It’s been nearly 10 years since Tina Fey dropped Mean Girls on the masses, its characters more or less instantly entering our pop culture psyche thanks to their angst and relatability. Daniel Franzese portrayal of Damian—Janis’ gay best friend—often tops that list, with the then-closeted actor putting on an inspiring out-and-proud act.
Franzese has since come out, releasing yesterday an open coming-out letter to his beloved Mean Girls character that is as thoughtful as it is touching. During filming, Franzese says he was terrified of playing Damien on screen, crediting Tina Fey’s writing of the character with making him “a character we laughed with instead of at.”
Some highlights below:
I was twenty-six; you were sixteen. You were proud of who you were; I was an insecure actor. You became an iconic character that people looked up to; I wished I’d had you as a role model when I was younger. I might've been easier to be gay growing up.
When I was cast in the role of “Damian” in ‘Mean Girls,’ I was TERRIFIED to play this part. But this was a natural and true representation of a gay teenager - a character we laughed with instead of at. (You can thank Tina Fey and Mark Waters for that. I can only take partial credit.)
When I first became an actor, I wanted to play lots of roles - Guidos, gangsters and goombahs were my specialty. So, would I be able to play all of those parts after portraying a sensitive, moisturizing, Ashton Kutcher-loving, pink-shirt-wearing kid? I was optimistic. Hollywood? Not so much. I was meeting a "gay glass ceiling" in casting.
It wasn’t until years later that grown men started to coming up to me on the street - some of them in tears - and thanking me for being a role model to them. Telling me I gave them comfort not only being young and gay but also being a big dude. It was then that I realized how much of an impact YOU had made on them.
I had the perfect opportunity in 2004 to let people know the REAL Daniel Franzese. Now in 2014 - ten years later - looking back, it took YOU to teach me how to be proud of myself again.
He goes on to write about casting discrimination, wherein directors would not consider him for “man’s man” parts or “masculine” characters. Subsequently, he says he turned down a number of parts as a gay character because he couldn’t “go from playing an inspirational, progressive gay youth to the embarrassing, clichéd butt-of-a-joke.”
With that, he concludes the letter with thanking Fey and his character, and asks that we don’t call him “too gay to function” because “it really is only okay when Janis says it.”