Billy Porter Opened Up About How ‘Pose’ Was a Healing Experience
Porter's character was informed by some of his own difficult life experiences.
This article contains spoilers for Pose Season 3.
For Billy Porter, Pose is so much more than an acting gig. In honor of the series finale airing on Sunday, the actor opened up about how working on the history-making show and playing his character Pray Tell has helped him process aspects of his own life and identity off screen.
Porter’s character, an emcee in the New York City Ball scene in the 1980s, is first diagnosed with HIV in the show’s first season. In the third and final season, Pray Tell discovers he has AIDS-related lymphoma. When filming the final season, Porter opened up to his castmates about his own HIV-positive status, which he has been living with in secret for 14 years, and revealed his status with the world in May.
In a recent interview with People, the actor explained how his experience on Pose has been therapeutic. “Pose and Pray Tell have been a proxy for my healing,” Porter, 51, said. “The trauma was so difficult. The grief was so heavy.”
He continued, explaining how Pose helped him process a period of time that has largely been passed over in mainstream media. “The antiretroviral drugs [for HIV] came, and everybody moved on,” he said. “There’s a whole generation of us that really never got a chance to process having lived through the AIDS crisis [and] having lived through an epidemic.”
Porter’s connection to Pray Tell also goes further than his HIV status. In Season 3, the show also explores his character’s family backstory and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather. As People reports, Porter helped provide input on the storyline based on his own abusive childhood, an experience he wrote about in his story for the Hollywood Reporter, revealing that he was sexually abused by his stepfather from age 7 to age 12.
In order to portray and, subsequently, relive some of this trauma in the show, Porter said self-care was vital. “I really had to learn how to take care of myself in the process [through] self-care [and figuring out how to] balance boundaries,” he said. “I really had to take care of myself. But it really just came down to how long I was inside of something. I couldn’t be in it for too long.”
Porter told HelloGiggles in 2020 about all the ways that he recovers from the heavy content of his work on Pose. “It gets dark on that set sometimes, because of the story that we’re telling,” Porter says. “I try to lift myself out of it—by meditation, by my music, by a walk in the park. I love to sit at the pier when it’s nice outside, very often just breathing in fresh air is very useful. I’m not perfect at it. Like I said, yet, I’m not perfect at it yet, but I try, I try. It’s all you can do.”
After just three seasons of Pose, Porter told People that it’s “bittersweet” having to say goodbye to all the beloved characters and cast mates—but ultimately feels proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“We really had a chance to say what we needed to say,” he says. “And that makes me happy.”