If you know Daniel Franzese then you know he’s a go-getter whether he’s spreading the word on HIV prevention as an Ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation or he’s on set in San Francisco playing HIV-positive character Eddie for the final “Looking” movie or wrapping production on his upcoming new series, “Recovery Road” (airing in 2016 on Free Form – aka ABC Family, which changes their name in January) or getting all sexy when he puts on his Santa suit and raps about (what else?) Sexy Santa.
Of course, his memorable role as Damian in “Mean Girls” is still a topic of conversation especially when Tina Fey (who wrote and co-starred in the Lindsay Lohan film) brings up that a spin-off movie isn’t out of the question. (PLEASE, TINA!)
But, as you probably know, yesterday was World AIDS Day and while a system outage kept me from posting this interview yesterday, it’s perhaps a strong point that is in sync with my interview with Franzese that we should be having this conversation every day, not just on December 1st.
During our recent chat, which happened shortly after I saw the actor up in San Francisco during the last few days of filming the "Looking" finale, I had to ask about what we need to be talking about the most in terms of AIDS and HIV and it turns out it's talking we need to be doing. Let's see what else we need to spreading the word about and, of course about his new holiday album, "Christmas Wrapping."
What are you seeing right now in the community as far as the AIDS Crisis and what we need to be doing?
Daniel Franzese: I think the most shocking statistic that haunts me is that 1 in 3 gay men have never been tested. I couldn’t believe that that was an accurate statistic. Beyond that, the fact that if we use the tools we have right now for prevention and treatment, we could eradicate new infections by 96%. It’s like someone is not doing their job and part of that that the community needs to step up and be very vocal right now and do whatever they can to make people aware and talk to their friends about it, start a dialogue again.
I definitely think Danny Pintaruo and Charlie Sheen coming forward as people with HIV gives more visibility but it’s much more than that. We need to get it together and really make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and that our friends and family are being tested.
I did think when Danny came out about his status that it would help spread that message that this is not over. Is that the biggest misconception? That people think it's over?
DF: Well, I also think there are a lot of young people who have a very lackadaisical attitude towards the whole thing. ‘Oh, I’ll take a pill and it will be all better.’ But a lot of those medications are debilitating to your kidneys and other things so it’s not just that easy. It’s also extremely expensive to take care of yourself with medication. When I was at AIDS Watch, I talked to one gentleman who said all of his big earning years were spent on staying alive. I think people aren’t getting the full grasp of everything in perspective.
Where should people go if they're home but scared to go out and get tested or talk to someone? Where would you send them?
DF: There are tons of places to get free testing if you can’t afford it. Out Of The Closet often has free testing or you can go to Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation website or AIDS United to find local places you can check out. There’s also things like Oraquick where you can do it in the privacy of your home and find out in minutes what your status is.
But it's not enough to be tested once a year. It really should be twice a year if possible if you are sexually active and you feel like you're having any unsafe practices at all. You can contract the virus and it might not show up on a test for six months. I think the biggest thing is talking about it and discussing it and being vocal and open about it. If you're comfortable enough asking someone to go home with you then you should be comfortable to ask their status. I think a lot of people think that might be a buzzkill or a weird thing to bring up but that's what we need to squash. People need to talk about it more.
Is the biggest disconnect with young people? They didn't live through the time when people were dying in a big numbers like I know I did.
DF: GLAAD and ETF think it’s a correlation with the lack of representation in television and media and the rising infections. I think it’s something that’s been out of the zeitgeist for a long time and I think the inclusion of an HIV positive character on “Looking” and also on “How To Get Away With Murder” as well as Danny Pintauro and Charlie Sheen speaking up, I think that as we’re moving forward we are starting to see a discussion happening. I’m seeing more articles written about it.
I know Danny got a little bit of a backlash and I’m sure Charlie will experience the same thing because not everyone is perfect and you might slip up when it comes with press and media is bombarding you with questions and also uneducated interviewers but I think the positive thing of that is people are talking, people are discussing and it’s going to take people being angry about it again in order to make change happen.
It is great to see those few shows that have characters who are positive but hopefully there will be more.
DF: I’ve been encouraging my showrunners on my new show to, in the future, including a character that is HIV positive and they’re definitely interested. and more people having those kinds of discussions and realizing that that’s an important story to tell with over 1.3 million people with HIV, one or two stories isn’t going to cover the spectrum of all the different kinds of stories that we’re seeing.
Tell me about your album!
DF: My rapper name is What’s Up Danny, which is my online handle everywhere. The album is called “Christmas Wrapping” and the first single, “Young Santa” is currently available on ITunes. I got a bunch of my friends together and rapped about sexy Santa. I’m doing a mini-tour and hitting up a few different cities with some performances and making a few videos before the holiday season because I need another thing to do. [laughs]
Check out “Christmas Wrapping” on Itunes. “Recovery Road” airs on FreeForm (ABC Family’s name as of January) in early 2016. The “Looking” finale will air this Spring.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.