'Pose' taught Billy Porter to dream the impossible

"Pose" Season 3 kicks off Sunday. File Photo by Steven Ferdman/UPI
1 of 5 | "Pose" Season 3 kicks off Sunday. File Photo by Steven Ferdman/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, April 30 (UPI) -- Billy Porter said his three seasons starring in Pose, a drama set in the 1980s and '90s New York drag ballroom scene, have changed him and his career forever.

"I spent the first 25-plus years of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat. Pose, and [my character] Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible," the 51-year-old Emmy winner told reporters in a recent Zoom interview.


"The idea that the little, Black church sissy from Pittsburgh now is in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before? You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out."

In addition to raising Porter's professional profile and increasing his confidence, he also learned from the series creators and showrunners Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Steven Canals and Janet Mock how to navigate a notoriously cliquish industry.


"They have taught us all through this experience how to fish," Porter said.

"Remember that whole phrase, that old saying?" he asked rhetorically. "You don't give somebody the food. You teach them how to fish, so they can do it for themselves. The gift of this, of being in this space, is that we've all now been empowered to go out and continue."

Dominique Jackson, who plays Elektra, said the show taught her she should never go into a job interview thinking she has to downplay who she is to impress a potential employer.

"I need to be a professional. I need to know my worth. I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything," the 56-year-old transgender actress said.

"Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I'm an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value.

"So, when I walk into spaces now, they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you're not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of Pose. ... I will not be that fearful woman anymore. I will not be afraid to lose. I will not be afraid to fight."


Canals and Murphy always planned for Pose to run three seasons, so the announcement that it would not get a Season 4 on the cable network FX did not shock or disappoint them.

"We had a very specific ending in mind. And if you watch this season and, more specifically, the story that we tell in the finale, that was what it was always intended to be," said Canals, 40.

"There were all of these incredible experiences that we knew that we wanted all of our characters to have. And if you go back to the first season, everything was a set-up for this final chapter. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And this final season was the end of this three-act narrative that we've been telling.

"So, every choice was intentional, and everything that we've done this season was leading up to the story that we tell."

Transgender writer and producer Mock said the show has succeeded in its goal to make trans people feel accepted, legitimate and seen.

"We wanted to show a color of that, of how so many women before us, before there were any legalities around any of this, before there were any legislation for any LBGTQ people, that there were waves of folks who were outsiders and renegades and trailblazers, and they made a way out of no way," said Mock, 38.


"And, really, Pose has always been the celebration of the ways in which our people just make do with nothing."

Bisexual actress, comedian and LGBTQ activist Sandra Bernhard plays Judy, a nurse who treats several Pose characters for HIV and AIDS.

"Having been in the business for a very, very long time and seeing so much evolve from being involved with Paul Mooney in The Richard Pryor Show and being really aligned with not only people of color but, obviously, the whole gay movement and having been in, sort of, the trenches during the AIDS experience, to see everybody on this show just explode and blossom not only as actors, but as people, has been such an inspiration to me," said Bernhard, 65.

"I really love all of you," Bernhard told the cast. "You are all so talented, and I look forward to seeing everything you are going to be doing."

Porter called the parallels between the current coronavirus pandemic and the AIDS crisis of the late 20th Century "quite profound."

"I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this COVID time," Porter said.

"It's very reminiscent of what it was like [in the 1980s and '90s.] The best news about that is that I survived. We got through it. And there is another side to it. We can get to the other side," he said.


"And I feel like that's what Pose really accomplishes this season -- reminding the public that it's when we come together and when we lead with love is how we get to the other side."

The third and final season premieres Sunday on FX. It co-stars Mj Rodriguez, Michaela Jaé, Indy Moore, Hailie Sahar, Dyllón Burnside, Angel Bismark Curiel and Jason A. Rodriguez.

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