Billy Porter on the dance floor at Club Babylon? It almost happened.
On the latest episode of the podcast Hot Takes and Deep Dives, host Jess Rothchild chatted with Queer as Folk co-stars Peter Paige and Scott Lowell about the groundbreaking Showtime series, and how its core cast almost looked very different.
During the conversation, Paige, who played the effeminate fan-favorite Emmett Honeycutt, revealed he was up against two other actors for the part — one of them being stage and screen legend Billy Porter. Paige beat out the other actors and went onto play Emmett for the five-season run of the show. At a Queer as Folk premiere event, Porter later confronted Paige about his portrayal of the character.
“He came to the premiere, he hunted me down at the reception and said, ’Now I know why I didn’t get the job. I’m not kidding. I could not do what you did with that role. I mean every word of it. That was incredible, I’m so proud of you,'” Paige recalled to Rothchild. “It was the classiest thing. I will never forget it. I learned so much that day from Billy Porter.”
Another trailblazing queer television show would have been different, too: Will & Grace. In his interview, Paige also revealed that before he was cast on Queer as Folk, he almost played Jack McFarland on the NBC sitcom. The role went on to make fellow out actor Sean Hayes a star.
“There were other people in the mix when I auditioned,” Paige remembered, “and [the producers] said to me, and I quote, ’You’re fantastic. We are taking a guy tomorrow to network, we will not take you up against him, if he doesn’t get the job we will take you.’ He was their choice, but if he had not gone I was the next choice.”
In the months that followed Will & Grace’s premiere, Paige said he lost out on “multiple jobs” because casting directors thought he was too similar to Hayes. He remembered wondering, “’Is my career going to be the guy who almost got Will & Grace?’ Then Queer as Folk came along.”
And the rest, as they say, is television history. Watch Paige recount his run-in with Porter in the video below.