Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Billy Porter has come to be seen as almost larger than life when you consider his passionate performances in the acclaimed FX series, POSE, as well as his bold and unabashed fashion choices which have earned him the title of ‘Red Carpet Ninja.’
But in a recent interview with veteran journalist Katie Couric for her ‘In My Orbit’ video series, Porter offers candid, personal insights into how he came to view his talent and how it could save him during a difficult childhood.
Surrounded by several of the outfits he’s made famous at Christian Siriano’s The Curated NYC, Porter explains that it was ultimately his voice that helped him find acceptance within his own family.
“I understood that the talent that I have is not what everybody gets,” shared the Tony Award winner without ego.
“When I sang, the people around me behaved differently,” said Porter. “You know, my family wasn’t scared of my sissiness anymore when I sang. That was the one thing that kept them comforted – was when I could sing. So it became: ‘Well, just sing as loud as you can and as high as you can for as long as you can until you can get out.’”
“And I did,” added Porter.
Upon moving to New York City after training at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the leading theater schools in the country, Porter already knew his plan: “I would play my trump card, which was this crazy voice. And then once I got in, and started working, then an expansion could happen and I could show the rest of myself.”
But that’s not what happened. Instead, Porter found himself pigeon-holed as the ‘sassy, Black, queeny, flamboyant clown.’
But then he saw Jeffrey Wright as “Belize” in the original Broadway cast of the ground-breaking Angels In America, and he suddenly saw a space for himself.
“For the first time, I saw a Black gay man who was not reviled and not just the comic relief,” shared Porter. “He was a human being, like a real human being.”
He would eventually play that role in the off-Broadway revival, but as he admits here, to shut down the ‘clown’ roles, he stopped working commercially for 13 years.
Then along came a little show named Kinky Boots. And a Tony Award for ‘Best Actor in a Musical.’
And then, Ryan Murphy and POSE, which Porter still seems to be wrapping his head around to this day.
“It blows my mind. There was no context to dream up a show like POSE; to dream up a character like ‘Pray Tell.’ There was no space for that,” he tells Couric. “That’s what Ryan Murphy and this situation has allowed for me to understand how to do – is dream the impossible. There are no limits.”
Bringing up his recent star turns on the awards show red carpets, Porter’s enthusiasm is evident.
“I’ve always loved the red carpet, I’ve always loved fashion,” gushes the vibrant actor. “I have always been a fashion person, and if you talk to anyone who’s known me for years, they’re like, ‘Duh!’”
(This writer can confirm, having known Billy Porter since the early 1990s, that the fashion and the effusive personality we see in this interview is exactly who he has been.)
“In the quiet moments, I find the tears streaming down my face. The gratitude, the joy. Like, I lived long enough to see this day,” he admits quietly.
What’s next for Porter? “I want to be Oprah. I want to be Beyonce. I want to be the one writing the checks. I want to be the one telling myself ‘Yes.’ That’s next.”
It’s a great interview. Hit play below.