and that was something that my puppy made me very aware of because I realized how much I was able to reenergize when left to my own thoughts. That is a delicate balance because if you’re left alone too long, then things can spiral. I do feel like I’m someone who processes my thoughts better out loud, which is why I really respond to talk therapy.

“I do feel like I’m someone who processes my thoughts better out loud, which is why I really respond to talk therapy.”
I also know if someone’s going to be a close friend, depending on how quickly we can go below the surface and have a deep conversation and pleasantries get a little difficult for me. So having more meaningful conversations is a great way for me to get a clear idea of what’s going on in my head.

Is there anything that is an ongoing stressor or makes you anxious?

The first thing that comes to mind is the polarized political climate that we’re going through. I come from a pretty conservative background and I grew up as someone who felt almost unaware of that. I felt like my family had pretty liberal, accepting, and very loving attitudes. To see people suddenly show a different side of their personalities felt very isolating and it felt like it undermined a lot of my self-identity. So I take a little more responsibility for keeping myself informed about where I stand on things, which has offered some release in that stress.

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