×

‘Pose’ Cast, Producers Talk Emotional, Empowering Journey to Make TV History

FX’s upcoming drama series “Pose” promises to be a milestone for TV in the number of transgender actors, writers and producers who are working on the 1980s-set dance musical.

But as much as “Pose” is poised to be a mainstream breakthrough for its trans stars, it is also significant that the stories revolve around transgender people but they are not about the process of coming to grips with gender identity. The show, produced by Ryan Murphy’s busy shop, is set in 1987 New York in the ballroom culture of elaborate fashion competitions among groups of trans women.

The women of “Pose” are “pretty full embodied in terms of their gender identities,” said Janet Mock, a trans activist and writer who is a writer-producer on “Pose” during a panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Friday. The characters “are beyond the struggle with their bodies, with people calling them by their right name. These are people who are creating new ways of having family — chosen family through the ballroom networks.”

“Pose” also gives the trans characters center stage, rather than being sidekicks or sources of comic relief.

“This is an opportunity to have these people sitting with one another, having problematic relationships, exploring class and gender and sexuality in a way that is accessible but also unique enough and personal enough,” Mock said.

Behind the scenes, however, Murphy was candid about the emotional process of assembling the show and working with actors and consultants who never thought they would have an opportunity to be part of a mainstream TV series. The “Pose” cast includes Evan Peters, James Van Der Beek, MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, and Ryan Jamaal Swain. Tatiana Maslany was originally cast in a key role, but she departed after the story was re-conceived for an older character.

“Pose” was created by Murphy, his longtime collaborator Brad Falchuk and up-and-coming writer Steven Canals. Murphy had long wanted to develop a story involving the ballroom scene in New York. Canals brought to Murphy a script set in similar territory that he wrote while studying screenwriting at UCLA in 2014. Murphy, Falchuk and Canals are executive producers along with Brad Simpson, Nina Jacobson, Alexis Martin Woodall, Sherry Marsh, and Erica Kaye.

Murphy said the emotional experience of assembling the show took him back to his early years when, after struggling with acceptance as a gay man from his family and others, he never dreamed that he would one day have a husband, a family and a career. He feels an obligation to open doors for others who are disadvantaged, given his success as one of TV’s most successful producers. While the trans community has made great strides in cultural acceptance in recent years, trans women of color remain among the most vulnerable people in the nation to violence and murder.

Murphy likened the extensive search process for trans actors for the show to “the search for Scarlett O’Hara,” which involved open casting calls and reaching out to the LGBT community to spread the word that “Pose” was seeking fresh talent.

“When I got to call the actors (on ‘Pose’) on the stage and say ‘Hey you got the part,’ that was a very fulfilling, emotional experience,” Murphy said. “There were times when I felt that I was never going to be allowed to show the best of who I am. Me getting to help people do that now — it’s very powerful.”

The writing process required a similar level of openness and communication to ensure that the show is authentic to the period and to the motivations of its various characters. And there were no shortage of opinions on the set. “I don’t have a lot of people who tell me ‘No.’ I was told ‘No’ 50,000 times a day, and that’s what I want,” Murphy said. “We shot ballroom scenes that had 60 trans women in the room who were very appreciative and thrilled to be there. It was a joyous, momentous occasion.”

Murphy joked that Falchuk is “our token white man.”

“It was great to be in a room with people where I had to stop before I move forward and say ‘What does this feel like?’,” Falchuk said.

Murphy said the new focus on trans rights — given the swing in federal policy under the Trump administration — makes the timing of “Pose” extremely significant. He hopes the show will prove enlightening for many viewers, in the same way that LGBT storylines did on his Fox series “Glee.”

“Now is the time to tell this story about this group of people who are sadly are more and more disenfranchised and cut off,” Murphy said. “We wanted to celebrate them. They’re part of our family. The timing of this show was very important.”

More TV

  • amazon-studios

    YouTube Head of Scripted Jon Wax in Talks to Join Amazon Studios

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming, Jon Wax, is in talks to join Amazon Studios, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. Wax is said to be in discussions for head of genre programming at Amazon, a position held by Sharon Tal Yguado until recently. Variety reported on her exit in early May. The [...]

  • ARE YOU THE ONE SEASON 8

    MTV's 'Are You The One?' Shifts to Sexually Fluid Contestants for New Season

    MTV’s dating reality show “Are You The One?” is addressing changing attitudes regarding sexuality and gender identity by featuring sexually fluid contestants on the show’s eighth season, which bows June 27. The shift from the show’s past focus on heterosexual relationships is part of the larger effort at MTV to be relevant to younger viewers [...]

  • TV News Roundup: Amazon Drops 'Carnival

    TV News Roundup: Amazon Drops 'Carnival Row' Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Amazon drops the first official trailer for “Carnival Row,” starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. DATES August 1 will see the premiere of HGTV’s “Flip or Flop,” which follows divorced couple Christina Anstead and Tarek El Moussa as they figure out their relationship as co-parents and business partners. In the 18-episode season, the [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    What 'The Office' Shifting Platforms Means for Netflix (Column)

    The most important television show of this unusual moment may just be one whose last new episode aired in 2013. “The Office” was, in its first life in the U.S., a beloved workplace comedy (based on a British series) that ran for nine seasons on NBC. In its protracted afterlife, though, it was known to [...]

  • Adam Scott Calls Out Mitch McConnell's

    Adam Scott Calls Out Mitch McConnell's Social Media Team for Using His Image on Twitter

    Adam Scott took to social media on Wednesday to tell Mitch McConnell’s reps not to use his image after the politician’s social media team tweeted a “Parks and Recreation” gif featuring Scott. “Dear Mitch McConnell & all those representing him, please refrain from using my image in support of anything but your own stunning [and] [...]

  • Riz Ahmed

    'Lives Are Quite Literally at Stake': Riz Ahmed on Seeing More Muslims On Screen

    Art can provoke feeling, but its impact has limitations in the face of legal and systemic oppression, said Riz Ahmed, the activist and actor known for “The OA,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “The Night Of,” onstage at the CAA Amplify conference in Ojai on Tuesday, calling for the high-powered industry execs, talent, [...]

  • Discovery Corporate New Logo

    Discovery Faces Backlash From Unscripted Producers After Shift in Series Payment Process

    Discovery Inc. is facing a backlash from the unscripted production community following a shift in the cable giant’s protocol for paying for programming. During the past year, Discovery has implemented a new system that calls for the company to pay producers for shows after all episodes and related material for a given season have been [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content