Billy Porter won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a musical for his role as Lola in "Kinky Boots" with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. He also won a Grammy for the show's album. In 2018, he made his star turn as Pray Tell, the emcee of the underground gay and trans ballroom scene of the 1980s in the FX series "Pose."
Now, Porter adds author to his bona fides with a new memoir, "Unprotected."
In an interview for "LA Times Today," Porter talked with host Lisa McRee about his life and work.
What You Need To Know
- Billy Porter is a Grammy, Emmy and Tony award-winning actor, singer and writer
- Porter has broken barriers with his words, fashion and characters
- At the 2022 LA Times Festival of Books, Porter spoke about his concern on anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed across the U.S.
- Porter’s memoir, “Unprotected,” is out now
Porter spoke about his role as Pray Tell on "Pose" and the responsibility he felt on the show.
"When I got the call that Ryan Murphy was doing this show based on the ballroom scene, I knew that my number was up because I had been trying to sort of crack this film and television thing for decades and nothing seemed to fit just right,” Porter said.
Last year, Porter came out publicly as HIV positive. He spoke about living with his diagnosis and how his character on "Pose" helped him leave his shame around it behind. In the show, Pray Tell dies of AIDS in the early 1990s.
"The creators always wanted to tell the story, and have it end at the convergence of when the antiretroviral drugs came out in 96," Porter explained. "It literally was like night and day. People were on their deathbed. They took the pill and a week later, they were walking out of the hospital. Pray Tell passes away right before that pill came. He missed the window by like six months. It's just devastating because so many of my friends missed that window. If I didn't have HIV, I wouldn't be at the doctor every three months. So once again, even the diagnosis is a gift because now I'm going to live a much healthier and longer life because I'm paying attention."
At the LA Times Festival of Books, Porter spoke out about today's political climate and how he feels as if the U.S. is regressing to where it was in the 1980s.
"I am not afraid of my rage," Porter said. "To be connected to the rage and be able to let it out is the antithesis of the silencing that has been in place for as long as I've been able to comprehend thought. Like I said, at the Festival of Books, my humanity has been up for legislation for every single moment I breathed air. I don't understand what's going on. I don't understand how to respond. When they go low, we go high. But what does that look like now? Because we did that already. We got lots of gains, right? The world changed. Now all our work is evaporating. My question is, what do we do?”
Porter said that, amidst the confusion, the next generation gives him hope for the future.
"I will say, I think unfortunately, all of this devastation had to happen so that the younger generation could begin to understand that they were born into these rights that generations before them fought for," he said. "I think they're beginning to realize, like Frederick Douglass says, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Porter's memoir, "Unprotected," was released last year. He talked about what he hopes readers will take away from his story.
"I want there to be a sense of finding truth, finding healing, finding love and finding peace inside of one's authenticity. And to understand that the only way that we can transform the world is to transform ourselves first. And I hope inside of setting myself free, some others will be set free in the process," Porter concluded.
"Unprotected" is out now wherever books are sold.
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