The series finale of “Pose” was filled with joy, triumph and heartbreak as the groundbreaking show lost one beloved character (Billy Porter’s Pray Tell) but saw success for others, including Mj Rodriguez’s Blanca.
Perhaps its most magnificent moment was the last ballroom scene that featured both of those characters. In the story, it was a celebration of life after they were admitted to a new HIV/AIDS drug trial. On set, it was a celebration of production as the already grand “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” became even larger-than-life with a rain moment.
Pray and Blanca took to the dance floor to perform together, dancing and lip-syncing to Diana Ross’ version of the song.
“It was her moment of reckoning,” Emmy-nominated Rodriguez says of her character in Variety Making A Scene presented by HBO.
But also, the scene was pivotal moment between the two characters because it bookended their shared musical moments. As the Emmy-nominated co-creator, showrunner and episode director Steven Canals explains, the first time they sang on the show, they performed Ross’ “Home.”
Now, “it’s the last time that Blanca and Pray Tell ever spend time together in this way,” he says. “We wanted a song that was uplifting.”
Rodriguez, who made history by becoming the first transgender performer to be nominated in any of the major acting categories, says she was excited when she was that on the page: “I’m a huge Diana Ross fan. I was raised on R&B music and it’s the only music I know how to move to,” she says, adding that she knew it would be a great song to perform.
It was in the writers’ room that Canals and the team decided to make it a complete Ross tribute by adding in the torrential rainstorm to the scene. That also excited Rodriguez, who recalls her response to seeing that on the page as, “This is the complete epic finale finish and the right way to finish the show.”
Emmy-nominated Billy Porter notes that while Rodriguez was “fine with it,” he was “a bit more pragmatic because I’m about 20 years older than her. So, I was just making sure I didn’t crack my head open!” (He also laughs about being put “in a leotard after seven months of quarantine. … Don’t think I wasn’t stark raving mad about that!”)
The scene was not without its challenges since it was shot in-camera and didn’t rely on VFX. With rain falling, there would be a lot of water on the ground. “We had to treat the wood on the ballroom set first,” Canals explains.
Once it was established that the cast would be rained on, Emmy-nominated hair department head Barry Lee Moe built multiple wigs for each Billy and Mj. “You have to start thinking logistically about how are we going to reset this if we need to not knowing how we’re going to film it,” Moe says.
Every wig was handmade from human hair, with lace fronts that he ventilated.
Emmy-nominated makeup department head Sherri Berman Laurence tested makeup with Porter in his trailer to see how the products she had chosen would work. “We sprayed Evian above him — and just kept spraying him — seeing how much water he could take and what would run and what didn’t,” she recalls.
The rain test process was a lengthy one, and then when they were ready to film, the actors went all out. Blanca’s twirl, Canals points out, was not planned but rather something she did because she was feeling it in the moment.
While the moment is one that is owned by Blanca, it was a deeply personal moment for Porter.
“One of the things I said when I sat down to shoot the scene was, ‘This is the surrender and the death of Pray Tell and the rebirth of Billy,'” Porter tells Variety.
Porter, who came out as HIV-positive earlier this year, admits that he had shame surrounding his diagnosis for the 14 years since he received it in 2007. But “Pray Tell was releasing everything. Pray Tell was surrendering. And so was I. To release the past, to release all the shame and to be able to stand in my truth and my authenticity and live another day to tell a different story … I’m so grateful to have lived long enough to see this day — to see the day where I get to be who I am in the world.”
Watch the video above.