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Looking’s Dan Franzese On His HIV-Positive Bear Character, Being Completely Naked On Screen And Why He Came Out Publicly

1973958_10152046134103731_1319419999_oIt’s been a decade since actor Daniel Franzese made a huge splash as Damian, the straight-talking, possibly gay teen character in the widely-adored comedy Mean Girls. In the years since he appeared on numerous TV series including The Comeback and in smaller films, such as the horror remake I Spit On Your Grave, but avoided any repeats of Damian and especially refused any roles he deemed “gay stereotypes.” Last summer, as many media outlets acknowledged the impact Mean Girls had on a generation of fans, Franzese decided to come out publicly by writing an open letter to Damian, in which he acknowledged having played the Hollywood game, lying about his sexual orientation and wished he’d had someone like his character to inspire him to live more honestly.

Now the 36-year-old actor is back in the spotlight with a key role on HBO’s hit Looking. Franzese joins the half-hour dramedy about a trio of San Francisco-based gay pals (Jonathan Groff, Murray Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez), as Eddie, a groundbreaking new character who is just as straight-talking as Damian and just as adept at dropping memorable one-liners. Franzese chatted with Queerty about getting completely naked on the show, why he decided to come out publicly, the impact of his Mean Girls character Damian and shared an important message for narrow-minded casting directors.

Queerty: Had you watched the first season of Looking before you were cast as Eddie?

Daniel Franzese: I did. When it first began airing a friend asked if I’d seen it. I said I hadn’t because I had a reservation that there wouldn’t be guys who looked like me on it. There are never guys who look like me on gay programming. She said, “Why don’t you be that guy on the show?” I told my friend, who is a casting director, that she knows it doesn’t happen like that. If that’s the case I’d be on every show like American Horror Story. So I watched the show.When I finally started watching it I got a call to take a meeting about it. Looking’s casting director Carmen Cuba had cast me in my first project, Bully, and she spoke with the producers about me and then I met Andrew [Haigh, Looking’s showrunner]. It happened that fast. 

How accurately did you think the series depicts the lives of gay men?

We have such little programming that we can call 100 percent ours as the LGBTQ community, that Looking stands alone as the only show about gay characters. Everyone wants themselves to be represented in that. That’s the current voice so everyone wants to find himself in it. It’s possible you couldn’t find every one in the first season of Looking, but you were learning about these new people. I loved the story and the characters and their journey.

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Franzese, Frankie J. Alvarez

Your character Eddie is one of the first of his kind on TV. How would you describe him?

Without giving too much away I’m excited to be play a realistic gay character, who is HIV-positive and also happens to work in a homeless shelter for gay and trans kids. There are so many social issues and different perspectives to think about with that character alone. I’m also excited that I get to be funny on HBO.

Looking is filmed in San Francisco, which is practically a supporting character on the show. What’s been the response from locals while you’re filming there?

The wonderful thing about the San Francisco community is I felt like I belonged there even though I’d never been there before. I’d been in love with Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series and influenced by San Francisco culture throughout the years, then here I am going there and playing a person from there on a show that’s very important. I was welcomed with open arms.

Your character becomes involved with Agustin, who indulged in some really bad behavior last season. Will Eddie help him evolve s a person?

I think they’re very different people when they first meet and become friends. It’ll be interesting to see what they do for each other’s lives. I don’t want to give too much away.

unnamedYou have some hot sex scenes with Frankie. Is there any awkwardness in filming these with a straight actor?

As actors, we’re very giving toward each other and when it comes to intimacy we’re very connected and listen to each other. He’s a fantastic scene partner. We have a mutual respect for one another and want all of that stuff to look great to tell the story. We lose ourselves in the moment. I don’t necessarily know if that’s hot for me. I just think it’s us being respectful scene partners and making each other comfortable. Plus, he’s a darling of a person. 

Did you and the producers have discussions about how explicit the sex scenes would be? Would you film a full frontal nude scene if asked?

I’ll tell you what I told the producers. I gave them a no-limits policy. I was like, if I’m gonna be cute and I’m gonna be sexy, let’s do it. Whatever you need. I’m free and open to that stuff. With this show the sex scenes are important to tell the story. It’s one of the things that’s made the show so critically well-received and why they get the accolades, the sex is real and important and it still manages to be hot. Sometimes the sounds you hear in a sex scene are hotter than the way they do it. I was down to do that. If I’m going to be in something that’s intimate, I trust their vision. If anything comes up, I’m ready. I’m not afraid to get naked if I have to. You can hardly see it, but in the first episode I’m completely naked in the skinny-dipping scene.

unnamed-1You shot the skinny-dipping scene in Russian River, which is a haven for a certain type of gay man. What was that experience like?

Just to be standing in the river while it was moving in the moonlight was such an incredible experience, even if it was freezing.

What pressure do you feel to accurately represent the bear community?

I don’t feel any pressure. If anything I feel it’s a source of pride. I know the comfort that Damian gave kids in high school so this is an opportunity in an adult manner to continue doing the same thing. I was excited. I said, “I’m going full Lena Dunham! I’m on HBO and I’ll get naked.” I think it’s important to see different body types. One thing that’s so beautiful about the bear community is it’s all-encompassing. It’s bear-plus. Anyone who is nice and doesn’t have an attitude and wants to belong will be friends. So I’m super-proud to represent that. I’ve never seen that on any other gay show before. I was turned off from watching Looking in the first place because of pre-judgments due to being disappointed from previous gay programming. So kudos to them for willing to do that. That’s what’s so crazy. Both Michael [Lannan, Looking‘s other showrunner]and Andrew told me, “We love big dudes. Big dudes are hot!” They’re all scruffy. We have beard high-fives. [Laughs] I’m honored to be able to represent people like me.

I think Eddie will make a big impact on viewers.

I hope so. The reason I waited so long to play another high profile gay character is because I wanted it be so someone who’d make a difference. It didn’t feel right to go backwards.

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Raul Castillo, Franzese

Besides Eddie, which Looking character would you be most likely to date in real life?

I think everyone is nice and hot and awesome, but I think it would be Patrick because in the past I tend to end up with people who don’t know exactly what they want. I think that’s the flawed hero that Patrick is.

One of the show’s most compelling storylines is the Patrick-Richie-Kevin love triangle. Let’s play “Fuck, Kill, Marry” with the three of them.

[Laughs] I’d fuck Patrick, kill Kevin, marry Richie.

You first came to the attention of many of us a decade ago in Mean Girls, which was a seminal film for a generation. How often are you recognized as Damian?

All the time. People always want to take selfies. I’m an expert at taking selfies.

3843962_stdDamian is so often referred to as an openly gay character, but I never found that to be true. I’ve always thought he was in that ambiguous place of still figuring out his orientation.

That makes me want to hug you. When people refer to him as this out and proud character, I disagree. I think Damian was discovering himself. He wasn’t fully admitting it to himself at that time. He knew and maybe his friends knew. But he was completely in the caterpillar stage. To be honest that’s how Tina Fey [the film’s screenwriter, costar] and Mark Waters [the director] thought of him, as well. We had conversations about him being in the pre-exploratory phase. He was discovering himself before he brought his sexuality into it.

Whatever he was, he was very confident. Do you hear from gay kids about how Damian affected them?

The best thing I’ve ever heard was “Thank you for making it OK to be a chubby gay kid right when I went into high school.” He said that all the popular girls wanted to be his friend because he reminded them of Damian. That actually brought a tear to my eye because growing up as a chubby gay kid I wish I had something like that. That comment is what drove the need in my deciding to come out publicly. I knew that if it was reaching people on that level that I needed to be true to myself.

10419943_10152680703528731_2868389607595558427_nSo is that what inspired the open letter you wrote to Damian last year, in which you came out publicly?

That and some other equally heavy comments I was receiving. It was the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls and it received a lot of attention. I started getting a lot of letters from fans of the film and it was building on me. They’d say “I don’t know if you’re gay or not, but your character did this for me.” I thought it mattered a lot. I felt like one day people would understand why I was holding off on playing other gay characters that were stereotypical. I felt that if I played those characters I’d be discrediting the movement that’s happening right now. I turned down some and after I saw them I thought, Oh, I should have done that one. I was trying to be choosy to help further that idea.

You were already out privately though, right?

Yeah, I was in long-term relationships. I didn’t feel the need to go out to bars in West Hollywood or tell every single person that I’m gay. I had a boyfriend so I could remain private. Sometimes I lied to people or was told to lie. Casting directors would say they saw me in Mean Girls and would ask if I’m gay. My manager would have to say something. She’d ask what she should say. I agreed with her at the time to say I wasn’t so I’d at least have a shot of coming into an audition with an open mind.

How did that weigh on you? It must have affected you on a personal level.

Incredibly. It affected my personal relationship and my relationship with my family and it affected my work and my art. I was meeting too many roadblocks to really have a career for a while. I remember going in for a western show and they didn’t want to see me because they thought I’d read too light, which is their way of saying I was too gay. Meanwhile, I’d just come off of making I Spit on Your Grave, which is the darkest thing you could ever see. Hollywood is a very “What have you done for me lately”-kind of town. Ellen Page spoke about it when she came out. She was afraid of experiencing that. And as wonderful as Ellen Page is I think she should be in more movies than she’s in, so maybe she is experiencing it.

I guess it’s not surprising that some casting directors are still so narrow-minded.

If the part calls for a real “man’s man-salt of the earth”-type, they’re probably not going to call in a gay actor. The problem isn’t just with gay actors. Think about trans actors. Why couldn’t a trans actor play a hotel manager or a best friend? There are people who have trans best friends and there are trans hotel managers. But when they’re casting parts like that they’re not even considering trans actors. It’s a problem and I don’t know how to solve it. The first draft of that letter I wrote was very angry. I was pissed that this was happening to actors. I was trying to Norma Rae a movement and ask casting directors to look at things differently. Then I thought it wasn’t the ideal first step. I need to just say that I’m gay and then take a breath and enjoy the release of being honest before being angry. But I am still mad about it. It’s still an issue in Hollywood.

10532360_10152727335403731_656890084944760165_nDo you think it’s beginning to change?

I love people like Ryan Murphy who just completely ignore that and cast by talent. I admire casting directors like Carmen Cuba who met me in a gay club and still cast me as a straight character in Bully, which was my first role. Last season on Looking she cast a trans actor to play a chef and didn’t say anything about it. I think that’s something that people need to look forward to doing right now. It needs to become cool to do that, for casting directors to try to cast trans actors. You can change the mind of someone in the so-called Bible Belt or wherever else there’s prejudice against LGBTQ people in two seconds with an awesome episode of a TV show. The power lies within the studios and within casting to do that. They can change the way people will feel tomorrow by what and who they put in our TV shows. So cast more trans people to see what happens. It’s going to create a level of equality within the acting community. I played Damian, who was a very popular gay character and gay publications didn’t write about me until I came out. I’d never been in Out or The Advocate or anywhere. Why is that? Maybe they didn’t know.

You mentioned Bully, which starred Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl, who have both succumbed to drugs in different ways. How challenging is it for young actors in Hollywood to not become casualties? How have you managed to stay on track?

I didn’t start my film career until I was 23. I think that helped. The people you mentioned started really young. I started my career at the time Brad was already having those problems. Bully was almost canceled the day before we started shooting because Brad stole a boat in Miami the night before. I’ve seen what people will put at stake, but I’m just not a gambling man. I dont’ want to gamble with my career. I’m very fortunate to be able to work at my art. It seemed like too much of a risk to get involved in that kind of stuff. Plus the title of my one-man show off-Broadway last January was I Never Really Made the Kind of Money to Become a Mess. [Laughs]

1623723_10152005687953731_1353655281_nYou and your Mean Girls costar Lindsay Lohan were photographed together recently. Are you still close?

I have kept in touch with her recently since we reconnected because I see such an amazing change in her. I’m proud of her sobriety and the steps she’s taking to accomplish what she wants to accomplish. I will always support that, especially with the history of my other friends. To see someone like Brad Renfro go through that and die and then to see Lindsay try to turn her life around, I will always support that.

What kind of career do you think she’ll have?

I think that’s up to her.

You’ve developed something of a side career as a video parody artist. What inspires you to make them?

Just making people laugh. We don’t make money off them and they cost money to make. They’re fun to do and it’s fun to make people laugh. I think that’s why I’ve done anything in my career, to entertain people.

You have a strong rapport with your fans on social media. Why is this important to you?

I love to talk to my fans on Twitter and Instagram so tell them to hit me up. I enjoy it. I grew up a fan and collected autograph pictures. I love the opportunity to talk to people who enjoy what I’m putting out there.

As a gay man in the public eye and with a high-profile new project,do you feel a responsibility to be socially conscious or political active?

One hundred percent. I’ve reached out to The Trevor Project. I’m going to be working with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. I just want to contribute any way I can. I definitely want to be involved with as much as I can. At this point I feel if I do something that hurts my career at least I’m doing something to provoke change. Anyway, I can hold my head up high.

TLC’s ‘My Husband’s Not Gay’ stars prominent conversion therapy proponent

Preston DahlgrenTLC denies claims that its newest show, “My Husband’s Not Gay,” helps promote the discredited notion that gay men can choose to be heterosexual. But one of the show’s stars has a history of promoting “ex-gay” therapy.

Same-sex couple’s adoption in Oklahoma believed to be among state’s first

gay-adoptionAn adoption decree granted to a married lesbian couple in Okmulgee County is believed to be among the first same-sex adoptions in Oklahoma, the women's attorney says.

Hundreds gather in D.C. to speak out on transgender issues following teen’s death

A memorial to Leelah Alcorn is displayed at a gathering in Washington D.C. on Saturday, January 10, 2015.More than 300 people gathered in the nation's capital on Saturday raise awareness of issues facing transgender individuals and to honor a 17-year-old transgender teen who took her own life last month. Demonstrators gathered at the “Justice for Leelah Alcorn Rally and March” to speak out against transphobia and conversion therapy for LGBT youth.

PHOTOS: “Looking” Fans in Los Angeles Get Sexy Sneak Peak

Season two of Looking premieres tonight, but fans of the HBO hit gathered in Hollywood last week for an exclusive Los Angeles screening party sponsored by Queerty. Daniel Franzese, TV’s first major gay bear character, arrived as fashionable late as he did to the show, which he has already managed to steal, at least based on the first two episodes. After an exclusive glimpse into the ongoing Patrick-Richie-Kevin love triangle, replete with the show’s most explicit sex scene to date, Queerty kept the bar open late so the crowd could enjoy a delicious Tito’s cocktail or five.

Take a look through pictures below and Queerty’s Facebook albums of the Los Angeles and New York City screenings…

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Photo credit: Stefani Schreurs

Shape Up! …And On The Seventh Day, You Can Rest

Group-Shot1-360x2211You’re tired, your feet hurt, and your food cravings have taken a turn for the bizarre. No, you’re not pregnant;* you’re overtraining.

Don’t worry: you don’t need to throw in the towel on your new year, new you; you simply need to rein it in a little bit. But first, pat yourself on the back for what you’ve accomplished so far this year! You’re (likely) hitting the gym so hard as per your SMART goals, you’re meal-prepping like a rock star (who meal preps), and you’re finally getting enough sleep.

Now answer this: When was your last rest day?

If you’re hearing crickets and/or tumbleweeds while you rack your brain for the answer, you are due for a day away from the gym (at least once per week).

Here’s why:

1. Your muscles need to recover in order to grow. Is your body asking politely (e.g., by being sore) to be left alone? Listen.

2. Your other tissues (fascia, tendons, ligaments) recover at a different rate than your muscles, and they won’t ask you politely so much as demand rudely (e.g., your ankles, grip muscles, or hips are downright cranky) for a break? You’d better really listen. Or get benched for weeks or even months due to a preventable overuse-induced injury, such as tendonitis.

3. You’ll burn out, and your New “Year” resolution will barely last a month.

Again, don’t worry. I’ve come up with a list of things for you to do on your rest day instead of stare longingly at the gym selfies in your Instagram feed. You’re welcome.

1. Get your car washed (admit it: it’s time).

2. Get a massage (your body will love you for this).

3. Meal prep.

4. Make a kick-ass playlist for your next workout.

5. Read amazingly well-written and insightful fitness articles on Queerty.

*Or you are. I don’t know your life.

 

The Phoenix Effecta metabolic bootcamp that gets you in shape fast, is offered exclusively at Mansion Fitness, 7914 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.

Fabio Illada And Daniel Morales Make Navy Underwear A Cool Blue That Burns Hot

JO4A2759_0428-1When you think about it, navy blue exists in a unique space. Navy blue is a relatively neutral hue — a color that’s allowed to go where others aren’t. It’s the only real color commonly seen on menswear. Navy blue slacks and suits? Sure. Red? Not so much. When men are tired of their constant rotation of black, white, grey, and khaki, they turn to navy blue. The shade has a warm cool that’s always in style.

Several underwear brands have released navy blue underwear recently. And while each brand approached the color differently, there are some things you simply cannot change about navy blue: it’s going to be a dressier shade, and it’s going to look handsome when cut into masculine underwear designs.

Male models Fabio Illada and Daniel Morales traveled to the Canary Islands for a photo shoot with photographer Adrian C. Martin for this Underwear Expert exclusive.They model several different brands and styles, all created from brilliant navy blues. The tropical setting even serves to show how well navy blue looks, no matter the season. You’ve seen some of the pics. You can see all 31 over at The Underwear Expert.

_MG_9639_0825-1 _MG_9609_0795-1 JO4A2759_0428-1 _MG_9344_0529-1

Photo Credit: Adrian C. Martin

Anonymous Guys Share The Awful Reality Of Being Trapped In The Closet

Life isn’t meant to be lived in a closet. It’s dark, cramped and smells like moth balls.

The good news is that more and more, people are coming out earlier in life, saving them from years of internal oppression. It’s awful to lie to the people you care about, and in a perfect world we’d never have to.

Still, there are tons of guys still living secret lives, or worse yet, stuffing down their true identities to the point of destruction.

Here are twelve stories from people trapped within the closet on Whisper. For those who might be reading this who are still questioning whether or not to come out, there is light at the other side of the tunnel.

When I was hooking up with a girl today, I was imagining she was a guy because I'm still in the closet

I pretend to be straight at work because my boss is really conservative. But it's worked so far- I just got a raise.  Hate living a lie

I just pretended to be straight in a gay club. Because I went with girls that don't know I'm gay.

I like the idea of coming out, but I'm too ashamed to do it. I'd rather be the obvious gay guy that is pretending to be straight..

I pretend to be homophobic around my frat brothers  to fit in. In reality I'm in  the closet and I'm jealous  of guys who are out

I'm gay and in the closet. I've been in a relationship with a girl for three years out of fear. Don't know how to tell her...

I have a separate tab for straight porn so when my parents walk in at least they don't know I'm gay :P

I'm gay and my boyfriend and I pretend we don't know each other in public cause we're both in the closet. It's killing me.

I've considered online dating...problem is I'm not out yet and I don't want to put my pic up because I'm 99.9% sure someone I know will see me.

I'm gay and my boyfriend told me he loved me but I didn't say it back because I'm still in the closet and I'm scared.

I pretend to be straight just to be accepted by my best friends.

I got drunk at a party once so I didn't have to meet girls my friends tried to set me up with. They don't know I'm gay.

Laverne Cox responds to the death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn

Laverne-CoxGuest hosting on ABC's "The View" on Thursday, transgender actress Laverne Cox responds to the death of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender teen who died by suicide just days after Christmas.

PHOTOS: HBO’s Looking Takes A Bite Of The Big Apple

Season two of HBO’s Looking premieres tomorrow night. But New Yorkers got a sneak peak at the ongoing Partick-Richie-Kevin love triangle during a screening of the season’s first two episodes. Delicious Tito’s Vodka cocktails and a packed house at The OUT NYC made for a fun and fanciful weeknight.

Scroll through the photos of the exclusive screening party below and find more in the Queerty Facebook galleries from both New York and Los Angeles.

Plus, see what Frankie Alvarez has been up to on the streets of New York City since season one, and why you should love to hate his character.

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Photos credit: Jeff Eason