Billy Porter on Why His 'Pose' Sex Scene Was So Important

The Emmy nominee spoke to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of an in-depth conversation about his career with 'Pose' co-creator Ryan Murphy.
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It wasn't until the Aug. 6 episode of Pose, "Revelations," that Billy Porter had his very first love scene — at age 49. The first-time Emmy nominee told The Hollywood Reporter that it was a nerve-racking position to be in as an artist, but something he'd absolutely do again "when it's right."

"Making love, sex is the most vulnerable of places that a human can be in with another person," Porter told THR on the red carpet at a Friday event celebrating his and Pose's Emmy nominations at the Pacific Design Center. "As an actor, to share what that personally looks like to you, it's new. It's very vulnerable. It was hard for me to watch because it was actually very real. That's something that's very private. It's a private moment that I feel like I have now cracked open and begun to share in how I tell stories now."

The Tony- and Grammy- winning actor plays the confident, wise Pray Tell, an elder in the ballroom scene of late '80s and early '90s New York City. And though the character has faced plenty of vulnerable moments in the first season and a half of Pose, the sex scene is Pray Tell at his most open.

"That's what I love so much about television — because of multiple episodes, multiple hours, we get to see characters evolve and grow and live in a more real-time fashion," Porter told THR. "And I'm excited that people get to see this human being, this archetype, this African American out, gay, powerful, man."

Later, in a conversation with Pose executive producer Ryan Murphy, Porter discussed how long it took for him to accept his place as a leading man after facing so much homophobia throughout his career, his scene-stealing Oscars fashion moment and being able to "lean into the joy" he's currently experiencing in his life, as Murphy put it.

He wants his character to be able to experience joy as well: Porter told Murphy the thing he wants most for his character is to experience a real, functioning, loving relationship. For gay men in that era — the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, before life-saving drugs became widely accessible — "our love was transient," he said on the panel.

"Everything was transient. Our love was transient. You could just throw it away, because you could fall in love with somebody and they could be gone a week, so we got used to that," he said. "We got used to our love being in the dark."

As he told THR on the pink carpet before the event, being able to represent that lost generation is a huge achievement for him.

"I am thrilled that I lived long enough to see the day where I can represent the generation that I am in. The one where, when the pill came, we just stopped talking about it," he said. "You know, there's a whole generation of people that don't realize that we lived through a plague. It was a real plague. Like the kind you learn in elementary school, the bubonic plague. And I feel like our show really gets to remind the world that that happened, and hopefully create a different kind of empathy and a different kind of presence in terms of how we move forward, the choices that we make and how we move forward as a society."

Porter's big sex scene came in creator Steven Canals' directorial debut, and Porter, who is currently directing a play in Boston, said his turn to helm an episode is scheduled for season three.

"I'm slated, hopefully, to be directing next season. We had talked about that a while ago, so that's my hope," he said. "That's where I'm headed."

While the sixth episode contained Porter's big musical moment for the season — "I think our episode sixes are looking like they're going to turn out to be the musical episode," he said, the final two episodes will contain a time jump to 1991, according to Murphy, with the series likely ending around 1996, when HIV medication became widely available.

Writer and producer Our Lady J told THR that the final two episodes of Pose's second season will be both heartwarming and dramatic, in true Pose fashion.

"[The penultimate episode is] a very special episode of television," she said. "It's an homage to episodes we've seen in more mainstream context, but with our community at the center of it. And then of course, episode 10 has all the trauma because that's the season finale."

Pose airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.