Nico Tortorella is baring all in a new book about sexuality, past loves and substance abuse.
In Space Between, Tortorella, who identifies as a “queer, non-binary, bisexual” (and prefers the pronouns “they” and “them”), remembers an embarrassing moment when Ashton Kutcher allegedly yelled at them for getting high at a cast party. The encounter was a “wake-up call,” Tortorella tells PEOPLE.
“As a queer person, unfortunately the way that we usually find each other is in bars,” the Younger star says. “It really lends to the fostering of addiction and alcohol and drug issues. I obviously went down that path quite a few times in my life. Only when I was really able to let go of that crutch was I able to really find myself.”
Space Between details Tortorella’s many drug- and alcohol-fueled benders before they achieved sobriety. Tortorella was in the midst of one of these benders when Kutcher intervened.
Only 21, Tortorella was starring in The Beautiful Life, a 2009 TV series about models that was partially based on Kutcher’s life. The younger actor was at a cast party when they approached Kutcher to ask for career advice. (Just before, Tortorella said they had gone to the bathroom to do cocaine.)
“Don’t ever put anything up your nose,” Kutcher told Tortorella, according to the book.
“I’d literally just come out of the bathroom from doing a handful of key bumps,” Tortorella writes. “Ashton’s a smart dude, and he very quickly realized I was high. He got in my face and started yelling at me, telling me I was flushing my entire career down my nose in front of everyone, including Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.”
Though Tortorella was “embarrassed,” the star said they were so high that they stood up to Kutcher.
“In my mind I was hyper-calm and in control, telling him this wasn’t the place to have an argument like this,” writes Tortorella, “when in actuality my jaw was probably doing the Macarena as I was blaming everyone else.”
The next morning, Tortorella regretted the outburst and worried they would get fired. Tortorella sent Kutcher a long apology email. According to Space Between, Kutcher’s reply was short.
“Life is not a dress rehearsal, Nico.” Kutcher allegedly wrote back. “You either show up, or you’re out.”
Though Tortorella learned from that embarrassing interaction, they also wish Kutcher had responded differently.
“It absolutely was a f—ing wake up call. Do I think that he handled it in the best way possible? No, absolutely not,” Tortorella says. “Should I have been doing those things around my bosses at that moment? No, probably not. But if he or anyone in that moment actually cared about me, there would have been a way to sit down and have that conversation in a meaningful, helpful manner.”
Shortly after the party, the show was canceled. Tortorella, who never let drugs and alcohol interfere with work again, has only seen Kutcher once since.
“He doesn’t owe me anything at all, I’m not looking for anything from Ashton at this point in my life,” the star says. “But come on dude, he was probably my age now when that was happening. If something was going on between me and one of the kids I was working with now, I would handle it so differently. Ashton is an incredible business man and has built a f—ing empire. But, you know, could have used a little bit more help there, bud.”
A rep for Kutcher did not return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The book also explores Tortorella’s family history, relationship with spouse Bethany Meyers, and many metamorphoses as they explored their sexuality and gender. Tortorella hopes that by using their platform as an actor (they are currently filming a spin-off of The Walking Dead) and sharing their story, they can help readers “re-evaluate their own programming.”
“That line [in my book], ‘I wasn’t born in the wrong body, I was born into the wrong world,’ that’s really it for me,” Tortorella says. “Moving forward, I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s the wrong world right now. What can we do while we’re here to make it a little bit better?'”
Space Between is on sale now.