‘Mean Girls’: Daniel Franzese’s Role as Damian Was Life-Changing — and Not Just for the Actor

Sometimes, movies (and even specific characters in them) can make a profound difference in peoples’ lives. A role can change the actor’s perception of themselves or of the world. Some movies resonate so poignantly with fans, that watching them becomes a life-changing event. Tina Fey’s Mean Girls was a high school comedy, and while it had some themes of female empowerment running through it, it was meant to entertain. The role of Damian, though, made a huge difference in the life of actor Daniel Franzese — along with fans who identified with him. 

Daniel Franzese played Damian in ‘Mean Girls’

Daniel Franzese as Damian in 'Mean Girls.'
Daniel Franzese as Damian in ‘Mean Girls.’ | CBS via Getty Images

Damian was one of the central characters of Mean Girls. As one of Cady’s first friends after she moved to a new town and started attending a new school, he was instrumental in highlighting the difference between the down-to-earth outcasts and the gaggle of popular mean girls. His commentary and cheerfulness made him a fan favorite. 

Damian was also gay, but it was never played as a joke. He was someone the audience could laugh with, but not laugh at, according to Mental Floss. For actor Daniel Franzese, that was the most important thing. Franzese admitted to being terrified to play the role, but when he did, it was a natural thing. 

Franzese also happens to be gay — but at the time he played Damian, only close friends and family knew that about him. He came out publicly almost a decade after the film was released. For him, coming out publicly was done so that others could take some courage and inspiration from it; he came out to help others. 

Franzese had already helped other young men, though, just by playing Damian.

Damian was a role model for many viewers

Damian was an icon to many young men, and by extension, so was Franzese. Even years after Mean Girls premiered, he would be stopped on the street so fans could thank him. Some would even be in tears. 

Damian was a young, likable gay teen who wasn’t meant to be laughed at and broke stereotypes in the best way possible. Franzese took his experience as a gay teen and made it into a believable and likable character. Young gay men found that role refreshing and inspiring. To see a character like that on the screen who was accepted by his friends and family for what he was without judgement resonated with fans. They loved seeing it, and Damian is still a favorite of fans today. 

For many of them, it was life-changing — even life-affirming, for some. Damian gave them courage, and both the character and the actor became role models.

Playing Damian has changed Franzese, too

People recognize Franzese. “I don’t really blend,” he told Cosmopolitan, so fans recognize him. He can be anywhere and people will suddenly shout his most iconic line at him. Hearing “You go, Glen Coco!” shouted at him can be nerve wracking, says Franzese. Because he’s so recognizable, it can come at any time. 

While that particular part of playing Damian can be frustrating, it’s overshadowed by the good that’s come from it. Playing Damian gave Franzese the courage to come out publicly. Seeing how the character affected fans moved Damian to eventually come out himself. “I’m not afraid anymore,” he says. 

The name ‘Daniel’ means “God in my judge,” and Franzese holds onto that. Because of the fan response to Damian, Franzese says that isn’t afraid of whatever Hollywood, or other “mean girls” might say or do because of his sexual orientation. “Thank you for that, Damian,” Franzese says. 

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