Billy Porter has always pushed fashion to new limits, but his 2019 Academy Awards appearance was a defining moment. As the star's IMDb reveals, he spent decades jumping from casual TV roles to the theater before 2014, when he won the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for his work on Kinky Boots. Porter — whose first credited TV role was in the mid-'60s — ensured all eyes were on him with his performance in the boundary-breaking series Pose (a Ryan Murphy series). He went on to play the warlock Behold Chablis in the ninth season of Murphy's American Horror Story, and in 2019, he won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Pose's Pray Tell. Now, it's hard not to chat about awards shows without hearing Porter's name.
Perhaps we should thank the fashion gods for bringing Porter to the spotlight, because at this point, his influence is undeniable. The star attended the 2019 Oscars in a custom Christian Siriano tuxedo gown that honored the ballroom icon Hector Xtravaganza, who consulted on the Pose set. It was art come alive, and as Porter explains, his opportunity to make a culture-shaking statement. He's upped the ante with every new appearance. If we were all like Porter, we'd dress in whatever made us happiest — whatever felt the most "us" — and that sounds like a better world to us.
But as fashion-forward as Porter is, he's also dedicated to giving back. Enter #GivingTuesday, the international day of charity that knocks us all back down to Earth following days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness. This year, Porter took the opportunity to partner with PayPal for the site's "Give Better" campaign, which encourages global generosity and community-building.
While the campaign has run annually since 2012, 2018 was a banner year. 55.1 million people from over 200 markets contributed $9.6 billion to more than 665,000 charitable organizations via PayPal. As the campaign ensures, 100 percent of donations go to charity — no deductions, no fees, which means we can all give what we can knowing it's in good hands. On top of all this, PayPal is matching 10 percent up to $600,000.
Livingly chatted with Porter ahead of #GivingTuesday 2019.
Livingly: What does #GivingTuesday mean to you?
Billy Porter: I grew up in the church, so it was instilled in me from a very early age that giving is a way of life. It's the only way to make the world a better place. So when I got the call from PayPal asking me to be a part of the campaign, it felt like a natural fit for me.
Livingly: Major shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday arrive just ahead of #GivingTuesday. How do you strike the balance?
BP: The commercialization of Christmas has never affected me. I don't personally struggle with that balance because my life has always been about giving. Black Friday is not my MO. My go-to posture is giving first, so I don't have anything to balance when it comes to that. It's natural for me.
Livingly: We are the biggest American Horror Story fans. What did you learn on the set of Apocalypse?
BP: The only thing I can say about AHS is that before AHS, I could not watch a horror movie. I could not. I tried watching horror movies in the '80s and I haven't seen one since. I was so scared and so nervous of going on set and making a horror show, and now, knowing what happens behind the scenes, I'm not scared of horror anymore.
Livingly: Does that mean you would return for another season of AHS?
BP: I would do another season of AHS, for sure. I'm ready to be a horror movie person now.
Livingly: Pose is another amazing series you've been acknowledged for. What's in the show's future? I know you're set to direct an episode in Season 3.
BP: I just love that our show is resonating and that we get to keep doing it. I'm excited that we get to keep telling the story. As a director of the theater, I'm really ready to transition that skill set into film and TV, so I'm excited to be in charge.
Livingly: How do you feel about transitioning from directing theater to television?
BP: I've been on the other side of the camera, I observe a lot. I'm always on the floor, always watching. I'm ready to dive in and get there. Storytelling is storytelling; creating a narrative and taking the watcher on the journey. I know how to do that, and I'm excited to do that in this new milieu.
Livingly: Your awards show style is iconic. How do you decide what you want to wear and how to take it to the next level?
BP: My goal in this moment is to be authentic and to do exactly what I want to do — to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up, as best I can. Art as activism changes lives, it can change the world. Fashion is art. As you can see, it's creating a conversation that didn't exist before, and I'm very proud of that.
Livingly: Right? Did you anticipate the level of buzz and conversation your ensembles have inspired?
BP: No, I didn't. I did not. I knew it would cause a stir because I've always been on the edge of fashion choices throughout my life, I've always caused a stir. But I didn't know it would be a "BOAO" thing, and by that, I mean "before-Oscar, after-Oscar." It's a defining moment in my life that will be with me when anybody speaks of me for the rest of time, and that's significant.
Livingly: Do you have a few words of wisdom for anyone else who wants to push their fashion boundaries but isn't quite there yet confidence-wise?
BP: You answered your own question. The first thing you need to do is make sure your validation doesn't come from outside energy. That's it. That's all there is to it. It doesn't matter what anybody else things. You stand on your own two feet, you stand inside your authenticity, and do what you want, period. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of it. That's the best advice I can give. It takes a while to get there, especially in this new social media world where everyone is so obsessed with how many likes they have. Doesn't matter. None of that matters.
Livingly: Can you offer any tidbits about your upcoming role in Cinderella?
BP: It's a new take, it's a Cinderella for the #MeToo generation. It's hip, it's cool, it's present, it's of the moment, and I"m playing the fairy godmother, so... there you have it.