Billy Porter came upon some new challenges while playing emcee Pray Tell on Season 2 of FX’s “Pose.” The reigning Emmy-winning actor saw his character confront his own mortality during an extended stay at the hospital in an episode that hit close to home. He also performed his very first sex scene at the age of 49 a few episodes later. As such, Porter is breaking ground in ways he did not witness in media growing up. “As a 50-year-old queer man who came out in the ‘80s, there’s no context for ‘Pose.’ There was no context to dream about a character like Pray Tell,” Porter states in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby. “I’m so grateful to have lived long enough to see the day where I can be a part of this. It’s life-altering.” Watch the full video interview with Porter above.
In Episode 6, titled “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” Pray Tell collapses from the effects of AZT and goes to the hospital to recover. While there he encounters the ghosts of his past and ultimately resolves it’s “not my time” to pass on. The episode was especially meaningful for Porter as someone who witnessed friends die from AIDS at a young age. “I called on the memory of the people I lost, specifically,” Porter says. I spent a lot of time in those hospital rooms on the other side, on the healthy side. I spent a lot of time watching a lot of my friends not make it to 30. To be able to tell that story of a group of people who the world very often actively tries to forget is such a gift.” He adds that while filming the episode he felt “the presence of my friends saying, ‘thank you'” for helping tell their story.
For the Episode 8 sex scene with Pray Tell and Ricky (Dyllón Burnside), Porter found himself exercising new muscles as a performer. The intimate scene, which concludes with the two of them in a naked embrace, was admittedly terrifying for Porter. “It cracked open a sexuality in me that I’ve always had a hard time accessing, especially as an actor,” he reveals. “My role, my archetype for a very long time was the magical black fairy clown who sprinkles healing dust over everybody but there was never really a place for my story, for my humanity.”
While Porter admits he tries not to pay too much attention to what others feel about his work, even if it’s positive, he still looks back fondly on last year’s Emmy win. He became the first openly gay black actor to win the Emmy for Best Drama Actor and delivered a rousing speech about letting go of self-doubt. Remembering how he felt that night, Porter recalls, “I still marvel at the truth that when you speak life into yourself, when you stand inside of your own truth, when you own your authenticity no matter what anybody on the outside says, great things happen. Great things happen.” That trophy now means Porter just needs an Oscar to achieve EGOT status after also previously winning a Grammy and Tony.
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