Daniel Franzese, the actor who played Damian in the ten-year-old teen film “Mean Girls” (which is a classic, even though it contains a few unfortunate moments), has both reveled in and resented his most famous role. Franzese wrote a cool, heartfelt letter to his old character, and he also gave an interview that sheds light on why Damian is perhaps the most resonant part of the movie. Referring to director Mark Waters, Franzese said:
“Mark's whole position on Damian was that Damian probably doesn't realize he's gay yet. I mean, he knows deep down, but he's still going through puberty and figuring it all out. He hadn't dated anyone yet; he probably hasn't kissed anyone yet. And I just think that sweet spot of vulnerability was something that made that character real. That moment of a kid in high school who just didn't care what people thought about him… Anything that shines a little light on anyone who's feeling left out in any way, I am beyond proud to contribute to that in any way — even if it's accidentally.”
To me, this is why “Mean Girls” is better than just a funny movie: It gives you an awkward high school character who still likes himself and has confidence in himself even if he's not entirely in charge of his adult identity yet. You can be self-conscious and pubescent without wearing “awkwardness” as a defining — or perhaps sole — character trait. This is a huge missing element from most high school movies, which not only segregate “popular” and “unpopular” students but the “confident” and “unconfident” too. I also like Damian's pseudo-awareness of his own sexuality. Janis calls him “too gay to function,” but he hasn't had the opportunity to really understand or explore his sexual orientation yet, so he's self-possessed in other ways until that kind of self-realization is an option. Yes. Love it.
Franzese's letter to Damian, by the way, is a must-read. Here's one of the most intriguing parts of it:
“I did turn down many offers to play flamboyant, feather-boa-slinging stereotypes that always seemed to be laughed at BECAUSE they were gay. How could I go from playing an inspirational, progressive gay youth to the embarrassing, cliched butt-of-a-joke?
Damian, you had ruined my life and I was really pissed at you. I became celibate for a year and a half. I didn”t go to any gay bars, have any flings and I lied to anyone who asked if I was gay. I even brought a girl to the ‘Mean Girls” premiere and kissed her on the red carpet, making her my unwitting beard.
It wasn”t until years later that grown men started to coming up to me on the street – some of them in tears – and thanking me for being a role model to them. Telling me I gave them comfort not only being young and gay but also being a big dude. It was then that I realized how much of an impact YOU had made on them.”
And for the record, Damian's most excellent scene is definitely when Janis is hanging out of his sunroof yelling at Cady, and Damien responds to Cady's lesbian allegation with a firm, “Oh no, she did not.” The ensuing “I want my pink shirt back!” is just manic enough to be classic too.