Hollywood has been sleeping on Billy Porter for awhile. Lest we forget, mother was belting out “Love Is on the Way” for the cinematic masterpiece First Wives Club back in 1996. Thanks to Pose, the rest of the world is learning what some of us have known for ages: Billy Porter is life. Porter gets candid about his journey, and Hollywood’s narcolepsy when it came to him and other openly gay actors, in The Hollywood Reporter’s latest Drama Actors Roundtable.
“Being black and gay and out came with a lot of unemployment,” Porter says. “It’s a double layer, the layer of being a person of color in this industry then the layer of being a queen. Nobody can see you as anything else.”
Porter continues, “If ’flamboyant’ wasn’t in the description of the character, no one would see me, ever, for anything, which wouldn’t be so enraging if it went the other direction, but it doesn’t. Because straight men playing gay, everybody wants to give them an award: ’Thank you for gracing us with your straight presence.’ That gets tiresome.”
Porter is joined at the roundtable by Fosse/Verdon’s Sam Rockwell, If Beale Street Could Talk’s Stephan James, Narcos: Mexico’s Diego Luna, Rocketman’s Richard Madden, and A Very English Scandal’s Hugh Grant, most of whom have played gay to acclaim.
After setting pulses racing with Gael García Bernal in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2001 breakthrough film Y Tu Mamá También, Luna stars as a drag queen in this year’s Berlin, I Love You. Meanwhile, Madden and Rocketman co-star Taron Egerton have recently been applauded for banging on-screen, the first depiction of gay male sex by a major studio picture.
Then, of course, Grant has a long and singularly British track record of queering up the silver screen, from 1987’s classic Maurice to Paddington 2—I mean, he instigates a full-on Busby Berkley musical at one point—to his latest, A Very English Scandal, in which he portrays a closeted politician.
“So here I sit, I can’t get the gay parts, I can’t get the straight parts,” Porter says, his straight colleagues noticing a visible dim in the room from all this applicable shade. Porter notes that the “theater was a bit kinder”—he snatched a Tony in 2013 for Kinky Boots—but he was at the end of his rope when it came to Hollywood.
“And I had other stuff going on,” Porter recalls. “I was directing Topdog/Underdog at the Huntington Theatre. So I’m writing, I’m directing, and I was finally like, ’I don’t have to do this anymore.’ The next day, ring! ’Ryan Murphy wants to see you for a show called Pose.'”
Category is: Validation, Not Capitulation. For Porter, the wait to be recognized was long but ultimately worth it because now he’s being recognized on his own terms.
“I was labeled very early the flamboyant clown, and I fought that for decades,” the actor says. “…but I’m finally in this moment in my life where I’m able to play that character as a fully developed human being and not just the two-dimensional version that is set up to entertain. And to have lived long enough to see that happen on my terms is fabulous.”
Check out Billy Porter “Pray Tell” it like it is—and in a swing-cape, thank you—at THR’s Roundtable below:
“Everybody wants to give them an award.” #PoseFX star @theebillyporter on the “enraging” double standard of straight men playing gay roles in Hollywood https://t.co/xsKCt1eu6H pic.twitter.com/QT3LXxCO5w
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) June 5, 2019