Words: Alastair James; pictures: Amazon Prime Video
Billy Porter says he would be perfectly happy not to play a straight character again, because he's tired of the view that playing straight roles is somehow 'better' than playing queer roles.
Speaking to Attitude, the star of Amazon’s 21st-century take on Cinderella also says that conversations around queer roles in Hollywood at the moment are more about balance than anything else.
In the modern reimagining of the classic fairy tale Cinderalla - out today (3 September) on Amazon Prime Video - Porter plays the “Fab G”, a genderless take on the iconic Fairy Godmother character previously portrayed on screen by the likes of Miss Whitney Houston and Helena Bonham-Carter.
Billy Porter is perhaps best known to many for his work as Pray Tell on the hit TV show Pose, which focuses on the New York ballroom scene of the 1980s and '90s. The show is a major success for LGBTQ representation with a largely trans cast playing trans roles. He’s also known for his work on Broadway, where he won a Tony Award for his role as Lola in the musical version of Kinky Boots.
In his sit-down interview to mark Cinderella's release, Porter says of the ongoing debate around queer actors and queer roles: “I do believe in an across-the-board way that queer roles, at this point in the game, should only be for queer actors.
"The only reason why I feel that way so strongly is because queer people playing straight roles is not the same. We don’t get the same thought; we don’t get the same opportunities in that way. It’s imbalanced. I think the conversation is more, for me, about balance”.
He recognises that the world has changed and that it’s important for everyone to do the same, but that there’s still a long way to go.
“I personally don’t care whether I play a straight character or not ever in my life again. That conversation is rooted and based in this idea that playing straight is 'better'... That's not true. It's not better, it's just different."
Considering his role in Cinderella, and Pose, Billy thinks they’ve helped change things in Hollywood. “We’re in a space where people in positions of power are open to what that change means. I just want to take advantage of it and make sure that I make the most of this moment, and we all make the most of this moment, and that this kind of representation is here to stay.”
“Magic has no gender"
Despite not having seen the full film yet, the actor says he “feels amazing about it” - particularly for taking on a role played by Whitney Houston in the 1997 Rodgers and Hammerstein version with Brandi.
On playing the “Fab G”, Porter says being a queer man along it being a gender-free character is “magical”. He adds, “Magic has no gender – that’s been my tagline from the moment the ink was dry on the contract.”
The idea, he explains, came about through the director, Kay Cannon, who wrote the role as a man and had Billy in mind. According to Billy, the script was enough to make him yes, even before he got to his part. But he says the genderless element wasn’t a part of the character until they discussed what the character would look like.
“I don’t even know what he, she, em, them, they, it, ze, za, I don’t know. It evolved inside of our conversations and our pre-production work,” he says. It wasn’t something Porter had in mind coming into the role either. “It just organically became what it is. They wanted me, and whatever version of that that it ended up being is what she was prepared to be happy with, which is a gift in and of itself.”
On whether there was anything else he wanted to do with the character Billy says, “No, it’s pretty perfect.”
Cinderella is available on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 3 September. Check out the trailer below.
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