As far as famous TV personalities go, Nico Tortorella and Nicole Polizzi seem like they hail from very different worlds. Tortorella rose to fame as that hunk from Younger, which became their launch pad into public discussions about gender and sexuality by way of poetry. Polizzi’s famous for being well, “Snooki,” as “in the person whose name became synonymous with Jersey Shore.” What they do have in common? They both have a lot of tattoos, and now they’re hosting a reality show about them — oh, and they’ve been to the same spiritual healer in Long Island, but we’ll get to that later.
Tortorella and Polizzi are hosting MTV’s How Far Is Tattoo Far?, a U.S. remake of the British series Just Tattoo of Us, where two people volunteer to ink each other without being able to see what their partner is writing on them. On the show, which premiered Thursday night, the two hosts don’t see the tattoos until they’re finished, at which point they’re called in to react (and occasionally provide emotional support). In advance of the series premiere, Vulture sat down with Tortorella and Polizzi for a conversation about ink, spirituality, and the Biblical “shape-shifting” sex dream that led to one of Tortorella’s favorite tattoos.
How did you get involved in this show? Who was signed on first?
Nico Tortorella: I have been trying to find a home at MTV for a little bit now.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Just to meet me.
Tortorella: Well, I have been a Viacom little…
Tortorella: I don’t want to say whore, but I am going to say whore. I have been excited about MTV and they sent me the U.K. format. I was into it, I wanted to make some tweaks, and I was excited to figure out who we would cast as a co-host. We went through a list of girls…
Polizzi: How many?
Tortorella: Probably like ten.
Polizzi: I feel cheated.
Tortorella: When your name came up, it was a no-brainer for me. I feel like she has been part of my family for the past ten years.
Did you watch Jersey Shore?
Tortorella: I come from a big Italian family. I have a hundred cousins in Jersey. So we got together and it was like we have been doing this forever.
Polizzi: It is very easy to hang out with him.
Nicole, do you watch Younger?
Polizzi: No. [Both laugh.] But I don’t care because I love him.
Tortorella: She knew me more for my LGTBQ activism, actually. And my poetry.
Polizzi: He is an amazing performer. One day, when he is performing, I am going to chug a bottle of wine and just perform.
Tortorella: I have gone on the record saying I think Nicole is actually one of the greatest performance artists of our time.
Polizzi: When we are not shooting the show, we will go on tour.
What was it like when you first met each other?
Tortorella: I’m pretty sure the first thing you said to me when I walked into the room was “calm down.”
Polizzi: We only met like twice and we were friends already.
Tortorella: I had just come from a spiritual healer in Long Island. A woman named Pat Longo. She was telling me that Nicole had seen her months prior. If that is not a sign from the universe, then I don’t know what is.
Nico, you said you wanted to make a few tweaks from the British format. What did you change?
Tortorella: Their reality television is really loud. Ours is loud, but theirs is extra extra. There is one tattoo in particular that just said “slut” branded on this girl’s back.
Polizzi: Legit, like, branded.
Tortorella: My first thing from the get-go was I do not want to be degrading women, let alone anyone on the show. I want to have, like, one more point of class. I think we got half a point, I don’t know if we got the whole point. But this political and social landscape, I am just hypersensitive and I wanted to make sure that my messaging spoke on this show. It does to a certain extent. I have a way at the end of each episode to really try…
Polizzi: To make it positive. Listen, [the tattoo is] a penis. That is where beautiful babies are from.
Would you trust each other to tattoo each other? What would you write?Tortorella: We know it is happening at some point. Not this season, but maybe next season.
Polizzi: We would do something very sentimental.
Tortorella: We both are extremely empathic and spiritual. I feel like something along those lines.
Do you have any favorites of your own tattoos?
Polizzi: Yeah, I love my squirrel. And I love my galaxy. Those are my favorite.
Tortorella: I have most of my arm done. This David is really special to me.
Why the David?
Tortorella: It is quite an interesting story, actually. I went into a meditation one night and he came to me pretty strongly and … yeah. I am just going to leave it at that.
Polizzi: You had sex with him?
Tortorella: I did, actually.
Polizzi: You had sex with David?
Tortorella: How did you just come up with that?
Polizzi: I don’t know. I could tell it was David.
Tortorella: Honestly, we can read each other’s minds.
Was it as the marble statue? Or as the person?
Tortorella: It switched from, like, Biblical representation to statuesque. He was shape-shifting.
Why the squirrel?
Polizzi: I call my kids squirrels. So when I had Lorenzo, I got that right after I gave birth. My squirrels.
Do you have any tattoos you had second thoughts about?
Tortorella: Yeah, I got Chinese on my back when I was 15. I’m ready for that to go. I have some work on my leg that is not really clean. I want to get that covered up. But as I continue to fill up my body, they will keep changing and getting layered. All of this skin is going to die at the end of the day. Nobody leaves it out here alive.
Do you have any spur-of-the-moment tattoos that you really like?
Polizzi: Probably my galaxy. I was in Vegas with my girls for one of my birthdays. I was so drunk. Usually it hurts here, but I was just like, “Dig in more!” I loved it. I was so drunk.
Tortorella: Speaking of being so drunk …
Tortorella: Well, I like to say, there is a difference between Nicole and Snooki. And a couple days on the shoot, Snooki showed up.
Polizzi: Snooki showed up for work.
Tortorella: They are going to be some of the greatest episodes of the season.
Snooki: I am curious to see how they are going to cut it. Because at some points, I am just so gone.
Tortorella: I feel like I had been waiting my entire life for that moment. I don’t drink anymore. I have been sober for almost four years, so I was living vicariously.
Polizzi: You got drunk off my breath.
Tortorella: Just energetically wasted.
How you you all feel about group tattoos?
Tortorella: Beth [whom Tortorella married in March] and I have a handful of tattoos.
Polizzi: I like matching ones. Me and the Jersey Shore crew are eventually trying to get matching JS tattoos.
Tortorella: You all can think of something a little more creative than JS!
Polizzi: We don’t want anything too crazy. It’s like hidden for us, just so we know. I was thinking on my neck just like, JS.
Tortorella: Do you have tattoos?
I don’t have any tattoos.
Tortorella: You are a virgin!
Polizzi: Are you flirting?
Tortorella: Was that flirting? Maybe a little. I feel like if you reach a certain age and you don’t have tattoos, you shouldn’t get them.
Nico, do you think the Younger cast would do a group tattoo?
Tortorella: No. No one else really had tattoos besides me and Hilary [Duff]. Debi [Mazar] has tattoos.
Who would be hardest to convince to get one?
Tortorella: Sutton [Foster], I feel like. She has one little tattoo. Miriam [Shor] would never do it. Peter Hermann, come on! There is no way Mariska Hargitay is going to be like, “Yeah, you can get that tattoo.”
What were your first tattoos?
Polizzi: Mine was a tramp stamp. Angel wings on my back. It is a little faded, I’d like to fix it up. But I still like it. I was 18. My dad got it for me for my birthday.
Tortorella: It’s funny because my mom took me when I was 15 to get my tattoo.
What did it say?
Tortorella: It says, “health, wealth and happiness.” It’s supposed to. But the “wealth” actually means…
Polizzi: A lot of sex.
Tortorella: “My sexual experience and knowledge will be abundant and therefore I will be wealthy.” Actually, pretty nail on the head. Look at my life and my work outside of acting. It is all about sexual identity and gender and health. It goes hand in hand.
Is there anyone in your life you’d like to be able to tattoo without them seeing the result, like on the show?
Polizzi: I would want to do my mom. Something special.
Tortorella: Yeah, my mom. Or my dad, honestly. That would be nice. I don’t know. I have a few family members that are real assholes that I would love to just get in there, you know?
Polizzi: Do a crazy tattoo?
Tortorella: Liberal love on their back. Everything that you believe is wrong and harmful and killing people!
Polizzi: Next season.
Tortorella: But honestly, no, I am not vindictive like that at all. I would do something sweet to somebody.
Nicole, how is the experience different hosting a reality show rather than being on one?
Polizzi: This is what I wanted do. I am not into 24-hour filmmaking for two weeks straight. It is not conducive for my life. I am a mom, I can’t leave my kids like that anymore. I am just in a different place in my life. So I wanted to get on a show where I could host, not be the main character, but still have fun and enjoy myself on a reality setting.
Tortorella: I think more than a competition show, this is actually a talk show. With tattoos.
Polizzi: A therapy talk show, honestly.
Nico, compared to acting in Younger, do you see yourself doing more of this kind of work?
Tortorella: I have been doing so much work outside of doing make-believe on television that the more work I have been doing on myself, the more excited I am to play myself on television. I got asked that not that long ago. Like, “What is your dream role if you could play any role in the entire world?” My answer was, the most truest, authentic, unapologetic version of myself. I want my own talk show at some point. I want to continue to find my voice. While still acting.
Nicole, you mentioned Nico’s LGBTQ activism and poetry. How much have you discussed gender and sexuality with each other?
Tortorella: Oh yeah, we talk about it a lot. It has been really fascinating. I think it has only brought us closer.
Polizzi: I am still learning.
Tortorella: I am still learning too.
Polizzi: But it is nice to learn.
Tortorella: One of the first conversations we had, I was like, “Hey, could we just try and start to use they/them pronouns instead of he/him?”
Polizzi: I still don’t get it.
Tortorella: It’s not going very well. I get it. I understand that language is difficult to reappropriate.
Polizzi: Especially a stubborn Jersey girl.
Tortorella: And I know that the intention isn’t malicious.
Polizzi: I’ll get it eventually.
Tortorella: In the fields of social justice, we get really hung up on the language of these movements rather than the cause and effect. I don’t know, I keep that sense of wonderment throughout all of the conversations I have.
Have you gotten the chance to have many queer people on the show?
Polizzi: Yeah, that was the best part.
Tortorella: We had some drag queens, we had a couple nonbinary folks on the show. I would actually say the majority of people we had on the show were queer in one way or another. One of the first questions I asked was, “How many queer people are we going to have in the season?” When I saw the breakdown, I was so pleasantly surprised.
Were there any tattoos on this season that shocked you so much you didn’t know what to say?
Polizzi: I think we walked out on one.
Tortorella: The first one.
Polizzi: We were like, “What the hell is this?”
Tortorella: There was one couple and I am not going to say anything about what these tattoos were, but I came to work the next day with crystals and palo santo. I was, like, fucking chanting.
Polizzi: Sage-ing the room.
Tortorella: I was like, I can’t be part of something like this.
But you found a way through it?
Tortorella: We chanted our way through that. But that specific world is not something that I play with. Spirituality comes first always.