LOS ANGELES – Billy Porter says he was so fed up with the way Hollywood treated him the first time he went west, he vowed never to return “until I was on somebody’s lot working.”
Sixteen years later, he returned as the star of “Pose,” an FX series about the ball culture world during the 1980s, “and I went from the airplane to the Fox lot.”
Now, as the series enters its second season, he’s being touted as a likely Emmy nominee.
“It’s such a lovely journey,” the Tony and Grammy winner says. “It takes time. It takes patience. I’ve been trying to be on TV for 30 years. But there was no consistency, no space for me until now.”
The role – as the ball emcee Pray Tell – has led to other series work and interest in his career as a singer.
Even his attention-grabbing turn in Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” didn’t crack doors. “It took somebody like Ryan (Murphy, “Pose’s” executive producer) to get me here,” Porter says. “For me, it was a very tedious transition.”
Because Murphy was aware of Porter’s talents, he was willing to write a role for him. “We came together,” Porter says, “and it just organically happened. I didn’t even ask to sing. That was Ryan’s idea.”
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Acceptance as an actor was important for the 49-year-old Pennsylvania native. “There needed to be a separation,” he says. “People needed to know I was just as good of an actor as I am a singer. What I loved about this is that it reached so many people who didn’t know that I sang.”
In “Pose’s” second season, Porter says he and the rest of the cast hope to teach more about the LGBTQ community. “Being on this show has transformed everything for me,” he says. “I learn something literally every day.”
Because he wasn’t fully versed in the transgender community, “Pose” has shown him some of the struggles its people have gone through. “The ‘T’ has been silently absent, consciously and unconsciously,” he says. “I’ve been out and gay since the 1980s. I had to deal with the homophobia of the black community ... and that’s a conversation we’re still trying to have. My family has been transformed and healed because I chose truth and authenticity.”
Still, Porter admits he didn’t see any characters on television who reflected his journey. In the black community, “we were on the down low. I can’t even say I related to ‘Will & Grace’ because it was all white people all the time. I superimposed myself on those stories because they were the only things that I had.”
Now, “Pose” reflects every letter of LGBTQ. “Hopefully, we can move the world forward,” Porter says. “I learned you teach people how to treat you. What’s going on in the White House doesn’t matter. It’s always us that moves it forward.”
While Porter has been a staple on red carpets for the better part of a year (wearing a coat dress at the Oscars, an Egyptian Sun God costume at the MET Gala), he says he wouldn’t have attempted an entertainment career if there hadn’t been a place for him. “I’m not going to be what they say I have to be. If that means I have no career, I have no career. If that means I don’t work in this business, I don’t need it. What I need is the truth. What the world needs is the truth. I’ve seen too many people literally die under the weight of the lie that has been required of them for years.”
Now that Hollywood is accepting, it’s a great place for him to be. “It takes time. It takes patience,” Porter says. “Now, it’s such a lovely journey.”
"Pose" returns Tuesday at 9 p.m. on FX.