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Billy Porter’s role in “Pose,” in which he serves as an LGBTQ+ activist during New York City’s AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, is informed by his own experience visiting the city during those revelatory and devastating years.

During his Variety Actors on Actors interview, he told Rachel Brosnahan that it was groundbreaking to “have that background, to really know what it felt like to be in a city.”

“I came out as gay in ’85, it was the middle of the AIDS crisis,” the actor continued. “It was a dark time, it was a dark, dark time. We were living through a plague. And it was a group of people that it felt like nobody cared about and that cloud was hanging over the city in a really hard way.”

While the Ryan Murphy-helmed series focuses on HIV’s tragic effects on the gay community, Porter brought up the silver lining, present in both the show and his own experiences. “The great part about it was that — and I think this is what infuses the show — is the choice to choose life anyway is such a powerful thing,” he said. “It’s a powerful tool to have in life in general and you can’t have a testimony unless you have a test.”

When Brosnahan asked him how it feels to portray the historical story on-screen, particularly as a gay man, Porter said he couldn’t believe it. “If I’m being honest with you, I never felt like this story being told would ever be an option,” said. “My dreams have always been huge but they’ve always been spring-boarded off of something I had already seen. Never the impossible.”

“Actors on Actors” will air on PBS June 18th and 20th.

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