“Pose” had begun filming before the pandemic hit but, as Porter says, the team had to go on hiatus for seven months.
He says of telling an AIDS story during the coronavirus crisis, “It became very clear during the pandemic that I was having PTSD, based on what I had already lived through. I’m 51, so there’s a whole generation of gay men, queer men, my age who, you know, we lived through it. We survived the plague.
“It taught me that I needed to take care of myself. If I’m sick in the mind, if I’m sick in my body, I can’t do nothing. I can’t be the warrior that I’m put on this earth to be. So it was so powerful because it was like, Oh shoot, I did the first two seasons of ‘Pose’ completely unconscious. What now?”
Porter talks about the first time he saw a representation of a Black queer man on stage.
“It was ‘Angels in America’ in 1994. I took myself to see it, by myself. I’d heard too much about it. I was sitting there, and I just wept the whole time, looking at Jeffrey Wright play the character of Belize. No shade — he was fabulous — but a straight Black man.”
Porter goes on, “…Playing the one part that I could get. Because no one respected me as an actor enough to be straight. I was marginalized for my queerness. So I watched this play, and it was the first time that I had ever seen a real representation of me reflected back at me.
“A Black queer man. I grew up in the ’70s. There weren’t Black people on TV until ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘Good Times’. And to be Black and queer, there was no language. There was no space. So we get to ’94 and I’m like, ‘OK, so he’s a supporting character. However, he’s the moral compass of this play. He’s not the butt of the joke. He’s not the one that’s vilified. Nobody’s beating him up.’ And here I was around the corner in the Broadway revival of ‘Grease’.”
Porter continues, “I think I played Ghost. But I’m a teen angel, doing my own gospel version of ‘Beauty School Dropout’. Prancing around in 14 inches of orange, rubber hair, in a spacesuit like a Little Richard automaton on crack. And I was not happy at all. It was not what I came here for at all.
“I did not show up in this business to be a clown. And it was seeing ‘Angels in America’ that gave me clarity for the reasons why I was so unhappy. Truth be told, there was nothing for us, Uzo. You’re a dark-skinned Black woman in the theatre.”
Aduba adds, “I 1,000 per cent know that feeling. You were 24 years old, your third Broadway show, Carnegie Mellon trained. I studied classical voice — knowing where your voice naturally sits — but never getting the opportunity to ever sing because what comes from your body, the package from which it comes, was not yet understood.
“It wasn’t computing — fine. But you love this thing that you do so much. For me, the job is not to try to find a space for myself within the thing. I’m carving out my own space.”