Ryan Philippe says he only now fully appreciates the magnitude of his breakout role as a gay teenager on former US daytime television soap One Life To Live.

The Hollywood star, who achieved heartthrob status in the the late ’90s with turns in classic teen films I Know What You Did Last Summer and Cruel Intentions, got his first big break playing gay high school student Billy Douglas between 1992 and 1993 on the now-defunct ABC show, which ran from 1968-2013.

The character’s storylines saw him come out as gay in the face of homophobia from his father, high school classmates, and members of the fictional Llanview community – making Billy the first openly gay teenage character to be represented on US daytime television.

Asked about the groundbreaking role during an interview with Too Fab, Philippe, 42, recalled: “There had never been a gay teenager represented on television up until that point: It’s before Will & Grave, it’s before Ellen came out… it’s before any of that stuff.

“I remember the fan mail that we would get, my mother and I would get, from gay teenagers or from parents of gay teenagers who found a way in to relate to or talk to their child through the show.”

Philippe, who’s currently promoting new horror flick Wish Upon, continued: “Entertainment media can do those things, it can make people think differently or see a different side of something and I do remember and appreciating that — even back then when I was only a teenager myself.

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“But in terms of like the larger view, I didn’t have a full understanding of how important it I’m proud to have done it, I’m proud that that’s something I can say was a part of my career.”

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