Q&A

Billy Porter Breaks Down His “Fabulous” Diana Ross Look in the Pose Season 2 Finale

Plus his Emmy nomination and groundbreaking sex scene.


Photograph by Jackie Nickerson; Styled by Elin Svahn. Hair by Akki Shirakawa at Art Partner; Makeup by Diane Kendal at Julian Watson Agency; Manicures by Megumi Yamamoto for Chanel Le Vernis at Susan Price NYC. Set design by Marla Weinhoff Studio. Produced by Sarah Maxwell and Hanna Corrie at PRODn Art + Commerce; Production Coordinator: Heather Strange; Photography Assistants: Patrick Lyn, Daren Thomas, Romek Rasenas; Digital Technician: Heath McBride; Production Assistants: Mitch Baker, Austin Kennedy; Set Assistants: Ian Noel, Jordan Seiler; Fashion Assistants: Kristina Koelle, Rasaan Wyzard, Erica Boisaubin, Jordyn Payne, Stefania Chekalina; Tailor: Yao Ayeh at Christy Rilling Studio.

Practically from the first moment that Ryan Murphy dreamed up the series, Pose has been making history, from starring an unparalleled number of transgender actors on television—not to mention talent working behind the scenes—to paving the way for Billy Porter to become the first openly gay black man to be nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. As if it weren’t already clear enough, the 49-year-old actor once again proved he was more than deserving of that title on Tuesday night, which saw Porter, as Pray Tell, hit the ballroom floor himself to serve true Diana Ross realness in the season 2 finale.

In the hours before it aired, the 49-year-old actor still had yet to see the episode. (Like any old viewer, he planned to tune in later that night.) But Porter already knew that the scene would be big, to say the least. Here, he shares what it was like to wear that massive wig, plus how he’s feeling about Pose‘s upcoming season 3.

As you proved at the Met Gala, you’re a big Diana Ross fan. Is that how you ended up channeling her again in the final ballroom scene? Well, it wasn’t my idea—it came from the writers room. But it was definitely decided after that, because we only filmed it about two and a half weeks ago. It was an extremely quick turnaround.

What was it like to wear that hair? Hot. [Laughs.] Hot, and heavy. I had to have the hair people put it up, off my neck, when I wasn’t shooting. It was that hot. But you know, I do have more experience walking in heels than Pray Tell.

Do you have a favorite look that you wore this season? You know, that’s a really hard answer for me, because it goes so fast, and we never have a break. I truly don’t remember—I really don’t. Other than the fabulous Diana Ross look—I’ll land on that, because that’s the one that I can remember in this moment. [Laughs.] There are so many, so it’s like, Oh shit, I forgot I wore that!

Billy Porter as Pray Tell in *Pose* season 2, “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”

Copyright 2019, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

What about the categories—do you have a favorite from this season’s balls? I always loved femme queen vogue. It’s always really been my favorite, because it’s always the most fun to watch. I mean, they’re so good! They’re just so good. It’s so fabulous. I wish I could move my body like that.

Can you say more about the importance of your sex scene with Ricky this season, which you mentioned on Instagram? Well, you don’t really see it. You don’t see it. You don’t see very often black men trying to figure out how to love each other. The story is about us killing each other every day, multiple times a day, and it’s taken a really long time to see black men loving each other on camera. It’s been a while. So it’s important. Representation is important.

Congrats on the Emmy nomination. How does it feel to make yet another milestone through Pose? You know, I don’t always understand that question because I feel like there’s an expectation for some sort of life-altering answer. And it’s like, it’s great. It is amazing. It is everything you would think it would be—the greatest feeling to be able to live your dreams. That’s what I get to do, and that feels special. But I also have to be balanced, so I’m not living inside of this as if it’s the greatest thing. You know, it’s like, I have to keep making going to work. I have to keep living my life. And I have to keep making sure that the thing I’m being honored for now remains inside of the conversation as the world spins forward. So that’s what brings me the most joy—that I get to keep doing this.

Was it at all bittersweet that you were the only lead actor of the cast to get recognized? No. I don’t do that. It is what it is; we’re in the moment that we’re in. There’s room and space for everybody, and we just keep doing the work. We gotta keep doing the work. People see it, and people will continue to see it. You know, it’s easier that way. It’s too emotional the other way, for me personally.

Is there anything you can share about season 3? We just finished the last one, girl. Are y’all kidding me?!

Sorry—I’m being impatient. No, everybody asks that question! But it was literally two-and-a-half weeks ago when we finished filming season 2. We love that you love it so much—that you can’t get enough, that you want to know. But they’re on hiatus! We are going on vacation. We are going to do other gigs. Nobody is thinking about season three.

Billy Porter as Pray Tell in *Pose* season 2, “Revelations.”

Copyright 2019, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

It’s set to take place in 1996 though, right? Well, in the conversation I had with Ryan last week, he just said he always envisioned the series would end in 1996, when the [HIV] antiretroviral drugs were introduced. But as far as I know, he’s made no year date [for season 3].

Is there a TV show in particular you’d recommend for those who are also impatient for next season? Year and Years. It’s amazing.

What other shows have you been watching lately? Killing Eve, Schitt’s Creek, Fleabag, Succession, Black-ish, Insecure, When They See Us, and Big Little Lies. And The Twilight Zone—so good. I’m also into Euphoria, which is really heavy. I just really makes me sad for our society that this is what our children feel like right now. They don’t feel protected. They don’t feel taken care of. What I love about the show is the idea of trauma being passed down cellularly, through the cells. That’s a really interesting premise for me. And of course I’m looking forward to Ryan Murphy’s new stuff—he has Ratched coming, and The Politician.

Euphoria is great—and also pretty dark. Yeah, but that’s where we are! It’s like out of the darkness comes the light.

Related: How Billy Porter Spent Three Decades Creating the Career He Always Wanted

Pose Reaches Peak Madonna: a Visual History of the 1990 Blond Ambition Tour

Madonna poses with her backup dancers for Madonna: Truth or Dare. Photo courtesy Everett Collection.

Miramax Films/courtesy Everett Collection

Madonna performs with backup dancers in a Bob Fosse inspired bowler hat routine. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE

Madonna with backup dancers during the Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE

Backup dancers rehearse in a scene from Strike a Pose, Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s 2016 documentary about the backup dancers of the Blond Ambition World Tour. Photo courtesy of Everett Collection.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Luis Camacho prepares for the stage in a still from Strike a Pose. Photo courtesy of Everett Collection.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Madonna performs with her dancers in the Blonde Ambition Japan Tour at Chiba Marine Stadium, April 13th, 1990, Chiba, Japan. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Shinko Music/Getty Images

Madonna and her dancers performing in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/Getty Images

Madonna performs another routine that pays homage to Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon in the Blond Ambition World Tour. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/Getty Images

Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE

Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/Getty Images.

Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

DMI/Getty Images

Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE

Madonna and her backup dancers, wearing mermaid tails, during the Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/Getty Images

Madonna plays the harp while her mermaid backup dancers surround her during the Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/Getty Images

Not all of Madonna’s backup dancers were men. Two women support the singer on stage during the Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/Getty Images

Madonna wears the iconic Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra during the Los Angeles leg of the Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Ron Galella, Ltd./Getty Images

Madonna and Salim Gauwloos have a Dick Tracy moment during the Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Madonna shares the cone bra spotlight with a backup dancer during the Blond Ambition World Tour on June 30, 1990. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Mirrorpix/Getty Images
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