We caught up with Daniel Franzese to ask him what he’s been up to since Mean Girls (spoiler alert: a lot), and see if he still wants his pink shirt back. Okay, that last part was a joke. Read on for our full interview with Daniel and follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @whatsupdanny.
What have you been up to since Mean Girls?
There’s a bunch of stuff. Mean Girls came out 15 years ago now, almost. I did a series of viral videos on Youtube called “Shit Italian Moms Say” that have over 20 million views altogether. I do a lot of standup where I talk about my mom and my life. I was the lead on HBO’s Looking, where I played an HIV positive character, which was pretty pivotal because it was the first HIV positive character in 6 years. Since there wasn’t a character on TV there was a rise in infections every year, so Hollywood realized that there needs to be more characters. With GLAAD and with MSNBC I sort of helped lead the charge in starting to get them to write new characters on TV that are HIV positive, which led to How To Get Away With Murder and a bunch of other characters. And then I was Vern on Recovery Road on Freeform and I was on Conviction on ABC.
Do you stay in contact with anyone from Mean Girls?
It’s hard because we all live in different places and our schedules are really different. It depends on the year. Over the years we’ve run into each other. Except for Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey, I’ve pretty much seen everybody a few times. I’m sort of like the ringleader of . I’ve hash tagged it #DamiansYearbook. Every time I grab one of them, I try to take a picture because I think it’s really fun.
You’ve said you get recognized everywhere you go. How do you deal with that?
At breakfast this morning my waitress pretty much freaked out. It’s okay, sometimes it can be a little invasive—especially if you’re sweating because it’s 100 degrees outside and someone wants to hug you or you have to go to the bathroom and someone tries to stop you when you’re about to go into the men’s room or when you have to catch a flight and someone’s trying to talk to you and you don’t want to be rude. Any time in your life you think it’s inconvenient to answer the phone, I’ve been recognized in that moment.
So it’s been rough, but for the most part this movie struck a cord with a lot of people and a lot of my work, whether it be Looking or my other projects, has meant a lot to other people for their own personal reasons and I would never want to take that away from somebody because I think art is what carries you through life. That’s why I love being an artist, and so when people appreciate what I’ve done, I’m able to see what art is for what it is and really appreciate the fact that I was able to help somebody through a certain time or attach themselves to a time in their life when they were happy or have good memories.
It does seem like you have become a role model. What is that like?
It wasn’t something that I set out to be. I wasn’t like “I’m going to change everyone’s life” or whatever, but I guess because I’m a different person—because I’m tall and big and queer and bearded—just different, whenever I’m seen onscreen I represent many different types of people.
Even Looking, where I play HIV positive even though I’m negative, there’s 1.2 million HIV positive people in the country that aren’t seeing themselves on television. So I end up representing a lot of groups of people who are underrepresented. In 2014, when the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls happened, I got a letter from a fan saying that when he was in 8th grade he was a chubby sissy boy and everyone made fun of him. And then the movie came out and when he was in 9th grade the popular senior girls were like, “You’re like Damian. come sit with us.” I totally changed what the typical experience was like because I was this character that was seen and not made fun of for being big or being queer. So it’s a position that I didn’t ask for but I don’t take lightly. Now I try to choose roles purposefully that mean something. I’ll never play sap for sap’s sake or queer for queer’s sake—it’s always more or pushes the envelope forward or the agenda for those experiences.
Do you have any roles coming up that you’re excited about?
I have a movie coming out called Hypnotized which is a really funny comedy where five people are hypnotized and the hypnotist can’t get them out of the trance and my character thinks he’s a pregnant woman.
What would be a dream collaboration for you?
I would love to do Broadway of course and work with so many talents friends and people I admire, but I have a dream to work with Laika Studios that made Paranorman and BoxTrolls! I have always loved stop motion and they are the sun and the moon when it comes to the art form.
You just got engaged—is the wedding coming up soon?
No actually, both Joey and I have a few ventures we’re starting this year. It’s kind of a big work year for us, and next summer my little sister is getting married so I didn’t want to step on her trains. She got engaged before us, so we’re like “We’ll let her have her wedding and then we’ll start planning ours as soon as her wedding is over.” We’ve been secretly planning little things here and there but we’re not getting married until winter 2019.
Spoiler alert: There will be coffee at the wedding. Because a lot of our relationship is surrounded by our love of coffee, whether it’s the fact that we met in Starbucks or the second time we met was an hour later when we both got up for refills. We’re very big coffee people.
Are you into those novelty Starbucks drinks like the unicorn frappuccino?
No, I mean, I’m into it existing because I love kitschy fun stuff like that, and I love secret menus and all that. I would try anything, but I’m pretty much a normal coffee milk and sugar guy.
Is there anything else you want our readers to know about?
Well I’m super excited about two things.
1. I’m now a co-owner and creative director of the Winston Box clothing company, which is the first ever subscription clothing box for big and tall guys that makes original clothing. Each garment has an affirmation packet with a special message to the person that wears it. So our T-shirt, if you turn the front up, it says “oh what a cute belly” and it says “nice butt” inside the jeans—little compliments that maybe some of our guys aren’t hearing from the fashion world.
Being somebody who’s a leader in body positivity and self-love, I think it’s really important because I’ve been filled with a lot of scar tissues because of my size and Hollywood. I’ve had bouts with eating disorders and a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing and body dysmorphia and everything you could ever imagine that a lot of females go through, but men don’t really talk about and I’m really about trying to push this message of loving yourself from the inside out, regardless of where you’re at in life. My message isn’t that big is beautiful, it’s that you are beautiful no matter what size you are.
I also just released a dating method in Paper magazine. It’s called the 5 Guy Guide and it only works for gay guys and straight girls because it’s like how to date men, and it’s kind of how I met my guy. You date five guys at once and one of them ends up being the one—if you follow this formula. It’s a really fun formula and I’m excited to share it with people because I think it really works. Aside from me, four of my other friends got engaged trying it.
For more information on the 5 Guy Guide, click here.