“To portray a character with that lived experience and show that there’s life after an HIV diagnosis has been really important to me,” declares Dyllón Burnside about his role on FX’s drama “Pose.” The Emmy-winning drama about ballroom culture in New York City recently concluded its third and final season. Burnside plays Ricky, a young HIV-positive dancer who becomes the boyfriend of ballroom elder Pray Tell (Emmy winner Billy Porter). In our exclusive video interview (watch above), Burnside discusses the finale season’s most emotional moments and the importance of the show’s representation of queer men of color. SPOILERS INCLUDED.
Burnside admits that he was taken aback when he learned that Ricky and Pray Tell would become romantically involved back in season 2. “I was completely shocked by it, but I understood it,” he explains. “I understood it in the way that Ricky needed the kind of support that only Pray Tell could offer, and Pray Tell needed the kind of companionship of someone who understood what he was going through too.”
However, Burnside says that the frank depiction of love and sex between two queer men of color. “There’s so much we haven’t seen before when it comes to black queer identity,” he says. “The spectrum of what we see of black men on television and in film is limited unfortunately. So I am supremely grateful to have been able to not only be in a relationship on television with another black man and show love and partnership between two black men, but to be playing in a relationship with two HIV positive characters.”
The final season of “Pose” gave Burnside some of the most challenging dramatic material of the series, and the actor jokes at how much crying he had to do in many of his scenes, particularly in the final episode. “I was like ‘Y’all had me crying in every scene,'” he laughs. “I went to work everyday feeling the weight of that. I went home every just depleted of everything.” The actor credits the show’s executive producers Steven Canals and Ryan Murphy with giving him the freedom to make his own dramatic choices during some of those scenes. “”I think what we were able to craft together made it very real,” he says. “I’m grateful that I had Billy Porter as and incredible scene partner, who was really patient and let me do my thing, and then I had Steven and Ryan there to support me the whole way.”
But Burnside managed to inject some levity into Ricky’s experience, particularly in the scenes taking place after Pray Tell’s death in the finale. The final scenes show a more mature Ricky taking over as father of the House of Evangelista, with Burnside incorporating more than a few of Pray Tell’s mannerisms into Ricky’s personality. “I wanted the audience to understand that Ricky is deeply changed by the loss of Pray Tell,” he explains. “That came across in some of the mannerisms. It came across in the wardrobe and even in the speech. I shifted it just a little bit just to give you that air of Pray Tell. It made you feel that Pray Tell was still present in Ricky’s life.”
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