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Not Too Gay To Function

Daniel Franzese talks about the unwavering popularity of Mean Girls, the Looking movie, and his commitment to stopping HIV and AIDS

By Christopher Turner

It has been 12 years since actor Daniel Franzese starred as “too gay to function” Damian in the widely adored comedy Mean Girls, and yet not a day goes by that someone doesn’t remind him of it. But Franzese doesn’t seem to mind. As he was preparing to add a little live commentary to a free outdoor screening of Mean Girls presented by Pride Toronto, Harbourfront Centre and TIFF, he told IN that playing the role of the straight-talking, gay teen was an honour for him.

“It really never ceases to amaze me,” Franzese said. “If I walked over to the supermarket right now, someone would stop me to talk about Mean Girls … and I don’t mind it at all. It’s a wonderful gift to have been part of such a legendary film, and part of people’s nostalgia. This movie has that feeling for a lot of people and it’s an honour.”

There’s nostalgia. But what is it about Mean Girls that’s made it last?

Sure, the performances are fantastic, and Tina Fey’s witty script was one of the coolest of all time, but if you ask Franzese he would say it’s because of one thing: the Internet.

When Mean Girls was first released in the spring of 2004, it was your typical PG-13 high school set film. But the launch of social media outlets like Facebook (which also launched in 2004) launched a culture of obsessive sharing, and what was better than sharing one of the flick’s highly quotable lines and catchphrases? So fetch.

“It’s incredible and I can’t imagine that the popularity of Mean Girls is ever going to waver. It’s just one of those movies and I’m so grateful for it.”

Here’s looking at you

But Mean Girls isn’t the only project Franzese is attached to with a cult-like following. There’s also Looking.

The series premiered in January 2014 to critical acclaim but low ratings, and was cancelled after two seasons. Loyal fans were outraged, but HBO promised to provide them with closure with a feature-length presentation. Looking: The Movie is set to debut on July 23 on HBO Canada, and while he remained tight-lipped on the plot of the film, Franzese said fans won’t be left disappointed when it wraps up the stories of the trio of San Francisco-based gay pals (Jonathan Groff, Murray Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez), as well as familiar characters like Franzese’s HIV-positive bear, Eddie.

“There are definitely some bumps in the road with commitment but I think that Eddie and Agustin (played by Alvarez) are a strong couple,” Franzese said. “Nothing really wraps up in a neat bow in the world of Looking. … But I definitely think that people will be satisfied with how things finish up.”

What’s next for Franzese? Well, he has a couple of hush-hush projects in development for the fall, and he has been focusing a lot of his energy on giving back to the community. These days he’s an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, where he advocates for HIV prevention and awareness, and an ambassador for Lambda Legal, one of the most prominent non-profit organizations working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS.

“My involvement with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and Lambda Legal came out of my involvement with Looking and the LGBT community. It’s some work that I’m extremely proud of,” Franzese said.

The role of ambassador has seen Franzese attending congressional meetings in Washington, DC, to speak on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS, and meeting with AIDS activists and US Senator Bernie Sanders. He’s also worked with GLAAD in examining how media and television can raise awareness of the virus and its prevention (when the character of Eddie joined Looking, Franzese had the sad distinction of portraying the only HIV-positive character on scripted television).

“We think there’s a direct correlation between the lack of representation in Hollywood and a rise in new infections,” Franzese said. “We have started this new initiative over the past two years to get Hollywood to recommit to telling stories about people with HIV and AIDS. Because with 1.2 million people in the US who have HIV, there are only three stories on television right now about them.”

We’ll be watching, Daniel.

CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN Magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.

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