• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2022: Billy Porter, “Pose”

It takes a flamboyant, talented Billy Porter to inhabit a character like Pray Tell, the colorful and matriarchal emcee of the drag balls in New York, and mentor to members of the community, especially the members of the House of Evangelista in the Ryan Murphy TV series, Pose.
The 52-year-old actor-singer-author from Pittsburgh, who was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, got two Golden Globe nominations in the past for his portrayal of Pray Tell in Pose – in 2019 and 2020 for Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama. He received another Golden Globe nomination for the same role in the same category this year.
Born on September 21, 1969, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Porter is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University College of Fine Arts with a BFA in Drama as well as a certification from the graduate-level Professional Program in Screenwriting at UCLA. During the summers of 1985-1987, he was a member of an entertainment group called “Flash” which performed daily at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.
He achieved fame performing on Broadway before starting a solo career as a singer. He received critical acclaim for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots (2013), and for his performances in Miss Saigon (1991), Grease! (1994), Topdog/Underdog (2004), Jesus Christ Superstar (1998), Dreamgirls (2004), and Little Shop of Horrors (2004).
Porter also appeared in such films as Twisted (1997), The First Wives Club (1996), The Humbling (2014) and in other television shows, including Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story (1999), The Big C (2012), and Billy Porter: Broadway & Soul (2015).
He joined the Ryan Murphy bandwagon through Pose in 2018. The drama series, created by Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, chronicles the lives of New York City’s dancers and models who compete for trophies and recognition in the underground gender-nonconforming drag ball culture in the 1980s to the early 1990s.
In a podcast interview, HFPA in Conversation in September 2018, Porter recalled how he landed the part.
He recounted, “I was initially called in to audition for what was the Charlayne Woodward part (Helena St. Rogers) who’s the dance teacher to Damon Richards-Evangelista (portrayed by Ryan Jamaal Swain). I knew the culture. I knew what the show could be. I felt that that role was maybe not the role for me in the configuration of what this show was going to be, considering it’s about the ball culture in New York City.
“It’s about the LGBTQ community: Black and Brown people like we’ve never really seen before. So, it would really be a waste of my talent and what I bring to the world to not be in the world of the show that I actually am in, in real life, and the choices that I’ve made as an artist to be authentic when my version of authenticity was not what anybody was casting.
“It wasn’t the stories that anybody was interested in telling, but I chose my authenticity anyway. Now all these years later, we get to tell our stories. It will probably be better if I’m actually telling our stories. I just presented it that way and said, wouldn’t it be appropriate for me to be in this other world and Ryan agreed and he didn’t have space for me.
“He didn’t have a place for me, and he saw a space in the form of the emcee and made that my position. Then as the series unfolded, they found where I would fit and how I would be a grounding energy to the show.”
The reaction of the fans, and the critics, pleased Porter. He said, “It’s pretty overwhelming in the sense that the community is so hungry for representation. They are so hungry to see a version of themselves – a Black, gay, out man who is in the full understanding of who he is, who loves himself, and who is successful and it’s not a tragedy. It’s aspirational. I represent something aspirational.
“I represent we as a whole and this show represents coming over the other side and having joy and choosing life. That’s what’s so special about the show. You get to see a group of people, of marginalized people who make the decision and the choice. I always say to choose life. We choose joy. We choose life. We make it work and that’s what’s so special about the show. That’s what’s resonating about the show and the fans are rabid fans. The fans are invested in ways that are really comforting, surprising, inspiring, and humbling.”