As the fashion-obsessed nephew of Ugly Betty’s iconic title character, Mark Indelicato was catapulted to global superstardom when the Emmy Award-winning cult comedy hit screens in 2006. Airing during a time where the television landscape wasn’t entirely welcoming of the LGBTQ+ experience, Justin Suarez was lauded by fans and critics as one of the first examples of an unapologetically flamboyant character with depth.
Although he didn’t formally come out as gay until the fourth and final season, Justin served as inspiration for countless LGBTQ+ viewers around the world, which is why he’s continuously included on various ‘best queer characters of all time’ lists. “Upon analysis and reflection, looking at the doors that the character and show opened for the content that’s out now makes me feel grateful,” Mark admits. “I’m so grateful to have been a part of this forward progression in the media.”
Last year, Mark made his debut in two more progressive LGBTQ+ titles: HBO Max’s renowned comedy Hacks, as the assistant to Jean Smart’s legendary Las Vegas comedian Deborah Vance, and Prime Video’s romantic dramedy With Love, as leading character Jorge Diaz Jr. Both shows, which were renewed by their respective streamers, received acclaim for refusing to conform to tired LGBTQ+ tropes – with the sexuality of Mark’s characters (and others) accepted without hesitation.
“I’ve seen a change since Ugly Betty, where the coming out story was a huge deal,” says the 27-year-old actor. “It was this big momentous event on television of like, ‘I’m gay!’ Now, 15/16 years later, on Hacks no one talks about Damien’s sexual orientation. […] We’re not delving into that because that’s not what we’re interested in with these characters; it just happens to be a facet of their identity.”
Read ahead for our full interview with Mark, in which he discusses the overwhelmingly positive reception to With Love and Hacks, the deeper exploration of LGBTQ+ identities and bisexuality in the latter’s second season and whether the cast of Ugly Betty are still on board for that much-rumoured revival.
Hacks was a tremendous success when it launched last year, particularly amongst LGBTQ+ viewers. Why do you think it resonated so well with the community?
I think that, on a whole – not to make a wider generalisation – the LGBTQ+ community really consumes and relates to content that has to do with the underdog, in some sort of way, and I think that Deborah Vance is an underdog. She’s a woman of a certain age that’s being told that she’s ageing out of something that she’s really good at, for nothing other than her just being “old”. That kind of narrative can be translated to LGBTQ+ people not being able to get their foot in the door or not be taken seriously based on their gender or sexual orientation. For example, a cis gay actor that’s known for playing gay roles might not be considered to play the straight leading man. It would take a lot more work for that actor to prove oneself. Other than that, I also think that Paul, Lucci and Jen and the entire team at Hacks, whether or not it was coincidental or conscientious, and I think it was probably the latter, most of the cast are queer people: myself, Meg [Stalter], Poppy [Lui], Carl [Clemons-Hopkins], Jonny [Sibilly], Hannah. I think the majority of the cast is queer and so I think that, whether or not they play queer characters on the show, having queer people around is also why audiences might resonate with it.
When you watch Hacks, it’s clear that there’s queer talent in front and behind the camera. There’s a sense of authenticity.
I think that it’s always easier for one to create content and characters that they can identify with in a certain capacity. Not to say that cis-het people can’t make movies or television shows about queer characters, that’s not the case at all, but I do think that there’s something to be said about queer people playing queer characters just because, inevitably, you’re going to be able to relate to them. Queerness is not a monolith, we’re not all the same just because we’re queer.
Hacks is incredibly refreshing because Hannah’s character, Ava, is bisexual and she’s at the forefront of the series. Not only that, there are no elements of biphobia in the narrative…
Yes, it’s dealt with in a very interesting way and we’ve had these conversations off camera. Some of the cast and I, Hannah, Carl, Jonny, Poppy and Meg, have a group chat together and we also just talk a lot. I spend hours on the phone with Hannah every week just bullshitting or talking about work or insecurities or whatever. One of the things that we all found so fantastic about the show is that it deals with bisexuality in a really nuanced way, mainly the generational gap between Debra and Ava, and the ways in which Debra understands sexuality versus Ava’s understanding. Not because Debra’s a bigot, but because she comes from a different generation. That is also something that gets explored more deeply in season two. Kudos to the writers for doubling down on having these very intellectual and difficult conversations in a way that’s quite funny. There’s a scene that I love in show, and I won’t give anything away, where they have an illuminating conversation about bisexuality and the spectrum of sexuality. I just love that. I love that it’s a driving force in the narrative of a comedy show.
What can we expect from Damien this time around?
We go on tour this season, so that is very exciting because Damien is also on tour. We spend a lot of time on a bus going to different cities, and the chaos and debauchery that ensues… As far as Damien is concerned, I am so happy to do a little bit more this season and more physical comedy. You’re going to see more of Damien! I don’t necessarily think that there’s any difference in his disposition. He’s still Damien. I got to be on set more and work with my friends more and that is just a gift. One of things that I love about Damien is that I don’t think he idolises Deborah because she’s a famous comedian. He idolises her because she’s a no-nonsense bitch, she’s a boss. In my delineation of who Damien is and what his story would be, that’s what he’s most attracted to with Deborah.
Your Prime Video series, With Love, has also been picked up for a second season. It was incredibly refreshing for centreing around a Mexican-American family and, of course, the queer relationship between your character Jorge and Henry, played by Vincent Rodriguez III. What does this representation personally mean to you?
It was really nice to be part of a series where I’m playing a grown up! He’s a grown man with a business and a healthy relationship that is obviously very serious. While I play an adult on Hacks, Damien is a pretty nondescript person – you don’t know what he does after work or what his personal life is like. With Love has felt like, for me as an actor, the first adult role I’ve had in my career. That was equally as exciting and nerve-wracking, but Vincent has been so great. Also working with Gloria Calderón Kellett, who created the show, there’s such a collaborative spirit that she has. In a lot of ways, even how Jorge dresses and certain things that he says, we collaborated on. I’m really grateful that she was open to that because it made me feel safe and comfortable and not like I was a pawn in someone else’s production. I felt involved in creating this character.
It feels like there’s a trend here, with you taking on roles in progressive LGBTQ+ shows: Ugly Betty, Hacks and With Love. Was this a conscious choice on your part?
I should say, ‘Yes, it was intentional!’ but no. The real answer is no. Ugly Betty came along when I was really young and we also didn’t know what it was going to become, if it was ever going to be anything let alone a cultural phenomenon. I took a really long break from acting, so when I came back and couldn’t get a job, then the pandemic hit, I was very conflicted about where I wanted to go. When I saw the audition for Hacks and the people that were involved, Paul, Lucia, Jen, Jean and Mike Schur, I didn’t even really read Damien. I was just like, ‘I need to be on this show.’ It’s rare that you read a script and think, ‘This is really special.’ As far as With Love is concerned, I was just super jazzed about having a leading role! Again, I think that I’ve tried to capitalise on every opportunity that has been presented to me in my career because things are fleeting in this business, and I just want to work! I didn’t try to be part of progressive shows on purpose, but I’m very glad that that’s how it worked out.
There are still quite a few shows that have failed in regards to authentic representation, but these three in particular have done it incredibly well…
I’m so tired of having conversations about representation. I mean, they’re so important but it’s exhausting having to say the same thing over and over again!
I’m looking forward to a time where I don’t have to ask talent, ‘How important is it to…’ It’s frustrating that it’s still necessary to discuss LGBTQ+ characters and narratives and how important it is for them to simply exist.
One hundred percent. I think that we are moving more into that realm. I’ve seen a change since Ugly Betty, where the coming out story was a huge deal. It was this big momentous event on television of like, ‘I’m gay!’ Now, 15/16 years later, on Hacks no one talks about Damien’s sexual orientation. No one talks about the fact that Marcus is gay. We’re not delving into that because that’s not what we’re interested in with these characters; it just happens to be a facet of their identity. Similarly with With Love, the fact that we’re not having these insane conversations about Isis King’s character being non-binary and my relationship with Vincent, and also my relationship with Nick, my roommate who is straight. I really do think that, 10 years ago, there would’ve been conversations around, ‘Oh my god, this gay guy and this straight guy live together? I wonder if the gay guy is trying to hit on him?’ So, I think that while we need to be vocal about progress and how important that is, I also think that sometimes the silence of just letting these characters exist is activism in and of itself.
Let’s talk about Ugly Betty. It’s one of my favourite shows of all time and it marked the first time that a lot of LGBTQ+ people, including myself, saw themselves depicted on-screen. The show is still impacting youth around the world today – how does that make you feel?
Aww, thank you. It makes me feel incredible. It’s so much larger than just the character of Justin. The show itself represents such a wide variety of people and lived experiences. One of the best things about the show that I love so much is that you can see yourself in every single one of those characters. For a long time, I wanted to distance myself from the impact of Justin because I was super young, and I was not in an intellectual or mature space to be someone’s role model. That also scared me a lot, so it took me a while to come to terms with and accept the impact that the character had. Upon analysis and reflection, looking at the doors that the character and show opened for the content that’s out now, makes me feel grateful. I’m so grateful to have been a part of this forward progression in the media. It’s special, and not afforded to everyone, so I feel very lucky.
I know you’ve been asked about a reboot on several occasions, but what do you think Justin is up to now?
As far as a reboot is concerned, every single one of us are still close friends and we all want to do it. It’s just the logistics of it that makes it very difficult. But, we would all love to see where our characters are at this point. I don’t know where Justin would be! I could only assume. I guess the cliché would be working at Mode? I don’t think about it that much because I was so sad when it ended, and I like to leave it where it was and for what it was. If there’s a reboot, then we can talk about that and where he is. I’ll leave that up to the writers!
Hacks is now streaming on NOW TV.