'Mean Girls' star Daniel Franzese on coming out and joining season two of HBO's 'Looking'
If you watched this week’s premiere of Looking, you may have noticed that Eddie, the HIV-positive bear who hangs out with Agustín (Frankie J. Alavarez), looked a little familiar. Well that’s because he’s played by Daniel Franzese, the actor previously best known for Linday Lohan and Lizzy Caplan’s gay pal Damian in 2004’s Mean Girls. Franzese, who officially came out this year in a letter to his Girls character, talked to EW about nabbing this new role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this role on Looking come about? Did you audition?
DANIEL FRANZESE: My friend who’s a casting director in New York was like “Have you seen Looking yet? Have you watched it?’ I was like, “No. Not really.” She was like, “Why?” I was like, “They don’t really have guys like me on shows like that. Bigger dudes get left out of the gay lexicon.” She was like, “Well why don’t you be the big dude on it?” I was like, “Laurie, you’re a casting director. You know it doesn’t work that way or I’d be on everything I want to be on.”
I’m all about manifest destiny. I just looked it up online and saw that the casting director was Carmen Cuba. Carmen discovered me in a club in Florida for my first movie role in Larry Clark’s movie Bully. So I Facebooked Carmen and I was like, “Hey if you ever need a sexy bear on the show!” and I sent her some pictures. And she said, “You never know!” So then I just went on this year. I got a call from Carmen and she was like, “What’s your schedule like? Well they kinda want you to do something and you’re gonna die when you find out what it is.” Then, [Looking EP] Andrew Haigh contacted me and wanted to take me to breakfast and they pitched me this role. I was floored at the ideas they had for him with him being HIV positive and working with trans teens and being a love interest. Like I said, I’ve never seen a big guy love interest on a gay show. So it was like Wow of course. They brought me on for part of the season and as our chemistry picked up I ended up doing a lot on the show and it was sort of an organic thing that happened.
Eddie is such a modern version of someone living with HIV. It feels very groundbreaking.
Absolutely. One of my best friends is HIV positive and when I was telling him about the role just the look on his face said it all. The fact that it was someone who is HIV positive wasn’t being shown as a victim or a sad element of the story. It’s just sort of a fact of life for these people who are living with HIV and trying to decrease the stigma of what it means to be a modern day person with HIV. I thought of how progressive that was. I had an issue for a while. I shied away from gay roles for a really long time since Mean Girls because I felt like Mean Girls was so progressive. Being like a larger gay dude who was part of a clique and not necessarily being played for the joke, you know? Everything else since then that I was offered that was gay was a cliché or a stereotype and I didn’t want to go backwards. To have somebody else come up with this idea and come to me with it, seems very much like kismet and I couldn’t say no.
How was it working with Frankie J. Alvarez?
Frankie and I are the same type of actor. We’re very serious about the craft of acting. I think everyone from this show primarily comes from a theater background. Approaching our scenes, we allowed ourselves to be intimate without any of the stuff in the back of your head that might affect someone else. I mean Frankie is straight and married. But we owed it to Agustín and to Eddie to just really be raw with it and be comfortable in that aspect. I’m so grateful to have a scene partner like him. We just worked really hard to shine a light on each other. I think that’s what you need to do to make a story like that successful.
Well and Augustine had such a dark storyline last year. It feels like Eddie is bringing out the good side of Augustine. It’s his rebirth a little bit.
We like to joke that I’m the Steve to his Miranda. [Laughs] That’s a running joke with all of us. I think Frankie was a little take aback by that. If you’re doing your job right, you’re not necessarily thinking about the audience, you’re thinking about the moment. I think he was taken aback that people didn’t get that. I think more so it’s the people who probably saw themselves in a character like Agustín more than not liking Agustín.
What can you say about where this will go with Eddie and Agustín?
I can say this: It’s a difficult love story more than it is traditional. They both come with a lot of baggage and they need to work out if they have matching luggage.
That cast and crew are a pretty tight-knit group. Was it intimidating coming in as the new guy?
I think it was more intimidating for me because of past experiences. What people may not realize is being a one-off guest star on a series is very weird. You come into this world where everyone loves each other and works together everyday. You’re there for like a day and everyone knows it’s fleeting and you’re only there for a week. It’s hard to get in on the private jokes. But something like this was different. They really accepted me whole-heartedly from the beginning and were excited I was there. Everyone wanted more comedic energy and felt the need for body diversity. It was such a warm welcome.
You did a Sam Smith parody this fall that went viral. Where did that come from?
Well Adrian Anchando, who in the first episode is the kind of Richie lookalike, he’s made several parodies in the past and I’ve done a lot of YouTube and we sort of commiserated on that. He was like, “I have this idea of this parody I wrote. Would you want to do it?” We shot it during Looking like in the second we had free. We just fit them in where we could. I’m a work-a-holic. I just enjoy what I’m doing so much.
Do you still get recognized from Mean Girls? Does the beard disguise you?
The beard is a non-issue. I get recognized everywhere I go everyday of my life. Everyday, multiple times a day. I had this conversation once with Gabby Sidibe. We were talking about if they ever had like some sort of game show where they just showed our silhouette, you could kind of guess who we are. We stand out in a crowd. People recognize me everywhere I go. Right after Mean Girls it kinda freaked me out at first. Since 2004, I don’t leave the house without getting recognized.
Do people recite lines like, “You go Glenn Coco”?
Yeah. I get a lot of lines thrown at me. I get a lot of people wanting to take selfies or give me a hug, which I find weird. Or cry which I find weirder. Mean Girls is a comedy but I guess for a lot of people it struck one of two chords: it either is a throwback to their childhood or I get a lot of people who are like, “Thank you for making it cool to be chubby and gay before I went into high school.” I had one guy say, “I really had a hard time in eighth grade then Mean Girls came out and I went to high school and all the popular girls wanted to be my friend. They were like, ‘You’re like Damian. You’re with us.’” That comment alone was one of the huge motivators for me to come out earlier this year. I did it in a letter to Damian and talked about the gay glass ceiling in Hollywood and that’s what propelled me to stay in the closet, plus my reps at the time. Everyone encouraged me to “Well you don’t have to say it” kind of thing. But hearing those comments from people when the 10th anniversary come around last year and a lot more people started speaking to me on the street and having the bigger conversation about it, that’s when I realized the impact Damian had on people. That’s when I realized perhaps me being honest about my own self might help other people. The amounts of letters and stuff I’ve received from that have been overwhelming.
And now you’re on the best series about gay life and playing a comfortable, out gay man.
I’ve been on sets before where it was okay to be gay but never in a place where it was so cool to be gay. Accepted isn’t even a word that fits it. It was such a different experience. I didn’t have to hide anything about myself on my first big job since I came out. Going right into this show right out of that was just so life affirming.
Based on Instagram, it looks like you’ve seen Lindsay Lohan since Mean Girls, right?
Yeah we stay in contact.
Anyone else? Lizzy Caplan?
Yeah Lizzy and I stay in contact. I stay in contact with Lacey [Chabert]. I recently just did a screening in Austin with Jonathan Bennett and Daniel DeSanto. Amy Poehler I see often. The only people I haven’t seen much of are Tina [Fey] and Rachel [McAdams].