Director Q. Allan Brocka’s Eating Out big-screen comedies didn’t really hit full stride until the third one. Not that the first two weren’t overwhelmingly popular -- Eating Out is the first gay comedy to spawn a sequel, after all -- but three times really did prove to be the charm.

That’s when the storyline gained momentum with the introduction of “Casey,” a cousin to the original lead played by American Idol alum Jim Verraros. Daniel Skelton made his first appearance as the endearingly awkward gay “every boi” to whom we all, at one time or another, can relate.

Recalling what it was like to step into the thriving franchise and in effect take it over, Skelton is reflective and candid.

“I won’t lie, it was pretty intimidating,” he confesses. “The series already had a built-in fan base, so it was a bit of challenge to try and make people happy — or at least not let them down.”

Skelton is the picture of the all-American guy next door who just happens to be gay. But there’s far more here than your average wholesome-looking young man with a humble, soft-spoken manner.

For one thing, he counts overcoming his own resistance and self-doubt regarding his sexuality as among his greatest challenges.

“I grew up in a very religious household and had a more stern upbringing,” he says, “so I did struggle with accepting who I am.”

Although it’s apparent that this is not the easiest subject to talk about, he says that’s precisely why it’s so important for him to do so.

“It was really hard, and there was a lot of denial involved,” he said, adding triumphantly, “but you know, it’s something that can be overcome and people do it every day!”

Such is Skelton’s guileless-but-in-no-way-gullible appeal, something that also makes Casey so authentic.

“Because I do have a lot in common with him, I know exactly what it’s like to be more self-conscious or questioning of yourself. So I think I bring a bit of honesty to him,” he says.

Over the course of three films, he has had a chance to see his character grow up a little, while still remaining brash enough to engage in some truly wacky antics while trying to win the man of his dreams.

“I think he comes into his own a little bit more in these last two pictures,” Skelton observes. “He still has the same insecurities, but he’s a lot more confident in his abilities — and in himself.”

For his part, writer-director Brocka reports that his fresh-faced protagonist was “written purposefully vague to make him able to fit any type of actor we might find. Then Daniel came in and made the character his own, right from his first audition.”

“Since then,” Brocka says, “writing for Casey has been incredibly specific — and a lot more fun!”

Born in Portland, Ore., Skelton says his love for performing goes back to when, as a small child, he would write and act out little plays in his living room.

“I would do all the acting myself — kind of a one-man show that I would put on for my parents and my siblings,” he says with a chuckle. “They probably thought it was really annoying, but I insisted on it!”

After graduating from high school, he moved to Seattle to attend college before settling down in Los Angeles to pursue careers in acting and writing.

“I’ve always had a really nice passion for writing, and I do a lot of it on the side,” he said. “But I think with acting, it’s fun to become this other person and to entertain. Entertaining other people, whether putting a smile on their face or making them think, is really rewarding.”

Last summer, Eating Out 4 continued the saga of Casey and his hunky partner, Zack (Chris Salvatore), as they attended a summer drama camp. There, each faced temptations that ultimately pulled them apart, leaving the ending bittersweet to say the least.

It quickly became the hit of the LGBT film festival circuit, but most will agree that it wasn’t quite the feel-good ending they had expected from such an outlandish, over-the-top comedy.

Yet surely going their separate ways can’t be the fate of our hot (if hapless) heroes — can it? Rest assured, the producers definitely had something up their sleeves. Now this month, the time has come to learn the truth with the DVD release of Eating Out 5: Open Weekend.

“We actually shot 4 and 5 simultaneously,” Skelton said. Due to scheduling issues and location problems, they wound up working somewhat out of sequence.

“It was supposed to be back-to-back, shooting the fourth one and then moving right to the fifth,” he said. “But it turned out, we shot a little bit of the fourth, and then almost all of the fifth, and then the rest of the fourth -- but number five picks up right where the fourth one leaves off.”

Salvatore again plays Casey’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Zack, and Rebekah Kochan continues (albeit briefly) making her presence felt as Tiffani, the sarcastic “center of her own universe” who has been the pair’s guide and confidant throughout. The legendary Mink Stole once again appears as Casey’s devoted Aunt Helen. Skelton says, “She’s such a great person -- she has such amazing energy. She’s just one of those people that draws you in and kind of lifts you up. Just being around her was great!”

The synergy created by that ease and familiarity among the cast members has translated admirably into each of the Eating Out installments, but, Skelton says, most especially this latest one.

“My favorite to film, honestly, was number five,” he says. “I think that movie is going to be really great. The ending of the fourth is funny and interesting, but it didn’t quite feel closed, and I think the fifth one does that. It’s done really smart and wraps everything up wonderfully.”

Eating Out 5: Open Weekend will be released March 20 through Ariztical Entertainment. For more information about any film in the Eating Out series, check out www.ariztical.com.

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