Tonight at Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center, Pose co-creator Ryan Murphy joined star Billy Porter for a discussion of the series, in celebration of its six Emmy nominations and other groundbreaking achievements, as the series with the largest cast of transgender and LGBTQ actors in television history. More specifically, Murphy was there to celebrate Porter, a first-time Golden Globe and Emmy nominee, who burst on the scene this year, becoming a bona fide pop culture phenomenon at age 49, after many years of struggle.
Teasing that the series’ Season 2 finale will time jump to 1991, Murphy also shared that he envisions the series concluding in 1996—the year AIDS medications became more widely available—while diving into a discussion on Porter’s career and his turn as Pray Tell.
After Murphy told the audience that Porter auditioned for Pose two years ago today, the actor recalled the rage he was feeling at that time, with Donald Trump just at the beginning of his presidency. “Having lived through an administration that looked very similar to this, the rage for me comes from the idea that it’s the same hate. It’s no different than it’s ever been—and we, as a culture, are as gullible as we were all along. We talk in circles about this man, we talk in circles about these people. We don’t call them out,” the actor said. “It’s such a weird thing for me because I’m a hopeful person, and I lost hope for a little bit. I think I was probably in that space where I was trying to hold on to any semblance of what hope could look like.”
This moment notwithstanding, the conversation was generally one of hope, positivity, and excitement at the degree to which the world has now changed. Throughout the discussion on an extraordinary year for Porter, in which he made a splash at the Met Gala, went viral at the Oscars and became the first openly gay black man to be nominated at the Emmys for Lead Actor in a Drama, much of the focus was on Murphy’s confidence in Porter as a boundary-pushing leading man, and Porter’s disbelief in it.
“I’ve never gotten a lot of love from Hollywood. When I came out, being gay was not the thing, being gay and black was really not the thing, and I’ve always been told that I’m too flamboyant, too this, too that,” Porter shared.
In truth, Porter admitted, people had always seen his leading man potential, going back to the 1980s. “This idea of ‘leading man,’ it’s like I can go all the way back to Carnegie Mellon. In 1987, they were telling me that I was a leading man. They were casting me as Romeo and I was like, ‘What the f*ck are you talking about? For who?’” the actor said. His reaction stemmed from the notion that, at that moment in time, there were only three archetypes in Hollywood for African American leading men. “We had the James Earl Jones patriarch, the Denzel Washington sex symbol and the Eddie Murphy genius clown, and that was it, and all of them were violently homophobic,” Porter reflected. “What I had to give up to be a leading man was everything. I had to give up all of myself to do that. So when you get a call from Ryan Murphy saying you’re the leading man, it’s like, ‘B*tch, no I’m not.’”
In Season 2 of Pose, Porter further pushed boundaries, as a 49-year-old black, gay man with a sex scene on the prominent platform that is FX. For Porter, the notion of tackling this scene was nerve-wracking, given the nature of the work he’d been allowed to do to this point. “I spent 30 years of my career never being the object of anybody’s affection in anything. As gay people, they cut our dicks off, it’s nonsexual, and then when the sexual, loving stories started being told, it was always with the white boys,” he said. “It was such a healing moment for me. It’s the next level and the next layer in understanding, owning, and putting on the armor that is that ‘leading man’ thing.”
Throughout the evening, Porter shared his gratitude for Murphy, the eminent Hollywood gatekeeper who understood what he brought to the table, and gave him the spotlight he desired. “You wrote the material for me. You raised the bar for me. You made the challenge, and I accepted it,” Porter commented. “You actually said the words, ‘You’re black, you’re gay, you’re out, and you’re my lead. The world needs to see what that looks like, and you’re the one to do it.’”
Pose has blown up in its second season, as the drama about the African-American and Latino LGBTQ ballroom culture scene in New York has suddenly gained traction with its intended audience and won new fans. Featured characters are dancers and models who compete for trophies and recognition in this underground culture and support each other in a network of chosen families known as Houses.
The series was created by Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals and premiered in June 2018 on FX. The ensemble cast includes Evan Peters, Kate Mara, James Van Der Beek, Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson and Porter, along with Indya Moore, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Charlayne Woodard, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, Angel Bismark Curiel, Dyllon Burnside and Sandra Bernhard.
Pose was nominated for the Golden Glode for Best Television Series – Drama, and has already been greenlit for a third season.
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