Daniel Franzese wouldn't necessarily call 2014 a comeback year even though after publicly coming out, landing a role on the new season of HBO's Looking, and becoming an online sensation with his hilarious musical parodies of Sam Smith and Taylor Swift, he's suddenly on everyone's radar again. But in the 10 years following the debut of Mean Girls, the actor purposely took a step back from Hollywood after just a handful of single-episode roles on shows such CSI and The Comeback.
"I had a period where I didn't want to audition for that movie, or for those types of characters," Franzese explains, referring to stereotypical gay roles that followed his breakout turn as Damian in Mean Girls. "I sort of pulled back from the industry and focused on myself."
When he came out in an open letter to his openly gay high school character -- most notable for being "too gay to function" -- on the 10th anniversary of the film, Franzese revealed how angry he had become with his legacy. "Damian, you had ruined my life and I was really pissed at you," he wrote, noting that Hollywood's "gay ceiling" prevented him from auditioning for blue-collar or "man's man" roles and instead was limited to the flamboyant one-dimensional gay parts that became all too familiar in the aughts.
"I wrote a musical, and I created the web series, and I started making my own podcasts. I think that led to people understanding who I am as an artist more and allowing me to do things more successfully, like [Looking] and the parody and everything else," Franzese, who is now 36 years old, says of his time out of the public eye. What followed was self-acceptance and an appreciation for the impact of Damian. "Grown men were coming up to me on the streets with tears and saying that I helped them get through high school," he says. In the months after coming out, he landed a multi-episode arc on Looking as a love interest for Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and most notably released a parody of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" dubbed "Please Go Home." "I just feel like it's all come full circle," he adds.
Photo by John P. Johnson/HBO
And after years of hiding who he was, Franzese found himself on a set that was not just open, but celebrated being gay. "It was so freeing and it really allowed me to fall 100-percent into my character [Eddie, who works at a shelter for gays and trans teens] and let loose and be comfortable," he says of filming Looking. "It was such a unique experience for me."
Even though the show doesn't premiere until January, Franzese is already looking ahead to his next project -- or the next song he'll satire with his parody partner-in-crime, Adrian Anchando. "I really wanted to do 'All About That Bass,' but I feel like I might have missed the curve on that," he says of Meghan Trainor's chart-topping single. "I wanted to do 'All about that belly, no treadmill.' "
Until he and Anchando brainstorm their next remake, fans can look for the actor in Mind Puppets, a comedy about five people stuck in a hypnotic state co-starring Kevin Pollak and Vinnie Jones, schedled to release in 2015. "I play a gay guy who thinks he's a pregnant woman," he says. He also promises that he'll have several big announcements in the coming months, ensuring that he's not stepping back again anytime soon and hopefully featured in the next Mean Girls reunion.
"I think part of it was that I wasn't out of the closet, but for years the publications didn't reach out to me when I had projects, and I think it's nice that that's happening now," Franzese says in earnest. "It's important to me, you know?"
It may have taken awhile, but the actor has realized in 2014 there's no such thing as "too gay." And to quote Gretchen Weiners, having Franzese back is "so fetch."