As FX’s POSE, now on Tuesdays, jumps ahead in its second season to 1990, there are a lot of changes for the participants in New York’s transgender ballroom scene. One thing has stayed the same, though: the most fabulous Commentator emceeing a ball is still cis-gendered gay man Pray Tell.
As played by Billy Porter, Pray is a great friend to the House of Evangelista, especially house mother Blanca (Mj Rodriguez). Both Pray and Blanca are dealing with their HIV diagnoses. When Pray’s friend and nurse Judy (Sandra Bernhard) urges him to get involved in the budding ACT UP movement, advocating for those who have HIV and AIDS, his first reaction is to dismiss it as an organization for spoiled white men. However, after his first meeting, Pray becomes a passionate activist.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Porter has been a Broadway star for some years now, having won a Tony for his lead role as Lola in the musical KINKY BOOTS. For his first season as Pray Tell on POSE, Porter has been nominated for both Golden Globe and a Television Critics Association Awards.
Appearing at a Q&A panel with his colleagues for POSE, Porter discusses his work on the series, then makes himself available for a one-on-one follow-up conversation.
Pray Tell and Blanca had a moving song duet in POSE last season. Both Porter and Rodriguez were surprised when they learned they’d be singing together. However, Porter says of POSE co-creator Ryan Murphy, “Ryan surprises people all the time.”
Porter and Rodriguez have known each other in real life since 2011, when Rodriguez joined the Broadway cast of RENT in the role of Angel at the age of nineteen.
“We watched this luminous creature walk into the room for RENT,” Porter recalls, “and it was like we had never seen the role before. It was as if Angel became a whole new thing. And I didn’t understand, really, what that was. I just knew that it needed to be nurtured, and I knew that I could sort of be of use.” He turns to Rodriguez. “Remember when I taught you how to work in that [dress] train? It was wonderful to work in that environment, and since then, see the evolution of this beautiful lady flower into what she has become.”
In terms of POSE’s impact on the public, Porter reflects, “There’s a healing that has taken place in my age group. Like Ryan said, we lived through it [the era when thousands of people, especially gay men, were dying of AIDS, which was being ignored by mainstream medicine and the American government]. I had a lot of friends call me who I haven’t heard from in decades, saying things like, ‘It’s cathartic. I didn’t know that I needed to let go of something surrounding that.’ It happened. We lived through it. We got to the other side. And then the pill came; the world moved on. You’ve just got to keep going. You’ve got to keep living. You put your blinders on. And then, one day, you wake up and you’re like, ‘Whoa, we went through something so tragic. We went through a plague. We lived through a plague, and most of us never had the opportunity to mourn that. Somebody said to me, ‘I’ve had survivor’s guilt. That’s gone now because of this show. I understand that it’s the healing of it is what we must focus on. So I think for me, that has been the greatest one of the greatest gifts.”
ASSIGNMENT X: When you became involved in POSE, were you just like, “Sounds great, I don’t care what I play”?
BILLY PORTER: Correct. It’s Ryan Murphy. You go when he calls [laughs].
AX: Have you had any real-life experience with the ballroom scene?
PORTER: I’ve been ball-adjacent from the beginning. When I moved to New York to be in the original cast of MISS SAIGON, so I was working professionally, but I would go to balls and hang out.
AX: When you came into POSE, did you know that you were going to play Pray Tell, or were you considered for any other characters?
PORTER: No, I knew I was going to be the Emcee.
AX: Is Pray Tell based on any ballroom emcees/commentators that you saw?
PORTER: It’s sort of a combination of everybody – all the ones I’ve seen, and then I just do my own thing.
AX: Do they let you improvise at all?
PORTER: A lot of it is improvised. They have to [laughs].
AX: So you look at the outfits the ballroom competitors are wearing, and the writers just let you know, “He likes this outfit, he doesn’t like that outfit,” and you take it from there?
PORTER: It probably would be about fifty-fifty. The writers write a lot of it, brilliantly, and then the consultants come and write some ad-libs, and then I do my own.
AX: Do you like the elaborate costumes that Pray Tell wears when he’s commentating?
PORTER: Of course. I helped put those together.
AX: There was one outfit that seemed Mad Hatter-esque, with a giant top hat that’s prominently featured in some of the ads you’re in for POSE. Were you sort of inspired by ALICE IN WONDERLAND at all?
PORTER: Not really. We’re sort of inspired by fabulous. Whatever is going to be fabulous is what we’re inspired by. Whatever feels like it’s in the period.
AX: Do you have any hopes for what will happen with Pray Tell in Season 2?
PORTER: I really don’t. I just want to come and do what they tell me [laughs].
This interview was conducted during FX Networks’ portion of the Television Critics Association press tour.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with POSE star Billy Porter on Season 2