Inside Billy Porter's Disco-Themed 50th Birthday Bash

At the party, held at a home once owned by Bette Davis, the 'Pose' star — and freshly minted Emmy winner — revealed that Anna Wintour has been giving him fashion advice: "She’s the kindest, warmest, the sweetest.”
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Billy Porter

Billy Porter had a lot to celebrate Sunday night after taking home an Emmy for best actor in a drama series, but for the Pose star, the party really started last week at his disco-themed 50th birthday fete. 

Held Wednesday at a private West Hollywood home once owned by Bette Davis, Porter hosted quite an epic fiesta for guests including Laverne Cox, Ricky Martin, Tan France, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Padma Lakshmi, Shoshana Bean, Miss J. Alexander, Lala Hathaway and EJ Johnson, among others. In a sea of guests, Porter bathed in the spotlight and, like his Michael Kors-designed Emmy ensemble, his birthday outfit was a head-turner: a Grecian-style gown, Christian Louboutin boots and an Afro wig the size of a small planet.

Hosted by Ketel One Vodka and timed to the launch a new creative campaign titled Drink Marvelously, the event featured an expansive dance floor, walls lined with Porter portraits and a 360-degree photo booth complete with accessories inspired by Porter (think gold masks and wings, a la his Met Gala appearance earlier this year). DJ Lina whipped up groovy tracks that kept everyone on their feet.

Guests dined on Porter-preferred Southern-style cuisine with an L.A. flair: black-eyed peas and sweet corn quesadillas; apple cider barbecue chicken brochettes; house roasted turkey sliders with Sriracha aioli and avocado smash; and barbecue jackfruit sliders with farmer’s market slaw. For dessert: apple cranberry crumble bites; s’mores bars with chocolate ganache and housemade marshmallows; and Ketel One-infused mini birthday funfetti parfaits. At the bar, cocktails served included signature drinks by Cocktail Academy like the Nue Cosmo, Sex on the Dance Floor, Kinky Coupe, Wild Banana Brew and Ketel Soda.

Midway through the festivities, Bean performed a medley of hits including “Not My Father’s Son” from Kinky Boots and “Love Is on the Way” from The First Wives Club, and during her rendition of Porter’s “Love Yourself,” the Emmy-nominated actor joined her onstage and belted out notes. Other memorable moments came when Porter and friends vogued around the pool. When asked what his drink of choice is, the Pose star laughed, "My marvelous drink is just a plain ol' Ketel One on the rocks with a splash of lime. You want to cut out the calories [because] I’m trying to hold on to my girlish figure now that I’m doing this gender-bending stuff. I gotta stay in a pseudo sample size, baby.”

Porter described his milestone birthday and the irony of the Emmys one day later: “As a black gay man who came out in 1985, there was no context to dream about what this is, what this looks like. There was no context for marriage quality. I didn’t understand how to dream the impossible until now. Now I understand what that looks like. And it’s a new day and it’s a different thing. It’s very powerful.”

Porter also related the marvelous advice Ryan Murphy gave him a year ago that motivated him to rise above stressors in his life: “He told me to lean into the joy, and I need you to trust that I got you.”

As he reflected on the occasion, Porter said, “I’m completely speechless at this moment in my life right now — and not because I didn’t think it was possible, just because when you’re in the work everything else has to go away because it is about the work. Everything that’s happening to me is because of the work, the commitment, the dedication, the discipline."

Porter recently sat next to Anna Wintour at London Fashion Week and recalled his first invite to the Met Gala this year. “For 30 years I tried to get that diva to pay attention to me," he quipped. "Everybody has this idea of her because she’s so mysterious and she wears her sunglasses indoors, she wears them at night, nobody sees her eyes, [but she’s] the kindest, the warmest, the most, the sweetest.”

A version of this story appears in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.