Billy Porter stars with Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field in 80 For Brady, opening Feb. 10

In the lead-up to his new film, Billy Porter talks acting and his trendsetting fashions

TIM NASSON | Contributing Writer

Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy-winning actor Billy Porter needs no introduction, especially not to the many fans of his character Pray Tell from Ryan Murphy’s hit TV series Pose. Now fans will get to see Porter on the big screen. Coming to theaters Feb. 10, Porter stars as a Super Bowl half-time show choreographer opposite Oscar winners Sally Field, Rita Moreno and Jane Fonda and Tony winner Lilly Tomlin in the feel-good comedy 80 For Brady, a comic homage to NFL quarterback Tom Brady. The movie, based on a true story, follows four best friends, played by Field, Moreno, Fonda and Tomlin, on a trip to watch their hero, Brady, play in the 2017 Super Bowl.

Porter rocketed to superstardom when he originated the role of Lola in the Tony winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots just over 10 years ago. But show business has always been in his blood.

“I started singing in church at a very young age,” he said. “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 to come easy.

“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,” he continued. “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 “Oscars” dress, which made Porter a viral sensation in 2019, wasn’t something that just happened. It was a moment he had worked toward for years.

Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field in 80 for Brady

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 recalled. “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,” he said.
From then on, any candid photos that people took of Porter were not only flattering but trendsetting.

“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,” he said.

Then came 2019, just a year before the pandemic hit, and Porter was starting 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, the actor said.

“All of the outfits I have worn aligned with the roles I was playing,” he said. “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 disclose.)

“I have a calling,” he admits. “It is funneled through artistry.”