How I'm Living Now: Billy Porter, 'Pose' Star

Billy Porter - Getty - H 2020
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With the coronavirus keeping Porter at home in New York, he opens up about exploring Buddhism, writing his memoir and finding time to cook with his husband.

With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense for how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood's top writers, actors, directors, executives and more are living and working in these challenging times.

Billy Porter was just about to wrap the first episode of Pose’s third season when production was shut down. Since then, he’s been quarantined with his husband, Adam Smith, in New York City, where he tells THR he’s been filling his days with memoir writing sessions, Zoom calls and just the right amount of Caio Bella blueberry passion fruit sorbet — and, yes, the style icon is doing it all in sweats.   

Let’s start easy: how are you? 

I’m good. You know, I’m trying to breathe a lot. I’m trying to use this time to recalibrate and really reset. The entire world is in a reset right now — an emotional, spiritual and environmental reset in every single way and I’m trying to rise to the challenge of what that means. For me, these last couple of years have been work, work, work, and there are no complaints about that, but I do have to say that simply having time to spend with my husband and my family, virtually or otherwise, is an amazing thing. And so I’m getting a lot of inspiration from that. I’m in the process of writing a memoir, and I was really stressed out about how I was going to get that done by the deadline, which is in October….

Well, now you got the time.

Yep. So, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been writing a pilot that I’ve been developing. I’ve been writing new music. And I’ve been having time with myself.

What does your day look like now?

I wake up, I have breakfast, I make myself some coffee, I write my morning pages/journal to get all of my anxiety out, spend some time with my hubby, and then I go and write. I’ve been writing for two weeks straight, every day. I never get a chance to do that. I’ve never had the luxury of just being a writer. I’ve always had to multitask with many other things in order to survive and exist, so that’s been good. That’s been the silver lining to this, being able to focus on my writing and hang out with my hubby.
What’s been the easiest adjustment?

The easy adjustment is being able to be home and cook. I love to cook and I haven’t been able to. Now, I cook whatever we feel like having that day. Sometimes there’s a Rachael Ray moment, sometimes there’s a Food Network moment where I go, "Oh, I want to make that tonight."

And the hardest?

The hardest adjustment is not being able to hang out with my friends. Finally having this free time but not actually being able to do anything with it.
What have you learned about yourself in this period?

I need to figure out and hold onto how to [practice] self-care. There’s been a lot of understanding of what that means during this period for me and I would really love to build on that and hold onto it.

What does that look like for you?

Really, my writing. Literally being able to create with my mind free — and yes, there’s concern about the virus and worry about all of that, but to not have a million things to do during the day and trying to carve out space for that is what self-care looks like for me. And I’ve been working out with my husband three times a week. I’m getting back into yoga. I’m investigating my spirituality — like, what does that look like now at 50. Me and my husband both have been investigating Buddhism, for instance, and that’s not something I ever really paid attention to. So, that’s a bit of what it looks like. And reconnecting with people via this online Zoom thing. I was on the phone with 12 of my nearest and dearest for two hours two days ago. We haven’t done that, maybe, ever. That’s the silver lining for me. A friend of mine had a birthday yesterday, it was a Zoom birthday, and we just had a good old time.
What’s the best advice you’ve given or received about staying sane right now?

For myself, it is about remembering the connections to my loved ones. I have a list of people and I’m just going to go down the list and reach out to people — people who I haven’t spoken to in years, family members who I haven’t seen or spoken to in years, who I need to speak to and I need to reconnect with. That’s the advice I’d give, which is do that while you can and maybe start a new habit. And the other advice I’d give is to not listen to anything that Orangina 45 has to say about any of it. Nothing. Just don’t listen to Orangina, please. 

What or who have become your go-to news source during this period?

I get a lot from MSNBC and a lot from CNN. And I’ve been really comforted by Governor Cuomo. He’s really been a fine, fine leader — the leader that we need in this time. Many of the governors are picking up that slack because our current administration just doesn’t have it. They don’t have the skill set to be the leaders that we need them to be. And I hope everybody remembers this shit in November.
What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?

We’ve been watching a lot of Netflix. One of the Ryan Murphy shows that I had missed was Nip/Tuck because it was on during a volatile time in my life. I wasn’t working a lot and I didn’t have a home or cable, so I missed it. So, we’re on season 2 of Nip/Tuck, which is just amazing. And now working with Ryan, it’s cool to see the recurring themes. We’re also watching the Madam CJ Walker Netflix series. I’m watching Lena Waithe’s Twenties on BET. I’m watching Succession and the Hillary Clinton thing on Hulu...

Wow, you’re really sticking to prestige fare. No Love is Blind?

I don’t do reality television, unless it’s a competition where you have to have a skill set. Like a Project Runway, I’ll do that. But I don’t particularly care for the other stuff. Not my thing.

Ok, I’m very curious to hear your answer to this one. How would you describe your corona era wardrobe?

(Laughs.) Sweatpants and T-shirts.

But are they particularly trendy sweatpants and T-shirts?

Nope. I do have on a hoodie right now from Tom Ford, but that happens to be there. But I’m taking a breeeeaaak. (Laughs.)
What have become your go-to comfort foods during the quarantine?

We’ve been eating really healthy, which is easier to do when you cook your own food. But I will say, we have these low-fat, low-sugar popsicles and this Ciao Bella blueberry passion fruit sorbet, which is my favorite. Oooh, I could eat a whole thing of it, so I make sure I don’t. 

In these times, what cause is most important to you?

I’ve always been in the Broadway community and there have always been organizations that are near and dear to me: The Actors Fund, Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDS, The Stonewall Foundation, HRC. They are [still] my go-tos.

And what’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?

I want to go back to work. But I’ve also been working on some new music and I’d like to make the time to dive into that more, too.

Do you think you'll be better about carving out that time going forward?

I hope so. Having the means to be able to say "no," so that you have time for yourself is what I’m working on. I’m almost there so that I don’t have to do everything all the time just simply to exist. So, I'm excited about that.