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Thanks to Mean Girls Broadway Star Grey Henson, Damian Is Now a Fleshed-Out Character

Thanks to 'Mean Girls' Broadway Star Grey Henson, Damian Is Now a Fleshed-Out Character

Thanks to 'Mean Girls' Broadway Star Grey Henson, Damian Is Now a Fleshed-Out Character

"It was important for me to make the character bigger than a stereotype."

ZacharyZane_

Tied for the most Tony nominations with The SpongeBob Squarepants Musical, Mean Girls was the unexpected Broadway hit of the season, and the musical—dare I say it—is actually better than the 2004 film.

The show not only has all your favorite lines (except there was no mention of Gretchen Weiners’ father as the inventor of Toaster Strudel), but was also adapted to take place in 2018. Social media plays a large role in the film, Damian starts the show wearing a drag queen T-shirt, and there are references to the orange man in office, who acts eerily similar to the teenage girls in The Plastics.

PRIDE caught up with Grey Henson, the Tony-nominated actor playing Damian who, as you may remember, is "too gay to function."

PRIDE: Explain the history of that Alyssa Edwards shirt you start the show off in?  

Grey Henson: When we were doing the lab of the show, [the director] wanted us to dress like our character, so I wore this Cher shirt from her concert. The costume designer was like, 'This is the look; we’re going to make Damian this celebrity worshipper.' I thought, 'Well, if we’re going to go there, he would definitely be a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race.' So we’re online looking for various drag queen shirts, and [the Alyssa Edwards] shirt was so perfect. It was bright, cartoonish, and says "Beast!" She’s also one of my favorite queens on the show.

What it’s like playing Damian, and why do you think the role is important?

I think it’s important to show a gay character who is unapologetically himself and not just a stereotype. Often in TV and in movies, gay characters are written as a gay best friend with funny little quips, and that’s it. A big part of Damian is his sassiness, but at the end of the day, I wanted to make him super realistic and human. I’m very proud of my sexuality and always have been. But it doesn’t define all of me. It was important for me to make the character bigger than a stereotype.

Damian in the musical seemed like a fuller, more fleshed-out character than in the film. He wasn’t simply a gay trope. How did you manage to do that?

I’m so glad that came across. Remember, it’s 2018. To be in high school now and to be out of the closest isn’t as a taboo as it was years ago. A number of gay teens now are more comfortable with their sexuality. So people aren’t as surprised when there’s a Damian in the world.

I truly tried to bring a lot of myself to the role. Am I proud? Am I feminine? Absolutely. But I’m more than that. The movie came out in 2004 and Daniel Franzese’s portrayal was amazing for the time, but bringing it to 2018, it’s different. [Damian’s sexual identity] is a badge of honor, but he’s definitely multifaceted.

Were you out in high school?

I’m from a small town in Georgia called Macon, and I didn’t come out until college, but I wasn’t deeply in the closet or hiding it [in high school] either. While I didn’t own it (saying I was gay), I wasn’t attempting to pass as straight. I was always comfortable at my school. I was in ballet class. I did musical theater. I wasn’t [officially] out, but I [unofficially] was. It was a different time. I grew up in the late '90s and the millennium. If I was in high school now, I would definitely be out of the closet. But I didn’t have this big coming out moment because I didn’t change at all who I was [after embracing the gay label].

What do you think Damian would say to the closeted kids in high school now?

He would probably say "What are you waiting for?" but I wouldn’t be as blunt as Damian is. Everyone needs to take their time with it. And while discovering your sexuality is a major thing, you should also know [that] you don’t have to figure it out right away. I think most of us can attest you don’t have any of your shit figured out until your '40s.

That’s optimistic. I don’t think we ever do.

You think the answers come out of the woodwork, but I’m in my late twenties and still trying to find someone who will date me for longer than two weeks.

Bullying is a large motif in the show. Straight people bully queer people, but there are also gay men who bully one another well into adulthood. Could you riff on this a little?  

Sure! In high school, people are scared of what they don't know or what’s unfamiliar to them. We all [bullied others] growing up because it’s more comfortable to point the finger at someone else than to accept people for who we are. I definitely think a lot of [bullying] happens within our own community. I was reading The Velvet Rage, which makes us all feel terrible, but there’s so much truth to it. We still, unfortunately, grow up with this sense of shame...

There's a lot [the queer community] can celebrate and be proud of, but we’re still a minority. It’s easier to judge, put down, and compare and contrast yourself to others in the [queer] community because you grew up not feeling good enough or "normal."

I’ve never been one of the cookie cutter gays who has a fabulous Instagram life or gets sponsored to go on vacations with my hot friends. That’s never been my MO, but that’s what we all think it takes to be a successful gay.

It’s a conversation that’s ever evolving. I definitely think it’s important to remember that at the end of the day we’re all trying to do our best. It’s important to lift people up in a community like ours. And that’s been Tina [Fey]’s message from day one: just don’t be a dick. Be a good person. You don’t have to be best friends with everybody, but you have to treat them with respect. So that’s always been my mantra.

Thank you so much Grey, and we’ll being rooting for you at the Tonys!

Check out a sneak peek of the Mean Girls Broadway musical in the video below! And for more info., visit their official website here!

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Zachary Zane

Zachary Zane is a writer, YouTube influencer, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, dating, relationships, and identity politics. Check out his YouTube channel here.

Zachary Zane is a writer, YouTube influencer, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, dating, relationships, and identity politics. Check out his YouTube channel here.