You probably know actor Daniel Franzese from HBO’s Looking or ABC’s Conviction, or films like I Spit On Your Grave, and Mean Girls. Did you know he’s also a writer, a standup comedian, and a style aficionado? We caught up with Daniel for a photo shoot and a wide ranging conversation covering everything from being the biggest guy on a movie set, to how he became an activist, and why you should be shopping Midwest thrift stores.
Let’s get right into it: is it harder to get jobs as an actor when you’re a bigger guy?
Ironically, no. Every time I’ve lost weight, I get less roles. I once had someone tell me “you can either gain 50 pounds, or lose 50 pounds, but I can’t sell you at what you’re at right now.” In Hollywood, if you’re purposefully playing the big guy, then you’ve got to appear larger. But if you’re the quirky best friend, then you can be 10 pounds overweight and be a little chubby. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then it’s a little harder.
That’s an interesting way to look at it. I never really thought about the fact that Hollywood might want you to be bigger for certain roles. Does that feel like another way to pigeonhole you?
I don’t really let it dictate my life. If they don’t want to hire me, don’t hire me, you know? I’ll write my own show or something [laughing]. I don’t really let it affect me. Maybe it’s because I’m known at this size, but when I do drop weight and people call for me, they’re like “oh, he’s not big right now?”
If we were going to have Looking season 3, I told Andrew, one of the creators, that I was going to drop some weight, and he was like “don’t! I don’t want a skinny Eddie Bear!” It’s not like I’m going to get skinny. I’m a big dude, that’s who I am.
For the record, there’s absolutely no chance of a Looking season 3?
No, there isn’t. We had the movie. We might have another movie one day, but who knows? We love it, and the fans love it, so if there’s enough interest from someone and enough money, maybe you’ll see us doing the Christmas special or something [laughing].
Do you run into any challenges as a plus size actor on set?
Trailers. So, the honey wagon is like, when you’re a guest star and they don’t want to give you a full trailer because you’re only going to be there for the day or two, they give you this tiny honey wagon. I can’t fit in those! I’m not comfortable in there. It’s like putting a gorilla in a refrigerator. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t use those. I’m also tall, so it’s really hard – even the chair I’m sitting in now, my legs are bent and I’m not sitting like a normal person. I’m always in somebody’s way on a movie set. You have to hide out in the corner, or move somewhere to be out of the way. That’s why I tend to just stay in my trailer.
They don’t really make things to accommodate bigger people.
They don’t. Backseats of cars, no bueno [laughing]. You know, recently, I couldn’t ride the Harry Potter Hogwarts ride. It wasn’t even a size thing, it was a height thing. It hit my shoulders, and that was it. It wouldn’t go down. I was like, this is crazy!
How do you deal with failure? A project not working out, a show being cancelled, things like that.
Like Aaliyah, I dust myself off and try again [laughing]. I just keep moving forward, there’s really nothing else you can do. Some people will be like how did that audition go? I’m like what audition? I’ve already forgotten and moved onto the next one. I do it, and then I leave the room, and I don’t even think about it again. If I was dwelling on my failures, then I would never be able to celebrate my accomplishments. Mourn the losses, there are many, and celebrate the victories, because there are few, then, just keep going.
I really do like to party when good things happen, but when I’m not celebrating, you won’t catch me at a club. You’ll catch me working or writing, or doing standup, doing something for my career.
It seems like people who are successful have that trait. It’s about getting out there and doing the work, and trying to reach your goals.
You have to enjoy what you do. To me, my work is a vacation, I love my art, and I love what I do. I’ve never really taken a regular vacation in my life. I’m never like, planning a trip to the Bahamas. One day, I’ll film a movie in the Bahamas, you know? I keep going and focus on work more than anything else.
I’m at a place in my life and career where I want to take more time for myself. I’m getting married soon, and I’m thinking about how my honeymoon is going to be one of the first times I don’t have a cell phone or an email.
There’s this idea that if you’re in the public eye, or a performer, you’re super confident. Many of the people I’ve interviewed say that becoming confident is a process. Was that ever a struggle for you?
I had to fake it. I was like, if I’m not confident, I’m an actor, I would act like I’m confident. Even if you don’t initially believe in yourself, other people believe you, and eventually you will believe in yourself too.
I made a decision not to make self-deprecating jokes about myself anymore. A lot of comedians like that kind of humor, and you can use a certain amount of that to be silly or funny. I’m not going to sit up there and talk about being fat the whole time. I’ll get up and joke about how great I am at something, or about my awesome beard. If I do say something about my weight, it’ll be with confidence. I’m pretty confident I could eat that whole sub [laughing].
I try to use my celebrity as a megaphone to draw attention to people who don’t have a voice as loud as mine.
I talk about my pain, and things like that – it’s not all fake – but I think when it comes to being a person of size, the worst thing is when someone’s constantly joking about it. I have a friend who recently came out, and he’s a bigger dude who is constantly making weight jokes about himself. I had to ask him to stop. I told him he’s beautiful, he’s great – he should be himself.
Activism seems to be a big part of your life. Why is it so important to you?
For some reason, people give a shit about what celebrities have to say. I don’t know why, but it’s true. So a lot of times, my brain may not be big enough to wrap my head around the problems that everybody has, but my voice is loud enough. I try to use my celebrity as a megaphone to draw attention to people who don’t have a voice as loud as mine.
A lot of people want to be more involved, but don’t know where to start. What advice would you give them?
You don’t have to know somebody, or have had a personal experience with something to get involved. You can just reach out. I recently started working with the Alzheimer’s Association, and I don’t have anyone close to me who suffers from it. I just have real compassion for people who have the disease. It started with me retweeting their tweets, and talking to them. Next thing you know, I’m aligned with them. A retweet goes a long way, and it’s a good place to start.
If you’re interested in working on an issue that might be popular, look for other charities that are already doing it. You might have a dream to start an LGBTQ youth charity in Columbus, Ohio. Maybe there’s one in Columbus you can join and help grow. With the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, for instance, she left 25% of her name and likeness in a trust fund to take care of operating costs. This means that every dollar we raise goes to someone with HIV and AIDS who needs it. So, if you held a car wash and raised $100, or $1000, all of that would go straight to someone who needs it. That’s an example of how somebody with so little could do a really big thing.
Why do you think it’s so hard for big guys to find clothes?
I think one of the challenges is that there are so many types of bigger men. Some of us are top heavy, or we have different shapes, and designers don’t want to put the work in [to fit those body types]. Even the stuff that celebrities borrow, it’s all sample sized. Unless you can fit into sample sizes, you’re not getting anything to borrow.
How do you deal with that?
I get a lot of vintage. I spend the money on bigger pieces that will be staples in my wardrobe. I’ll spend over $1000 on a suit, or a leather jacket, and then I buy basics and mix it with vintage. That’s the real key. Instead of buying a bunch of stuff that’s ill-fitting, spend the money on one or two signature pieces, then mix it up with some solid basics or funky vintage. No one’s going to notice you’re wearing a black t-shirt all the time if you mix it up with different jackets and accessories.
Do you feel like you have a specific style?
I could be a dandy, or I can get dressed up, or I could go a little more street with my look. I think style is relative; it depends on mood and environment. If I’m shooting somewhere like Louisiana, I immediately go to Walmart and buy whatever’s on the rack and wear that. I think in some places, it’s good to blend, and in some places, it’s good to stand out. Being a big queer dude, it’s not always the best thing to be noticeable. Sometimes you just want to be low key.
I do like things that fit well. It bothers me when a man is wearing something that doesn’t fit well. My shirts need to fit properly, and zip or button. Even if I wear something open, I like to know that it closes. That can always give you a good silhouette.
Where do you like to shop?
I love to shop vintage, especially in the Midwest, where people are bigger. You end up finding a lot of amazing flannels and things that might have something like a paint stain that just makes it cooler to us, but didn’t work for them. I clean up at thrift stores in Chicago, Michigan, and Wisconsin when I’m touring.
Locally, I go to Destination XL for a lot of my basics. In the future, I’m looking forward to finding a way to get extended size clothing to people who need it wherever they are.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m doing standup, and having a lot of fun exploring that. I’m auditioning and looking for a new project, and I have a movie coming out called Hypnotized, that’s a comedy that should be fun for people to see. I have some other things coming in the near future that I think are going to surprise people as well.
How long have you been doing standup?
I’ve been doing all kinds of comedy, sketch and improv, for about 20 years. When I came out as gay in 2014, I think I was able to feel more free to talk about my private life in a comedic way. It made me a little more open to doing things like these interviews, even. I think it’s changed me a lot. It’s been eating at me since I came out to do standup again.
I was shooting in Toronto and went to Second City there, on the John Candy stage and I learned standup. Then, I started bouncing around to different places in the city. When I came back to LA, I just hit the ground running and haven’t stopped. I’ve been booked everywhere, and I’m having a great time.