When Mark Indelicato first read the pilot of Hacks in 2020 — to audition for the role of Damien, the personal assistant to Vegas diva Deborah Vance — a light went off in his head. “You get a feeling as an artist of just This is something special,” he recalls. He was particularly impressed with how the show depicted LGBTQ+ characters. “They’re just existing as queer people. There’s not really this grandstanding coming-out story, which I think in and of itself is a huge milestone in LGBTQ representation. That their queerness isn’t drama, that it just is.”
Although he viewed the Damien role as “peripheral” to the main storyline, in the first season at least, Indelicato intimately felt that he knew the character and could truly embody him. He chased after the part with zeal. “I literally was like, ‘I’ll do it for free,’” he recounts. “I called my agent. I was like, ‘I don’t care what you have to do. I need to be on this show.’”
He got the part. And Hollywood got to keep another talented gay actor. Up until that point, Indelicato — who famously played Justin Suarez, a gay youth on Ugly Betty — had been contemplating leaving the entertainment industry. The opportunity — and the family that he found on set with his LGBTQ+ castmates — changed his mind.
“[Hacks] just happened at the right time and when I needed it the most. The job itself, and then on top of the job, to have the gift of friendship is the greatest gift, honestly. The six of us truly, truly are really, really, close, close friends. And it feels safe, and it feels right.”
“We just make each other laugh,” he explains of their connection. “When I say that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company, we can sit and talk for hours, because we all get a kick out of each other. We genuinely think that the others are some of the funniest, most interesting people we’ve ever met.”
“The last time that I really felt like that was when we were making Ugly Betty,” he shares. Indelicato recalls his first coming-out: to his costar Ana Ortiz (his mom on the show, Hilda) during the filming of the final season of the groundbreaking show, which aired its last episode in 2010. “I was like, ‘You can’t tell anyone.’ Of course, in hindsight it was like, ‘Girl, everyone knew.’”
His real mother called him after the show had wrapped while he was at high school. “Hey, I just have a quick question,” she asked, as recounted by Indelicato. “Me and daddy were just wondering, are you gay?” When Indelicato responded in the affirmative, she replied, “OK, cool. Yes. I was just wondering. What do you want for dinner tonight?”
Later, his mother revealed that she had asked Indelicato directly because she was “tired of waiting” for him to come out. His parents had known since he was 7, she told him. “I feel very, very lucky and fortunate that I had such supportive parents, and that [they] also didn’t make it a big deal,” Indelicato reflects. “[They] were just so, ‘OK, cool. No doubt. Doesn’t define you as a human being. It’s just an aspect of who you are, of your identity. And that’s great and you should celebrate that.’”
Indelicato does not have such warm feelings toward the media. He recalled the “invasive and intrusive” questions he was asked by reporters about his sexuality as early as age 12. “If you did that in 2022, you just...you would not be able to do that. The public reception of that would be completely different than it was then,” he says.
“Now I’m 27 years old. It really doesn’t matter now to talk about being gay and out and proud. But when you’re 15, 16, it’s like, ‘I’m just trying to make it through the 10th grade,’” he says. “So I [didn’t] feel the need to talk about it. You know what I mean? I’m just trying to survive high school, to be honest. The last thing on my mind is addressing the public about my sexuality.”
Indelicato is still processing those inappropriate moments through therapy. But he is happy that the culture has evolved to the point that more respect is being afforded to kids in the public eye. “I do think that those things had to happen to have, not just with me, with other LGBTQ youth in entertainment at that time and before us, to be able to say, ‘Now that’s not OK anymore,’” he says.Because of these experiences, it took some time for Indelicato to grapple with just how groundbreaking his character Justin was — and how important he would be to an upcoming generation of LGBTQ+ young people. For a long time, he didn’t “really want to be a role model for anyone, because I also still hadn’t grappled with what it had meant and hadn’t really done the examination or the analysis by myself. I was kind of just taking everyone’s word for it,” he says.
But time changed his perception. “Upon reflection in my early 20s, I was like, Oh, shit. Yeah. Wow. I really did that, huh?” he marvels.
“Now I feel like rather than being confused and…distancing myself from it, I’ve really leaned into how grateful I am to have played that character and the fact that he’s been a huge part of so many people’s lives.”
Today, Indelicato still bristles at the term “role model.” “I already put too much pressure on myself in other aspects of my life. I don’t want to think about that, you know what I mean?” he says. The actor prefers the term “representative” due to its lighter connotation. However, Indelicato looks forward — with Hacks and beyond — to further representing the queer community in roles exploring the nuances of “the gay experience in as many ways as I can.”
“I’m known for gay roles. I played an iconic gay character. Why would I want to distance myself from that?” Indelicato says. “I’m leaning in. Are you kidding? If something’s working, don’t break it.”
LOUIS VUITTON All Clothing and Accessories
This article is part of Out's May/June 2022 cover story, appearing on newsstands May 17. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News. And don’t miss season 2 of Hacks, premiering May 12 on HBO Max.
Talent MARK INDELICATO @markindelicato
Creative Director BEN WARD @_benjaminward_
Photographer SAM WAXMAN @wamsaxman samwaxmanstudio.com
Styling MINDY SAAD @mindysaadstylist
DP ARIAN SOHEILI @arianshreds
Photo Assitant DAVID ZIMMERMAN @davidgzimmerman
Location STEVEN BARROW BARLOW @sbarrowbarlow DANIEL MORGAN @theairportbar
Grooming CAITLIN KRENZ caitlinkrenzbeauty.com
JONATHAN TAPAN @jonathantapan greymatterla.com
Make-up ROSIEKIA ARTIS @artis_Thee_artist
MICHELLE CHUNG rougeartists.com
Hair BRIAN FISHER
Hair & Make-up ERIKA VERETT