FX’s “Pose” made television history with its cast, the largest ensemble of LGTBQ performers ever to grace the screen. And while many of his co-stars were making their TV debut, Tony winner Billy Porter, as ballroom announcer Pray Tell, seized his moment in the spotlight with his heartbreaking storyline, dynamic delivery — and that unforgettable solo.
We’ve never seen a cast like this on TV.
Never, ever, ever. Ever! It’s so transformative for me. I’ve always had big dreams. They probably springboarded off something that I had already seen. I wasn’t just thinking about it being possible. It’s something that I could never have imagined back in 1985 when I came out.
I read that the role was written for you. How do you feel about that?
I don’t have the words for it. The dream is realized! I don’t think it’s the norm or the status quo. So I’m just really pleased that it happened. I’m just here to pull a Morgan Freeman on these bitches! Morgan Freeman or Sam Jackson, they started doing their thing in their 50s. It’s like, OK, well I can do it that way!
What has surprised you the most about the reaction to the show?
I’ve been very moved by the community’s reaction. I actually had a friend reach out to me who I hadn’t heard from in a long time, and he said my [HIV-positive] storyline had helped him deal with the survivor guilt that he has had for a long time. So stuff like that just makes it really, really special.
How did you feel about that storyline?
That’s the only storyline that’s appropriate to tell in that time period. You can’t tell this story without that. You can’t tell the story of “Pose” without that. I’m honored to represent for all my friends who didn’t make it. I’m just glad to be able to be in the position where I can remind the world that this happened, because when we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it
How do you even begin to summon the energy for Pray Tell?
We’ve never met, clearly! (Laughs) That’s just my regular everyday energy. I’ve always been one to bounce off the walls. You ask my mother, and she couldn’t shut me up, she couldn’t stop me from singing, she couldn’t stop me from dancing. It’s just been my way all my life. The over-the-top, larger-than-life character — that’s my wheelhouse! It’s actually less stressful to do it in film than to do it eight times a week [on stage].
If you sing again in Season 2, what would you want to perform?
I want to dive into the unfortunate relationship between the gay community and the church. And maybe sing in front of a real gospel choir. That’s really where I come from. I would love to sing in front of a real gospel choir, however we could write that.
There’s been a trend lately of doing live musicals for television. Is that something that you would consider doing?
They’ve never called me! But yes, I would love to. I would want to do the “Kinky Boots” musical. I would want to do what I created, wherever that’s going to be. I would love for it to be actually on film, so I can get my Oscar. I’m dreaming — and I’m dreaming big! You’ve gotta put it out there.
Is there a part you haven’t played yet that you want to play?
I would like to do my Hamlet, before I’m too old. I would like a little Hamlet situation, you know like the white boys do, they come to Broadway and get famous. I want to do that, I want to do like the white boys do. I want my Hamlet with Angela Bassett or Viola Davis. Keep this s–t going for real!
Things You Didn’t Know About Billy Porter
AGE: 48 BIRTHPLACE: Pittsburgh WHAT HE SINGS IN THE SHOWER: “Whatever I’m listening to right now. Now it’s the boys from Pentatonix.” ON HIS NIGHTSTAND: Ta-Nehisi Coates GO-TO PODCAST: “ ‘Pod Save America.’ I want to know how to we fix it, how to we move forward and these podcasts are encouraging in that way.” SECRET TALENT: “I like to cook. If I was not a performer or an artist, I would probably be a chef.”