Billy Porter talks Our Son, Pose and UK tour plans

BY Georgia Harris

26th Mar 2024 Celebrities

7 min read

Billy Porter talks Our Son, Pose and UK tour plans
Emmy-, Grammy- and Tony-winning performer Billy Porter talks about his latest project Our Son, his pride in his work in Pose, and his plans to perform in the UK
Billy Porter is an award-winning actor, singer, director and producer. He is best known for his role as Pray Tell in the FX series Pose, for which he won the “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” Emmy Award, and for originating the role of Lola in the musical Kinky Boots, for which he won the Tony Award for “Best Leading Actor in a Musical” and Grammy Award for “Best Musical Theatre Album”.
He executive produced and stars as Gabriel in his latest project Our Son, a heartfelt depiction of married couple Gabriel and Nicky (played by Luke Evans), their divorce and the ensuing custody battle for their son Owen. Billy talks to us about his passion for spotlighting black queer stories, how he has only recently allowed himself to feel proud of his work in Pose, and his upcoming plans for 2024 and beyond—including performances in the UK.

Showcasing queer stories on the big screen

Speaking to Billy, as I did over Zoom, is a delight: he is warm and friendly, and his passion for his work is immediately obvious. He has been involved in his latest movie, Our Son, from its onset: “the writers reached out and asked if I would be interested, and they wanted to build the movie with me. It was very nice”.
“I have a production company now, and my goal is to take the reins and tell the stories that aren't being told. Black queer stories are not told very often, and while this isn't exclusively black, I am, so it's beautiful. And it's such a beautiful story”.
Billy and Luke are standing in a classroom in casual clothes looking proud as they look at their characters' son out of shot
Our Son is indeed a beautiful representation of Gabriel and Nicky, whose thirteen-year relationship ends when Gabriel files for divorce, leading to a custody battle for their eight-year-old son Owen. While divorce dramas aren’t uncommon, a depiction of divorce between LGBTQ+ characters certainly is: this is in no small part due to same-sex marriage only becoming fully legalised in the US and UK in 2015 and 2020 respectively. This ground-breaking nature of Our Son is something that Billy is acutely aware of.
“It's a first of something. As a gay man of a certain age, it was all about coming out stories for decades and decades and decades, and I'm just happy to be a part of something that expands our narrative. What happens after we come out?”
"It was all about coming out stories; I'm happy to be part of something that expands the narrative"
“I didn't think I would ever get married, and I didn't think I would ever need to get married, but I did believe in the right. And so, with the right to marry comes the right to divorce. Human relationships are complex. They're complicated, no matter what your sexual identity is.”
“Also, the duet at the end of the film is a love duet between two out, ‘above the title’ actors, in the same vein as ‘You Don't Bring Me Flowers’ or ‘Endless Love’. That is a first. My hope is that you folks over there [in the UK] realise that and understand that and give us our flowers, because the work is right there and it's extraordinary, and I hope that we can get some eyes on it”.
“The thing I love about coming from the theatre and being blessed to cross over into film and television is that the work is always there. That’s not the case in theatre, where if it closes and you didn't see it, you’re s**t out of luck. It's there, and you'll be able to see it forever."
"People will be able to discover it forever, hopefully. I'm excited about that, because I feel like it's one of those movies that will just continue to have a cult following and grow and grow and grow”.

A new side to Billy

As well as telling a story that has not been showcased on screen before, the role of Gabriel is new territory for Billy. This is the first time Billy has played a parent—a fact which, as I drew his attention to it, made him laugh (“I have crossed over into ‘father’!”) —and the character of Gabriel is more reserved than Billy’s other well-known roles.
“People have not seen me play this character yet”, Billy tells me. “Very often when the public doesn't see it, the assumption is that you can't do it. And my range is expansive: I can do a lot of stuff”.
“I'm very aware that my brand up until this point has been ‘fabulous’. I am fabulous, but ‘fabulous’ and ‘serious’ do coexist. I find that, in my journey, that conversation is the one I'm trying to have with the world, because a lot of people don't think that fabulous and serious can go together. And they do—it looks like me. So, this role allowed for me to show that side.” 
"People don't think that fabulous and serious can go together. They do: it looks like me"
Was playing Gabriel a welcome change for Billy? “It was a welcome change to show a quiet version of me. Because a lot of people don't know I'm quiet—I'm actually very quiet. I surprise people when I say I'm an introvert. I'm a situational extrovert: I have to be an extrovert for my job, but being by myself reenergises me”.

Billy’s reflections on Pose

Billy is more than happy for me to bring up Pose, and I asked him how, with a few years’ distance (the show ended in 2021), he reflects upon that period of his career. This causes him to pause for thought. “I come from the Pentecostal Church, and the dogma is, ‘God gives you the gifts’. So, one is never to be arrogant or narcissistic about any of it. Otherwise, God takes those gifts away from you.”
“And so, up until maybe two years ago, I struggled with that dogma, and just simply being able to own my own power and talk about it. I watched Pose, but I didn't watch it—I didn't take it in. Because at the time, I thought taking it in was being narcissistic."
"I felt, from my upbringing, that to look at it and understand how fierce I am in it was to be a narcissist. So, it's just recently that I've let all that go, within the last couple of years, and I sat down and watched it."
At this point, Billy becomes emotional. “It's extraordinary”, he says tearfully. “And I can say, without shame and without feeling like I'm being arrogant or narcissistic in any way, my work is extraordinary on that show. And I am so grateful to have had it.”
“Once again, it’s the first of something. I couldn't get roles for film and television until I was 48 years old. I was ‘too much’, ‘too gay’, ‘too black’, ‘not enough’. And so, to then have Pose be the thing that sits right in the centre of who I am—I lived through the AIDS crisis. I was there.”
"To be able to represent my community in the role of Pray Tell is extraordinary"
“To be able to represent my community in the role of Pray Tell, in this ground-breaking series that goes back to that time to remind the world what the f**k we went through, is amazing. I don't really have the words. And you can go right back to that forever. It’s an extraordinary show, and I am so humbled and grateful to have been called to be a part of it.”

The universe’s creative guidance

Alongside his successful acting career, Billy released his latest album, Black Mona Lisa, in November 2023. Why was that the right time for an album? “I move where the universe tells me to move, and the universe said ‘now’.”
“When you do so many things, it gets a little tricky to navigate; it's like puzzle pieces, and you have to move them. What was interesting about that was that we [the Screen Actors Guild] were on strike. So, there was no film and television at that time".
"I move where the universe tells me to move, and the universe said ‘now’"
"Then, all of a sudden, I get a number one hit in London on BBC Radio 2 with ‘Baby Was A Dancer’, so it was the perfect time to go and promote it. The universe cracked open to allow the space for this other thing, so it just kind of happened organically.”
Billy uses similarly intuitive reasoning in his fashion choices, especially in red carpet looks. “I just gravitate to the truth. Whatever I'm feeling in the moment is what I'm going to do. That's influenced by where I'm going and what the theme is, but it's always my truth. My main stylist really understands me, and the way we work together is so simpatico”.
Billy Porter poses on the Academy Awards red carpet. He is wearing a black velvet dress, formed of a top half designed to look like a suit jacket, shirt and bow tie, which descends into a full skirt
“I've taken a break from red carpets for a while. I have to take breaks sometimes, it's a lot. But I'll be back! With my music!”

Billy’s future projects

So, where is the universe directing Billy in 2024? “We’ve [Billy’s production company] been in development a lot this year. So, my hope is that one or two or all of my brewing projects get greenlit. I'm working on a documentary of myself, too.”
“And it's full steam ahead with my music, I'm doing lots of dates now; Prides are coming up, festivals are coming up. I'm doing a tour in the UK in October—‘Black Mona Lisa Volume Two: The Cookout Sessions’. I think it's a six- or seven-city tour; we're working on that now. But I'm always working, honey, always!”
Much to my surprise, Billy has never performed in UK theatre before. “No, I haven't done any theatre there yet, and I haven't toured there yet. So, I'm really excited.”
"It's full steam ahead with my music, I'm doing lots of dates now. I'm always working, honey, always!"
“I'm a producer of A Strange Loop, and we were nominated for an Olivier Award. I've been nominated for an Olivier as a producer before I've been over there as an actor —who'd have 'thunk' it? But I need to go over there and be a presenter so I can promote my UK tour, so the kids know I'm coming in October!”
'Our Son' is on digital release from 25 March.
Banner photo: Emmy-, Grammy- and Tony-winning performer Billy Porter talks about his latest project Our Son, his pride in his work in Pose, and his plans to perform in the UK (credit: Vertical Entertainment)
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