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Billy Porter Talks Historic Emmy Win, Mj Rodriguez in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

It’s been quite a week for “Pose” star Billy Porter.

“You know, it’s a whirlwind. I’m trying to breathe, trying to take it all in, you know. It’s a lot coming at me and I feel very blessed,” Porter told Variety on the red carpet Wednesday for the opening night of “Little Shop of Horrors” at Pasadena Playhouse.

Just a couple of days after his historic Emmy win — which saw him become the first openly gay Black man to win the award for Lead Actor in a Drama Series — and announcing that he’ll make his TV directorial debut on season 3 of “Pose,” Porter was out in full force to support his co-star Mj Rodriguez, who stars in the production.

“There’s a lot of love coming my way from all sides,” Porter said of the reaction to his win. “It’s really inspiring and I can see and feel the chain surrounding who I am and what I represent and what I can contribute to the world. And that’s really great.”

As for the current location of his trophy, he said, “It’s in my hotel room, getting ready to be put into a suitcase and shipped home.”

Porter joined “Transparent” stars Amy Landecker and Alexandra BillingsTodrick HallTiffany Haddish, and “Glee’s” Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse to pose for photos in front of a green neon “Feed Me Seymour” sign.

Porter isn’t the only actor making history this week. Following the evening’s premiere, Rodriguez became the first transgender actress to portray the character Audrey in a major stage production.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of people on social media on Twitter, and they’ve been reposting and putting it out there — being that I am a trans woman playing a cis character in a show — they’re taking that and they’re actually opening the diaspora a little bit more, and they’re actually speaking to the character,” Rodriguez told Variety. “They’re not just labeling me as a trans woman who is playing this role. They’re seeing just the actress play this character and deliver like how she should deliver, and just do the work. It feels so good.”

Rodriguez explained that when the show’s director Mike Donahue contacted her manager asking about setting a meeting, she thought he wanted her to play the plant. “It jarred me a bit because I’m the person who never thought I’d play a woman like her; I never thought I would be offered a role like that before. And when he said that, I was so ecstatic. I was just like ‘You made it,’ and over the moon,” she recalled.

Of the public reaction to her casting, Rodriguez added, “It feels good. I’m glad that I can be a leader as a trans woman of the LGBT community… I mean, I’m the leading actress in this show, and I’m leading in a television show. That speaks volumes and it doesn’t happen for a lot of African American, Latino, trans women of color.”

In fact, the Pasadena Playhouse’s production of the musical is notably diverse, also featuring “Glee” star Amber Riley as Audrey II (a role typically played by a man) and George Salazar as Seymour.

On the diversity of the cast, Salazar told Variety, “I think it’s important that art reflect the real world as much as possible. And you know, I look at this courtyard right now, and I see like a smattering of all sorts of people –- different shapes, different sizes, different backgrounds, different experiences. Our differences are what make our fabric so quintessentially American.”

“So to be a part of a cast that really reflects the real world feels not like, ‘Wow, we really struck gold here,'” he continued. “It’s like, ‘Why aren’t we doing this all the time.'”

The musical is open through October 20.

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