Daniel Franzese of course entered the pop culture canon with his breakout role as sharp-tongued teen Damien in 2004’s Mean Girls.
The actor – who came out publicly himself in 2014 in an emotional open letter – went on to play another iconic gay role in Eddie, on the second season of HBO’s cult series Looking and its accompanying movie.
‘I’ve had great success with the impact of my Mean Girls character on young LGBTQs,’ the star tells us with pride, ’to Looking where I was playing a HIV positive character who was healthy and happy; a romantic lead and sexualized, larger male.
‘I’m looking forward to the next role that pushes the envelope and helps move forward storylines for marginalized people!’
Daniel – who also tours the world as a successful standup comic – is now using pop culture to move the needle on environmental issues, spearheading a campaign to ban the plastic straw in the global drink emoji.
‘It might seem like something superfluous and simple,’ he explains, ‘but actually it gets engrained in your brain as natural and normal. We want the new generation coming up to be more aware and know that isn’t a necessary part of a drink.’
Here, Daniel talks saving the planet, being an ‘entry level daddy’ and why the eggplant emoji is his favorite…
What does the plastic straw symbolize to you?
Single use plastic is a huge problem. Pretty soon, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. We must stop wasteful use of plastic. One of the biggest offenders are plastic single use straws. They are everywhere. And they’re poisonous to the fish, turtles and sea life.
I started noticing my own impact. Sitting in a restaurant – four people, four waters, four straws. Refills, more straws. Before you know it you’re responsible for 20 straws. The first initiative was fairly successful. We haven’t eliminated straws altogether, but people are talking about it – we thought it would be a great idea to launch the #THEFUTUREDOESNTSUCK campaign to remove a billion straws by 2020. We thought [emoji makers] Unicode should maybe join in.
Have you had a response from Unicode?
Not yet. We hope we’re giving a compelling enough argument. It’s a big thing to change an emoji.
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Speaking of emojis – what’s your favourite?
I’m a big fan of the eggplant. I don’t know why. I just love vegetables… I’m really into veganism!
Are you a vegan?
No, I’m not… that was just a joke!
What about memes?
Not a pop culture moment goes by that doesn’t at some point get intersected with a Mean Girls meme! I love seeing them all. I enjoy staying relevant!
How did you feel when you saw Hillary Clinton’s Mean Girls meme?
It never surprises me when there’s a new one coming out… It’s become such a part of meme culture.
Do you see much of the Mean Girls cast, such as Lindsay Lohan (Cady) and Lizzy Caplan (Janice, above)?
Not really. We’re on different schedules. Lindsay and Lizzy have been abroad for quite some time, and I’m always on tour. I barely get to see the people who live close to me! But there’s no love lost and I’d love for us to get together soon!
Do you get as much recognition from gay men and LGBTI people for Looking as Mean Girls?
I do, and from straight people too. People really identified with that character. He was a pleasure to play and my costars were terrific. HBO is a class act.
Do you think the show could come back?
I don’t see why we couldn’t make another movie. I totally think we could make another movie one day…
How did you celebrate turning 40?
Quietly! I celebrated last year on stage performing and that’s what I’ll be doing again this year.
How are you enjoying your 40s?
I’m happy to turn 40 at a time when it’s really hot to be a daddy! I’m entering it just at the right time! Maybe entry level daddy!
Circling back to environmentalism, how else do you cut plastic out of your lifestyle?
Resuseable water bottles! I used to use a lot of single use toothbrushes – they’re handy, but I felt guilty.
Where did your interest in protecting the environment begin?
In the late 80s, I moved from Brooklyn to South Florida. The beaches in New York City were filthy, but in Florida they were beautiful. By the 90s, they started to get dirty. In high school, I’d do beach cleanups. The fastest way to realize you’re dirtying an environment is to volunteer and clean it up.
Speaking of water, there’s a lot of talk in the community about sober spaces for LGBTI people. What are your thoughts?
I agree. When I first moved back to New York City in the early 00s, we had an awesome, large coffee shop, the Queer Coffee Cup. It was a great place to go to when I was young. I’d love to see more of that culture come back. The conversation is exciting to me.
#TheFutureDoesntSuck campaign is from Bacardi and Lonely Whale, the innovative oceans nonprofit. The partnership pledges to remove one billion plastic straws from circulation by 2020.