The cast and creative team behind FX’s Pose came together at the Dolby Theatre for a panel at the 2019 PaleyFest. After a screening of the Janet Mock directed episode “Love Is the Message” the cast and crew graced the stage for an inspiring Q&A moderated by none other than Ryan Murphy himself. Joining Murphy and Mock onstage was co-creator Steven Canals and producer Our Lady J as well as the groundbreaking cast of MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, and the beloved Billy Porter.
The panel began with a screening of Janet Mock’s directorial debut. A critically acclaimed episode that confidently and compassionately deals with HIV & death as well as a show-stopping duet of Diana Ross’s “Home.” Not only was this her directorial debut but Mock has made history as the first trans woman of color to write for television.
With Pose being her first major work in scripted television Mock originally felt doubtful. “I’ve never seen someone like me directing an episode of television or writing a screenplay. So when my boss told me I was directing I was doubtful and nervous. I didn’t know if I had the skills and I know I didn’t have the experience. I think what great mentors do, which is what you are to me, is they set you up with opportunities. You gave me the opportunity to shadow and introduced me into The Half Initiative.”
The Half Initiative is an organization started in 2017 to bring in more women, more people of color, and more queer people into the entertainment industry while setting them up with mentors and directing opportunities. Murphy’s inspiration for the initiative came while looking for a director for the American Crime Story episode “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” and realizing his own roster list was severely lacking. “I started that initiative because I embarrassed of myself. I as a gay man have fought throughout my entire career. I came of age in a very stigmatized manner and I myself had to fight to direct my own first show, Popular.
Murphy revealed that before Pose as we know it came to fruition he had been working on an adaptation of the documentary Paris Is Burning. Because of various reasons including the families of the women the project came to a halt. A mere two days later Murphy came across Steven Canals original pilot script after Canals himself had been trying endlessly to get the project started only to receive countless rejections. “I kept hearing very coded language. They called it too urban. They called it too niche. They were apprehensive about it being a period piece. It felt like this project had everything working against it but I always felt deep in my heart that it would make it to air if it found a disruptor – someone who believes not only in equality but in equity. So I don’t think it was by chance that my script ended up on Ryan Murphy’s desk.”
One of the strongest aspects of any Ryan Murphy production is the extraordinary ensemble, and the cast of Pose is no exception. Murphy described meeting eventual star MJ Rodriguez (who plays Blanca) as one of the single greatest moments of the process and being able to call her and tell her she had been cast. As Rodriguez described “I was at a limbo in my life. I had been auditioning like crazy and I didn’t know if my identity was going to match with my career choice so when you called me that day I gagged. I was listening to Rihanna’s Wild Thoughts and in that moment I was given a space and an opportunity. I felt like for the first time people were going to take me seriously as an actress.”
Murphy took the opportunity to drop the first hints about season two which they begin filming next week. We already knew that the season was going to feature a time jump and this weekend Murphy revealed that the season opens with the release of Madonna’s Vogue. Sandra Bernhard has been upgraded to a season regular. The biggest surprise came when Murphy revealed to the cast and audience that Rodriguez would have multiple scenes with Broadway legend Patti LuPone, a surprise that had the audience gagging and Porter in shock. Murphy who married his partner in 2012 also casually mentioned that LuPone was the flower girl at his wedding.
Sitting in the Dolby Theatre weeks after the 2019 Oscars it was only appropriate that the first question directed to Billy Porter was regarding the tuxedo dress he wore on the red carpet, a moment that became instantly iconic and catapulted the beloved actor into fashion icon status. The gown that broke the internet only came to fruition a week before the Oscars when at a fashion week after party Porter cheekily approached designer Christian Siriano. From there the idea took off but it was much more than a single moment for Porter. Instead, it was representative of his entire career and the decades long fight he had gone through to be seen. “From the beginning of my career in the 90s, every way I tried to express myself was silenced so this was a way for me to get my voice back.”
Billy Porter exudes an unbelievable star power, so much so that the audience erupted into applause the minute he walked on stage. His own costars gave him his own standing ovation and the admiration for Porter extends far beyond that. In fact, Murphy revealed that the original role of the MC was minor and expanded in the writers room once they realized how much they needed Porter to be included in the project. “Even without a clear role I told the casting director just have Billy come in and just talk to us. So we got this, a Superstar. Stephen, Brad, and I left that meeting and we wrote a role that we felt Billy Porter deserved.
Indya Moore’s performance as Angel Evangelista has immediately turned her into a breakout sensation and she has wasted no time using that newfound power as a platform for her activism. “For most of my life, I’ve survived by being brave. By asking questions when I was expected not to talk back. I was rejected from so many places that were supposed to be safe places and were supposed to show me love. I think that created a spark in me that made me aware of the rest of the world.”
Since Pose premiered last summer Moore has not been shy about talking about her past experiences so it came as a surprise when she opened up to the panel about her initial struggles with portraying Angel because of the prejudice she has experienced throughout her life. “Portraying a sex worker brought back a lot of memories that I thought I had put behind me. I never thought that I – as someone who was an ad on Backpage, someone who was sex trafficked, someone who has tried to escape their reality through drug abuse – would end up here. Playing Angel forced me to interrogate those aspects of my life, things that I had never before spoken about. So much of my journey as an actor has been challenging who society says deserves to have their stories told.”
The panel also touched on the importance of injecting kindness and at times evoking a fairy tale while telling the stories of the Evangelista family. As a team they made a conscious effort not to end every episode in death and instead hoped to write from a place of hope and inspiration. Producer and writer Our Lady J, who herself is living with HIV, discussed how she injected her own life motto into the heart of the show. After being diagnosed with HIV she initially wanted to give up but instead ran across town repeating her mantra to herself “I will survive. I will thrive. I am surviving. I am thriving.”
Our Lady J knew by having her voice in the writers room there was an automatic authentic to the story. “To take this tragedy and tell it as the experience of living rather than the experience of dying is something the world needs to see.”
Murphy connected the importance of chronicling the stories of those with HIV by connecting it to his own queer experience. “I grew up in this period and I lost many, many, many friends to AIDS. I came of age sexually during this time so I’ve never not associated sex with death.” The conversation then went on to discuss how queer people don’t really have their own storytelling canon quite yet and as Janet Mock put it this show and specifically this episode is a memorial to everyone we lost from HIV. “What these characters are saying is I’m choosing to fight. I’m choosing to live. So I hope it inspires everyone to fight for that.”
Ending the panel on a high note Murphy dropped some hints on what to expect not only on the second season of Pose but his other highly anticipated projects as well. In addition to Janet Mock returning to direct more episodes in the second season both Our Lady J and Billy Porter will be making their directorial debuts as well. In addition to Pose Mock will also be directing episodes of Murphy’s first Netflix project The Politician. On top of her directorial announcement for The Politician Mock and Murphy gleefully revealed that audiences can expect to see both Bette Midler and Judith Light on the upcoming series. Can we cross our fingers for an Emmy worthy duet?