Warren Egypt Franklin, who turned 25 just two days after speaking with Out Traveler from his L.A. home, was barely out of college when he landed the dual roles of LaFayette and Thomas Jefferson (a combo made famous by Daveed Diggs) for a touring production of the hit musical Hamilton.
Franklin admits the performing schedule can be grueling. “I don’t think people realize how challenging touring can be. Especially traveling now, during COVID. To have that stress on top of just knowing my lines, and my lyrics, and everything I need to do…. It’s actually quite insane. Literally our off days are the travel days. I get to the next city…and then I have to do eight shows in a row.”
Still, Franklin says he’s “very grateful” for this opportunity to tour America. “Every city I learn something new,” he says. “Every city I see different cultures and meet different people who enlighten me on life and culture and even myself.” But, he admits, “I’ve also seen some bad things on tour. I don’t think we delve into how racist America can be.”
Franklin’s first name is Warren Egypt and he’s actually the III. He explains, “My family’s third generation immigrant American. We come from Egypt. We are Egyptians. It was an homage — my grandfather’s name from my great-grandfather — of coming here, but still having our roots. So that’s why our first name is Warren Egypt.”
The actor grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, which he describes as a great but hard place, “rough around the edges. The downfall to Cleveland…[is that] everyone is trying to make it out. To New York or L.A. or whatever amazing city they aspire to.”
He muses, “If I see a goal for myself, and I know that it’s unattainable for me — I can’t get there — I’d rather put you on my shoulders so you can get there first, then tell me how to get there. And a lot of people don’t work like that. Sometimes it’s just hard to get out of the mindset of competing with other people, when you should just be competing with yourself.”
Asked what the queer scene is like in Cleveland, Franklin can’t help but laugh. “Queer scene? I really have no idea. I’m 25. I didn’t go to a gay bar or gay club until I was like, 22 or 23. Always been too busy.”
The driven workaholic doesn’t regret a minute of it though. He’s proud to be a Black man who owns his own home in his twenties “and it all comes from me — I don’t depend on anyone financially. I’m the boss of everything that I do.”
Last year, Franklin joined the cast of Freeform’s Grown-ish as Des, a gender-fluid pansexual track star who attends college with Zoey (Yara Shahidi). The gay actor says he resonates with the character’s athleticism. But he also identifies with the way people judge Des for being gender-fluid. Franklin recalls, “All of my friends who played sports didn’t love the fact that I [also] did musical theater.”
He was teased frequently for his love of theater, but says, “I never really let kids’ words get to me. Plus, I liked to fight. I don’t do any of that anymore. I am a grown man who has a therapist and can talk about their feelings. [But] I grew up in a toxically masculine environment and city and in a place where…you do music theater, and you’re gay, or you do sports. That’s an indicative example of how society boxes in Black men. We can only do one thing, we can only be one way. And I am multifaceted. And I think Des is the same way: there’s just not one layer.”
Franklin describes Des as “the friend that we all need. The one who is just so comfortable with himself and in his skin. He doesn’t let gender norms identify him. He doesn’t let social norms or cultural norms identify him. He’s…just is who he is. He wears what he wants.”
Franklin is proud that Des is creating space for more masculine men to have greater gender expression. “Since the airing of the show, there’s been so many more athletes that we’ve been seeing who have been rocking skirts.” And he’s heard from many athletes (students to professionals) for whom Des resonates.
The actor adds, “Just because you’re a queer person, doesn’t mean that you’re overtly feminine. You can still be masculine, you can still be athletic, and you can still wear grey sweats…and then maybe tomorrow, you want to rock a skirt and mix it with a varsity jacket and some boots. Style is just a form of expression to tell people a little bit about who we are before they get to open the book to fully read us.”
Franklin says this season we’ll get to see a more romantic side of Des. “I can’t tell you who that romanticism is with, you’ll have to watch it. But we get to see another side of Des and how Des can be as a lover.”
Currently back on tour with Hamilton, the future multi-hyphenate hopes to release his first EP this summer.
“I’ve been really taking my time with it, really putting all my emotions and work into my music,” he says.
On top of all that, he’s also writing a TV pilot. “I’m not even halfway done with the first episode,” he admits. Franklin says he has the characters fleshed out and the storyline in mind. “[But] who knows how long it’ll take. That’s really my little passion project.”
This piece originally ran in Out Traveler print magazine. The Spring 2022 issue is now available on newsstands. Photography by Riker Brothers.