“Pray Tell taught me to dream the impossible” Emmy-winner Billy Porter on the final season of Pose

Ahead of the third and final season of the Peabody-winning, Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated groundbreaking series Pose premiering on FX this Sunday May 2nd, The Queer Review attended a virtual press conference earlier this week with the show’s creators and cast, including the legendary Billy Porter. Porter won an Emmy for his portrayal of ballroom MC Pray Tell on the hit series, making him the first openly gay man to win the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Talking about how being part of the Pose cast has shaped his approach to the entertainment industry Porter said, “I have to say that I got into this business in the 80s—I just turned 51 last year, I turned 50 the day before I won an Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series—there was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what Pose is, what Pray Tell is. 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 Season 3, Episode 1. Mj Rodriguez as Blanca, Billy Porter as Pray Tell, Angel Bismark Curiel as Lil Papi. Photo credit: Eric Liebowitz/FX.

Pose, and Pray Tell in particular”, Porter continued, “really taught me to dream the impossible. I say this all the time—and I just finished watching the season finale, so I’m very emotional—but the idea that the little Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now 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.”

“I thought I had confidence before this, and what I realized was I had a particular kind of confidence, but now it’s a whole new day, it’s a whole new game. One of the things that I love so much about this creative team, from Ryan to Steven to Janet to Brad to Lady J on down to everybody, is that idea that they have taught us all through this experience how to fish. Remember that whole phrase, that old saying, you don’t give somebody the food, you teach them how to fish so they can do it for themselves. The gift of being in this space, is that we’ve all now been empowered to go out and continue. I’m going to steal from Vice President Harris, ‘We may the first, but we’re definitely not going to be the last’.”

POSE Season 3. Billy Porter as Pray Tell. Photo credit: Eric Liebowitz/FX.

Porter went on to speak about the parallels between the AIDS crisis that the series depicts and the current Covid pandemic saying, “I think the parallels are quite profound. As a Black gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis, I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this Covid time. It’s very reminiscent of what it was like then. 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. I feel like that’s what Pose really accomplishes this season, reminding the public that when we come together and when we lead with love is how we get to the other side.”

One episode this season sees Pray Tell return home to Pittsburgh (also Porter’s own hometown) to reconnect with his birth family and church community after more than two decades away. Talking about the narrative, Porter commented, “It’s the brilliance of our creators, who really are observers of real life. One of the things that I think
happened rather quickly is that they were able to pinpoint every one of our strengths, the character’s strengths as well as the actor’s strengths in real life. I’m an open book, and I talk a lot about my experiences and my trauma in public and one of the goals for me, as a Black, queer, and spiritual person, is that really uncomfortable conversation between the LBGTQ+ community and the Black church. It’s always been at the forefront of my mind, of my calling, of my purpose. It was Ryan and Steven and Janet who kind of rooted that out of me, because I didn’t come to the table saying, ‘This is what I want to do’, but like I said, it was the brilliance of our creators. Ryan said, ‘What do you want to say?’ And I said exactly that. So, the manifestation of speaking life into yourself, speaking what you want, speaking what you need into the universe, it comes back in this way. So, it’s very powerful. It’s very emotional. I’m looking forward to the conversation that it cracks open once that particular episode airs.”

POSE Season 3, Episode 1. Billy Porter as Pray Tell. Photo credit: Eric Liebowitz/FX.

Asked about his favourite ballroom scenes of the series, Porter commented, “One of the funniest things for me, being the MC and not being at the rehearsals, was that I never knew what was coming! I actually liked that because then it made my response, in real time, very real. I was always blown away by what happened. I was watching prior seasons just to get ready for this new one, to remember what we did, and I remember the moment when I say, ‘The next category is Femme Queen Vogue!’ And all of these women start coming out from the audience, voguing. I didn’t know where they were coming from! They were coming from every different spot, and it was like hundreds of people in the room, and they all just started popping out from the sides. You could see my face, it cuts to me, and I was, like, “Ahhh! Ahhh!” That one I remember the most. But every single time. It’s the joy portion of our show. It’s where we root our show in aspiration and joy.”

Pose season 3 premieres Sunday May 2nd at 10pm ET/PT on FX with its first two episodes. Subsequent episodes air Sunday nights on FX until the series finale during Pride month, on June 6th 2021. Episodes will stream the following day on FX on Hulu.

Read James Kleinmann’s Pose Season 3 review, and his review of the Pose season 2 finale.

Pose | Season 3: Official Trailer | FX

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