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‘Pose’ Boss Breaks Down ‘Revolutionary’ Directorial Debut

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Revelations,” the eighth episode of the second season of “Pose.”

When Steven Canals wrote the script for the eighth episode of “Pose’s” second season, titled “Revelations,” he did not know he was going to be directing such an emotional, intimate sex scene between Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and Ricky (Dyllon Burnside).

“It’s scripted as, ‘Pray Tell is resistant, then he kind of gives into his passion, and then off of his passion we cut to the title sequence.’ I took that, but obviously that’s not what I gave you,” Canals tells Variety.

Canals also wrote the episode, and from the time he was working on the story on the page to when he was prepping shot lists, he thought there “would just be kissing.” But as began thinking more deeply about what he wanted to say as a director with this story, his ideas for the scene shifted.

“I thought we had an opportunity to do something pretty exciting and revolutionary here — not just representing queer, Black love, but also deconstructing the myths about intergenerational relationships,” he explains.

Canals says he had conversations with both Porter and Burnside, and they were “open and receptive” to the changes, in part because it was a chance to show “two gay Black men — and specifically two Black gay characters who are HIV-positive — in a loving relationship.” But also, he says he believes it helped that he already had their trust as the co-creator and showrunner of the show, so they were comfortable working with him in the most vulnerable moments.

And that feeling went beyond just the sex scene. While “Revelations” saw the potential beginning of a romance between Pray Tell and Ricky, it also saw the fracturing of some essential relationships within the House of Evangelista. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) was distraught both over learning he might have been exposed to HIV and by the fact that Ricky was sleeping with his mentor, Pray Tell, and he was growing increasingly fed up with Blanca (MJ Rodriguez), who he thought treated some members of her house and family more delicately than others. Pray Tell himself was dealing with some guilt over sleeping with Ricky, while he, too, thought Blanca didn’t provide equal treatment of all of her children. Angel (Indya Moore) was hiding her drug use and secretly planning to move out of Blanca’s house now that she was earning decent money as a model. While these emotional issues begin bubbling to the surface early in the episode, they really reach a breaking point during a family dinner scene in Blanca’s dining room. What should be celebratory (because Damon graduated) turns into a confrontation.

“Everyone’s coming in with different energy and harboring a different space, so it was all about wrangling all of those emotions so it all made sense within the context of this particular scene so it didn’t feel like they were all coming in from different stories,” Canals says.

“The intention behind that was I loved that the dining space had always been used as a place of community: It’s a place where our heroes always come together to support one another. I loved playing with that space and using it in a whole new way: Now we’re seeing the dissolution of a family in that same space.”

For Canals, getting the chance to step behind the camera as an auteur is seeing a long-time dream come to fruition. He first discovered that he wanted to direct when he was in high school, working on a documentary short about the gang violence that had erupted in his hometown of the South Bronx, New York. “On the heels of creating this documentary one of my classmates who was a co-producer on it was shot and killed,” he shares, “so I went from highlighting an experience that other people were having to suddenly having that experience, and I realized the power of crafting a narrative and then engaging other people.”

For Canals, that was “transformative” and suddenly he decided “I wanted to be a filmmaker. And in my mind, I decided I was going to be the next great American filmmaker with the first name Steven, following in the footeps of Spielberg and Soderbergh.”

But, when he went to film school, he took a slight detour. “I slowly fell out of love with being behind the camera,” he admits of his time in his 20s when he says he “hadn’t really stepped into myself — my identity and owning who I was as a person and owning and appreciating my voice” and therefore didn’t yet see himself as an auteur.

“The other thing was that I truly just didn’t have the emotional intelligence to deal with people judging my work,” he continues. “It was difficult to be in an environment where you’re graded for your passion. So I just stopped doing it.”

But, working with Ryan Murphy on the pilot of “Pose” reinvigorated him. He shadowed Murphy when he was directing and realized he was actually “itching” to get back in the director’s chair. He expressed such sentiments to Murphy, who agreed that he had to do it.

Additionally, Murphy felt strongly that Canals’ directorial debut should be an episode he also wrote, Canals says. “Revelations” became the one to do because of how important it was to “have someone be on set directing this episode that the actors A) would trust and B) have a short-hand with in terms of communicating regarding the scripts — because there are some really bold choices that we decided to make narratively,” Canals explains.

One the most important themes Canals wanted to tackle in this episode was the importance of motherhood, especially “how trans women have historically stepped in to become surrogate parents in gay men’s lives and how they have redefined motherhood,” he says.

The way this came about in “Revelations” was in watching Blanca’s children grow up and leave her as an empty-nester. Canals’ final shot of the episode is a distant view of Blanca through her apartment window as she sits down at her big table alone and cries over the loss of her kids.

“Now Blanca’s in the next phase of motherhood going into not just the last two episodes of our season but also thinking about what her arc and story will be for Season 3. How does Blanca now redefine her relationships with her children? What is her role? She’ll never stop being a mother, but for us it was really exciting to explore what does motherhood look like when you’re now living in a home where you don’t have your children living with you, when you have to let them go out into the world?” he says.

“Pose” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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