Billy Porter: from Broadway to 'Brady'

  • by Tim Nasson
  • Sunday February 12, 2023
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Billy Porter with Rita Moreno, while Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin look on in a scene from '80 for Brady'
Billy Porter with Rita Moreno, while Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin look on in a scene from '80 for Brady'

Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner Billy Porter needs no introduction, especially to the many fans of his character Pray Tell on Ryan Murphy's hit TV series "Pose."

Porter stars as a Super Bowl half-time show choreographer opposite Oscar winners Sally Field, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, and Tony winner Lilly Tomlin, in the feel-good comedy "80 For Brady," a comic homage to popular quarterback Tom Brady.

Porter rocketed to superstardom when he originated the role of Lola in the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Kinky Boots" just over ten years ago. But show business was always in his blood.

"I started singing in church at a very young age," he said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "By fifth grade the bullying had stopped and in middle school I got involved with theater. I dreamed about being on Broadway and becoming the male Whitney Houston."

Porter knew he was onto something when he won $100,000 on "Star Search" in 1992, but he never expected success would come easily.

Billy Porter in a scene from '80 for Brady'  

"I took all of the necessary steps to prepare myself for a career in show business," he said. "There have been moments of frustration, but no one is entitled to anything. I've practiced acting every day for decades. I went to Carnegie Mellon. I went to graduate school at UCLA. To this day, I still take singing lessons. I have the patience of Job. My best advice for anyone who wants to become a professional is to practice, even when no one is looking."

How did Porter prepare himself for a trajectory in acting and a career in fashion?

"I decided at a very young age to dress for the job I wanted, not the job I have," he explained.

The famous Oscar dress, which made Porter a viral sensation, wasn't something that 'just happened.' In 2013, while Porter was in Chicago doing previews of "Kinky Boots," he met with fans at the stage door after every performance.

"It was right at the time when social media was taking off, especially Instagram photos, and I was dressing geek chic," he explained. "When I looked at the news the day after the first performance, I saw pictures of myself and I looked like a bag lady. From that moment on, I dressed up every day. After every show, before I went out the stage door to go home, I dressed up."

From then on, any candid photos that people did take of Porter were not only flattering but trend-setting.

"For three years, while I was on Broadway with 'Kinky Boots,' I dressed up after every performance, just to go out to the car to go home."

In 2019, just a year before the pandemic hit, Porter started to gain attention for some of the most fabulous outfits that have ever adorned any human. At the Grammy Awards, he wore an embroidered suit and pink cape. That same year, at the Academy Awards he wore the famous black fitted tuxedo and velvet gown created by Christian Siriano, accompanied by six-inch Rick Owens boots.

The gender-fluid outfits worn by Porter that are now famous the world over were not intended to be labeled.

"All of the outfits I have worn aligned with the roles I was playing," he explained. "The term 'non-binary' never occurred to me."

And now Billy Porter has become an inspiration for celebs such as Harry Styles, who posed on the cover of Vogue last year in a Gucci dress.

"You said that, not me," Porter insisted.

"I have a calling," he admitted. "It is funneled through artistry."

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