“She doesn’t even go here!”
This was one of Daniel Franzese’s most famous lines from the 2004 teen-comedy Mean Girls, in which he played the role of Damian who was best friends with Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady, and Lizzy Caplan’s character, Janis. In a recent interview with People, Franzese opened up about playing Damian, who happened to be openly gay, and revealed how taking on the role helped him come out as gay publicly years later.
In the early 2000s, audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing LGBTQ characters on the big screen as they weren’t a popular or common fixture in the Hollywood industry as they have become today given mainstream media’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community over time.
This made playing Damian, who wasn’t afraid of being out, all the more special for Franzese and not only helped him while he was in the process of accepting his own sexuality but others as well. Although it took him 10 years after Mean Girls to publicly announce that he’s gay, Franzese still credits the movie for helping him to do so.
“I think part of the reason it took me so long to feel comfortable with who I was, was I didn’t have the same referential point. What Damian did for a lot of queer people and people of size — which I found out later on — it gave them an identity in pop culture where they weren’t made fun of. He’s never made fun of for being big or for being gay,” Franzese said.
Franzese recalled the time he received a letter in which a fan acknowledged him for having helped him change his “high school career” for his role as Damian.
“I got this letter, and the guy was like: ‘I’m a grown man now, but I was beat up for being a sissy, I was beat up for being chubby in 8th grade, then your movie came out. And in 9th grade, on the first day, the popular senior girls came up to me and said, ‘You’re like Damian. Come sit with us.’ He was like, ‘I know you drastically changed my high school career.”
It was receiving the fan’s letter that ultimately led to Franzese making the decision to come out publicly as he was “moved beyond words.”
“It just moved me beyond words. It was very complex human emotions to feel. And I know that I affected a lot of people’s lives in that movie. I think that that’s such an honor and something that I don’t take lightly.”
While he did take on another role in which he played a gay man who was HIV-positive on the former HBO series Looking, Franzese decided to venture out of his acting career and take up stand-up comedy, which was something he’s “always wanted” to do.
“Once I came out in 2014, I had the itch. I’ve always wanted to do standup my whole life. I attempted to do it early on in my career, but I felt inauthentic —always trying to change my voice so I wouldn’t sound gay or not say a gay thing. It was so stupid. Now that I feel so comfortable in who I am, I’m able to talk about anything I want freely.”
Franzese is currently in the middle of his comedy tour, “Yass! You’re Amazing!” and will be headlining the Burbank Comedy Festival in Burbank, California, this upcoming weekend.