Dyllón Burnside on Daddy Issues and His Explosive “Pose” Episode

"It’s really beautiful to see two black gay HIV-positive men make love on television. That’s something we have never seen before."

Pose fans hoping for a Damon-Ricky reunion this season were dealt a serious blow last night. After finding out he’d tested positive for HIV, 20-something Ricky (Dyllón Burnside) sought comfort in the arms of an older man: ball emcee Pray Tell (Billy Porter). The pair barely had time for pillow talk before their budding romance shook the House of Evangelista to its very foundation, causing a bitter Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) to go HAM on literally everyone and creating a rift between Pray and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez).

In the wake of all that drama, Burnside spoke to NewNowNext about his character’s surprising new relationship, working with Paris Is Burning director Jennie Livingston, and getting to watch the legendary Patti LuPone chew some scenery.

This was a rough episode. It’s crazy how Ricky’s actions had such far-reaching consequences for everyone in his life.

All of our actions have consequences that affect more than just us. So we see that happen, where the culmination of Ricky and Pray Tell choosing to sleep together—it affects everyone. These are two grown men who have made a choice, and they stand by that choice, but they have to deal with everybody else’s feelings about it. They have to deal with how it affects everyone else in their life.

Dyllón Burnside as Ricky in Pose.
Macall Polay/FX
Dyllón Burnside as Ricky in Pose.

Since we met him, Ricky has made some questionable choices. What do you think is behind his sometimes reckless behavior?

Humanity. His humanity is behind the things that one might call reckless. The truth is that we are all messy. As much as we like to put on our pretty clothes and do our hair all nice and put on a smile, we are all messy.

Have you had conversations with the writers about what happened in Ricky’s past that might be influencing the way he behaves?

Absolutely. [Co-creator] Steven Canals actually directed and wrote [this week’s episode] “Revelations,” and we talked about this very thing. As far as whether or not we will see some of the reasons why Ricky’s broken, I’m not sure. But I’m also not necessarily all that interested in seeing it, because we don’t always get to see, in life, why people are broken. We see their actions and the consequences. And we get to see how people deal with their broken-ness.

Ricky and Pray’s relationship probably took a lot of people by surprise. What did you think when you heard about this plotline?

I was shocked, just like everyone else. I didn’t see it coming. It seemed like Pray Tell would become a mentor, and then you start to see it become a romance. But once I dug into it I was not all that shocked. Intergenerational relationships between gay men are very common. I think it’s important to see that. I think it’s important for us to talk about that. I applaud Ryan Murphy and the writers’ room for tackling a really polarizing subject.

Dyllón Burnside as Ricky and Billy Porter as Pray Tell in Pose.
Michael Parmelee/FX
Dyllón Burnside as Ricky and Billy Porter as Pray Tell in Pose.

Several characters in the episode question whether it’s appropriate. Blanca comes right out and says that Pray is taking advantage of Ricky.

I think the show, in a lot of ways, is saying that all of those things are taking place. Yes, Ricky is looking for someone to love and support him and to be a mentor to him. Yes, Pray needs to be loved and feel like a sexual being. Yes, they’re both HIV-positive and afraid that they’re gonna die and that no one’s gonna love them. Yes, Ricky may have daddy issues. But, also, these two men are finding something real in this moment. That is worthy of exploring. I think the show purposely brings up all of these different things that may be going on in this relationship, and it’s up to these two adults to figure out whether or not this is something they want to explore.

Yeah, when Pray’s friends suggested that Ricky is working out his daddy issues, I thought, Maybe. And then I immediately thought, Well, is that really such a bad thing in this context?

Exactly! It’s a very human story line. We’re dealing with issues that are not simple. With Ricky and Pray, it’s messy, for sure. But it’s also really beautiful to see two black gay HIV-positive men make love on television. That’s something we have never seen before. I’m proud to tell that story.

Billy Porter as Pray Tell and Dyllón Burnside as Ricky.
Jeffrey Neira/FX
Billy Porter as Pray Tell and Dyllón Burnside as Ricky in Pose.

Paris Is Burning director Jennie Livingston directed last week’s episode, in which Ricky learned that he’s HIV-positive. What was it like working with her?

In between shooting we got a chance to talk about Paris Is Burning and her experience. She brought her historical point of view, having directed the documentary. She brought a lot of her personal experiences and her intimate relationships with some of those people from the film. It was interesting to have that full-circle moment with her.

You come from a musical theater background. Were you on set for Patti LuPone, Sandra Bernhard, and Billy Porter’s performances in the AIDS cabaret episode?

I was. It was incredible! I had a front-row seat for one of the best theater concerts ever! It was one of my first days meeting and working with Patti, so it was really special to have one of my first days with her be a day when she was singing. And then for her to also remember my name and talk to me between takes was just icing on the cake! It’s like all my theater dreams come true. I tell Billy Porter this all the time, but he really has had such a huge impact on my life. It’s great to have spent so much time working with him this season.

John Russell is a New York-based entertainment and lifestyle journalist. He has been called “the Courtney Love throwing Chanel compacts at Madonna and Kurt Loder” of his generation.