Many would think that after guest-judging on RuPaul’s Drag Race and portraying everyone’s favorite “Italian Mom” Antoinette in his hilarious viral shorts, Daniel Franzese would be a natural fit for Secret Celebrity Drag Race. According to Franzese himself though, he definitely still had some hangups to work through. As he inhabited the pumps of Donna Bellissima, Franzese found himself competing as an official Ru-girl and learning a lot along the way. I sat down to chat with our favorite Mean Girls alum and Franzese dished with me on his adoration for the Drag Race franchise, the hangups he realized he still had throughout the competition, and how as a gay man, he has found his own footing throughout life.
Michael Cook: If there is anyone that is perfect for RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race, it most definitely has to be you!
Daniel Franzese: I felt the same way, I was like “they got it right this time”!
MC: After judging on RuPaul’s Drag Race previously, what it like being a part of the actual competition?
DF: It was definitely like a night terror/fever dream mixed with the best thing that ever happened to me. It was an intense schedule!
MC: So many gay men have an idea of what drag performers go through, but what one thing did you experience that you did not know queens went through on a regular basis?
DF: The thing that I didn’t prepare for was the sleep deprivation. When it comes to the art form, I knew what I was getting into; duct taped for the gods, glued, poked and everything like that. You know what I didn’t realize is the “race” part of Drag Race, it’s a race. It was like “oh we’re all running..in heels! I got it”. I just didn’t expect it. After a while when you are not sleeping, eating right, and constantly running, you get a little crazy. I definitely think I got a little crazy in the middle of it.
MC: After guest-judging on Drag Race and being a fan of the franchise, working alongside the Queen Supremes was probably truly a surreal experience, is that fair to say?
DF: As an actor, you are used to suspending disbelief and surrendering to the fantasy, so going in, I was like “I am a Ru Girl”! All of a sudden, you are there and you are there with the actual Ru Girls and you realize you are a Ru Girl, but in a whole different way. It was time to step up to the plate and make it work!
MC: That is an excellent point-you are truly now a bona fide Ru Girl!
DF: You know, it is interesting when I really started getting into it, a lot of the queens that come into the competition come in with already defined personas and are trying to refine what their art form really is. We were all picked and named by Mama Ru, and she got her team and family to do everything for us, so I really feel like a drag daughter of RuPaul.
MC: Seeing a high profile name like yourself showcased on Secret Celebrity Drag Race truly shows that despite displaying a type of masculinity that many still gravitate towards, you are more than comfortable throwing on a wig and corset and hitting the stage.
DF: You know, I didn’t think that I had any hangups, but believe me when you do something like this, they show up. I am really confident as a guy, it took me a long time to find my footing. With this process here though, it’s like, now I’m the fat girl. These shoes don’t fit, or I don’t get a dress like that since I’m not off the rack and they have to make everything for me. It’s the stuff I experienced at the beginning of my career that I wasn’t expecting and am not used to, and now there are all of these new things to be insecure about. It was a little frustrating at first, because I wanted to do my absolute best. My heart was in this for my friend, my family, the community, my fans, and I was playing for The Trevor Project, so I was thinking about the kids the whole time. I was really in it and I wanted to be good, so that was a lot of pressure.
MC: As a gay man, how did you find your footing? It is something that truly, each and every one of us have strived to do and for some of us, continue to do.
DF: I think for me, it was at one point me looking at a picture of myself from second grade and thinking about how unlovable and ugly and all of these things that I felt when I was young; and I was adorable. I was adorable in second grade. If I could have just told myself that what I was, I have to realize that I am hot now. I am not getting any younger and I have to live every single day….Someone once said “any picture of you six years ago is better than any picture of you now; the worst picture of you six years ago you are going to like now”. After hearing that, I stopped worrying when someone would snap a picture of me that I wouldn’t like or that I thought I didn’t look good; show it to me in six years!
MC: Do you ever think that there is a world where you could take Donna Bellissima and craft her into a one woman show? We already know that with your Italian Mom character, you are more than adept at creating characters.
DF: Well I’ll tell you right now, if there is ever a Celebrity All Stars, I’m down. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but it was the most fun that I ever had. I am so ready to try again at any point. If World of Wonder loved Donna as much as I do and the world wants Donna and they want me to come back, I would come back and do something with World of Wonder. I would come back next season, host a Fashion Photo Ruview, whatever they want. I love World of Wonder and I love Mama Ru and I had the best time. Right now, I am in drag playing an Italian lady again in my play Italian Mom Loves You. It is being brought back for an encore presentation in Connecticut for another three weeks when we were workshopping it, so I am still doing some sort of drag. As for Donna Bellissima, if the heels are short enough and the checks are high enough, I’ll definitely be back!
MC: Speaking of, the Italian Mom named Antoinette is a character that people all over the country can relate to in one form or another, truly. Everyone has or knows that mother!
DF: The show is unbelievable, it is co-written by Jacques Lamarre who has written for Varla Jean Merman for eighteen years and writes plays for Italian women about Italian women. The two of us together is amazing; it is hilarious and tear jerking and I hope everyone comes to see it.
MC: Is Antoinette a hybrid of Italian Moms you are related to along with so much of what you grew up with or is there one single person you based her off of?
DF: I would say my Mom, my Aunt, and my Grandma all together. There are so many of those ladies, my Grandfather had thirteen brothers and they all bought a house on the same block and I grew up on that block in Brooklyn; that is where all of those ladies lived, or used to anyway. I was the kind of kid when the women would play cards, I would be under the table with a matchbox car listening to al the gossip; so it is all second nature to me.
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