‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Looking,’ actor Daniel Franzese preps for his first BearDance

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BEARLY HOT | Daniel Franzese is embracing his status as a bear sex symbol.

 

Rich Lopez  |  Special Contributor

Daniel Franzese is now in perhaps his second iconic role for gay audiences — namely bears.

The actor has joined the cast of HBO’s Looking in its second season as Eddie, who works with LGBT teens and is also Agustin’s love interest. But most gay fans will remember Franzese’s turn as gay best friend Damian in the queer film fave Mean Girls.

And both roles are inherently groundbreaking.

In Mean Girls, Franzese’s character Damian wasn’t written merely as a foil or comic relief for the film. And in Looking, he isn’t the Ab-Fitched guy of the cast and is also one of the few (two to be exact) HIV-positive characters on television right now.

Franzese describes himself as the “big, hairy dude” of the show, which immediately caught the attention of bear audiences. And those audiences can meet Franzese, 36, during his appearance in Dallas at BearDance: Friday Night Fever at Station 4 on Friday, March 14.

BearDance is the first major party for Texas Bear Round Up XX, and organizers are “excited to welcome Daniel to Friday Night Fever,” BD organizer Mark Trimble says. “Bears often have a second ‘coming out’ struggle of finding their niche in gay society and realizing that it’s ok to be themselves. So seeing an out actor playing a bear role on TV is groundbreaking and inspirational.”

Before his appearance, Franzese talked about his newfound place in bear culture, the importance of his character on TV at this moment and why isn’t he bringing his boyfriend to the party.

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Dallas Voice: Congratulations on your role in Looking. With the second season underway, how has the reception been for your character?  Franzese: Thanks. It just grows and grows. I knew from Damien the level of importance of being a bigger gay dude and the reaction I got from that. But on an adult level I knew how important this would be because gay programming leaves them out of the lexicon.

Daniel-Franzese_D5A2938To add to that, you’re one of the few HIV-positive characters on TV as well right now.  I was the only but now there is one on How To Get Away With Murder. It was popular decades ago to have a positive character, but they were often treated as a victim. This role is such a groundbreaking move. Eddie was positive but also capable of living a healthy life and then pursued by someone who is negative.

With all this attention by bear audiences, did you consider you were one?  I don’t necessarily call myself one, but I know I am a bear and I accept that wholeheartedly. And the culture is so welcoming and fun. So I love the bears and I’m proud that I can represent that on this show as a big, tall, gay, hairy dude. That’s an amazing position to be in.

Body image is a big thing clearly for that community but also for BearDance which started these events as a safe place for men of size to feel comfortable. Did you have these issues?  Completely! I always felt so chubby. I was the t-shirt-in-a-pool guy. Living in New York City in my early 20s, I felt left out and it wasn’t until I discovered the bear community that I felt comfort. But I don’t have that problem now because I feel completely confident in my art.

You’ve hit a stride it seems not only with Looking but also your YouTube videos and social media [all under WhatsUpDanny]. What else do you still wish to do?  I have a lot of capability in my acting career and looking forward to that day of showing more. I’d love to do musicals so people can really hear me sing — especially a revival of Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum. And I have my art. I just finished a documentary, so there is a lot to me.

And you see bears almost trending now.  Bearish guys and Scruff and lumbersexuals have become something of a sex symbol now. The creators of Looking wanted to touch on that. And they think bears are hot. But ultimately, it’s important for young people to see themselves represented.

Daniel-Franzese_D5A2895Do you get to make it out to many parties like this?  If I were single, I would end up at more bear parties, but I don’t generally go out just because I’m always working these days.

Oh, will you bring your boyfriend to Dallas?  I am not actually, but I am bringing one of my best friends in from New York. So I’m excited to check this all out.

So what’s next for you? Are you now going for all the juicy gay roles?  Well, my next show is for ABC Family, of all things, called Recovery Road. They are trying to rebrand the network actually so I play a former gay go-go boy who got chubby.

For real? Consider the DVR set.

BearDance: Friday Night Fever at Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. March 13 at 8 p.m. $25 advance/ $35 door. beardance.org.

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Hot and hairy: TBRU XX schedule

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COMPETITIVE SPIRIT | The Mr. TBRU XX Contest begins at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in the Crowne Plaza Hospitality Suite. Pictured are Mr. TBRU contestants from 2012.

Between 1,500 and 1,600 hot and hairy men are expected descend on Dallas this weekend for the 20th annual Texas Bear Round Up: Bears Studio 54.

The event, sponsored by Dallas Bears, will bring in men from all across the U.S., said Dallas Bears Treasurer Ray Sarias. “We’ve been working hard and we have plenty of special events planned for our 20th anniversary,” he added. “We are determined to make this the best year ever for Texas Bear Round Up.”

Starting out in 1995 as a small-scale event organized by a chairman, TBRU has grown steadily over the years to become one of North Texas’ largest annual fundraising events.

Sarias said that TBRU’s tradition of charitable giving began in the first year when the organizers had some cash left over and chose to donate it to a local organization. Over the years, the fundraising side of the event has become more important and more profitable, culminating in 2014 when TBRU donated more than $65,000 to area charities.

Sarias said organizers have chosen three organizations as beneficiaries for TBRU XX. Half of the proceeds will go to Resource Center’s Youth First program. The other half will be divided between the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund and Tarrant County’s AIDS Outreach Center.
Registration for the weekend is $150, which gets attendees a weekend pass to all the TBRU XX events and activities. Several excursions into the city are planned, as well, but those cost extra Saria said. Participants can register at the door.

Some of the biggest events of the weekend include BearDance: Friday Night Fever, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday at S4, the TBRU Family Dinner from 5-7 p.m. Saturday at The Ranch, followed by the Mr. TBRU contest from 8:30-10 p.m. in the Hospitality Suite at Crowne Plaza Hotel. The contest will be followed by the Underwear Auction, beginning at midnight, also in the Crowne Plaza’s Hospitality Suite.

The TBRU Big Texas Barbecue and Closing Ceremony begins at noon at The Round-Up Saloon, and Dallas Eagle plays host to the Official TBRU  After Party, featuring DJ Blaine spinning Trash Disco, from 8 p.m. to midnight.
For a full lineup of the weekend’s events, visit TBRU.org.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 13, 2015.