The actor who plays Ricky talks to ET about the show’s unexpected romance and what it means for the characters.
Pose knows how to make history.
Since it was first announced, the FX series has broken ground, from casting five transgender series regulars to letting Janet Mock make her directorial debut in season one. Season two has seen the show uncover the hidden truth of New York City’s Hart Island and bolster the success of actress Angelica Ross, whose departure in episode four made room for her to join American Horror Story: 1984 as the ongoing anthology drama’s first transgender series regular. And then there are the 2019 Primetime Emmy nominations, including one for Outstanding Drama Series, making Mock, Our Lady J and Silas Howard the first transgender producers nominated for the Television Academy’s top prize, and another for Billy Porter, who became the first openly gay black man to be nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama category.
On the most recent episode of Pose, which aired Tuesday, Aug. 6, Porter made history once again -- doing something for the first time in his decades-long career -- with Pray Tell’s onscreen, very steamy sex scene with co-star Dyllón Burnside, who plays Ricky.
“I have spent my entire career never having been the object of anyone’s affection. Until now,” the 49-year-old announced during FX’s presentation at the 2019 Television Critics Association summer panel. “Having a very loving, connected sex scene is sort of blowing my mind.”
Indeed, the moment that opens episode eight (“Revelations”) after Ricky crawls into Pray Tell’s bed was very loving, very connected and very steamy. Not since the Logo series Noah’s Arc have two African American men have had sex onscreen -- let alone in this context or without cutting away, which often happens on TV or in film. “It’s the first time we have ever seen two black, queer, HIV-positive men in an intergenerational relationship have sex on television,” Burnside clarifies to ET about the significance of this particular moment. “It’s never happened before. It’s a big deal.”
It’s also something that had never happened for the three people involved. This was the first time either actor had filmed a sex scene -- up until last season, Porter has never even had a romantic kiss onscreen -- while series co-creator Steven Canals made his directorial debut with the episode, which he also wrote. “I’m really grateful for Steven Canals writing and being so passionate about directing it,” Burnside says, before revealing how nervous both he and Porter were.
“It was great to be able to do it with someone I respect, love and trust. But I also know him in a very different way,” he explains. “So allowing myself to go there, I really had to tap into where Ricky was.” Once they started shooting the scene, however, “the storytelling took over.”
While the sex scene certainly melted the internet, it should be noted that there is very much a fledgling romance behind it all. The development in Pray Tell and Ricky’s relationship has been building since Ricky first learned about his HIV-positive status. In episode seven’s emotional moment when Ricky finds out his status, it’s Pray Tell who is there to help put the pieces back together. In that moment, the two men have gone from being on opposing sides of the ballroom to sharing a bond that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
“[Porter] was a really supportive scene partner and gave me everything that I needed to be in the moment and live it,” Burnside says of filming that moment while being very sensitive to the progression of their relationship that follows. “I wanted to get it right. I really wanted people to walk away understanding that this is not about sex with Ricky and Pray Tell.”
What’s actually happening between the characters, the actor says, is them finding themselves in a place of needing love and needing support and not knowing where to find it. “This is the first time Ricky has experienced someone who loves him in spite of,” Burnside says, clarifying the key difference in this budding relationship versus Ricky and Damon’s (Ryan Jamaal Swain) failed romance, which both have been dealing with since the beginning of season two.
“I’m grateful to be able to explore this relationship,” Burnside says, hinting at what’s to come for the pair in season two’s remaining episodes. “I can’t say much at this point, but I will say that I think Ricky and Pray definitely find something real in one another. So, as you're watching, you’re able to look beyond what on the surface is messy -- but life is messy. I hope that people are able to see the beauty in two people finding love and support with one another. I think that we’ll see both of them grow from this relationship. I think we’re going to see them evolve. Ultimately, that’s what relationships are about.”
Offscreen, Burnside says that the past few episodes of Pose have been a dream come true, especially thanks to the time he’s been able to share with season two supporting player Patti LuPone, in addition to his storyline with Porter. “What is this life that I’m living right now?,” Burnside exclaims. “Thank you, Ryan Murphy and all of the musical theater gods. Patti LuPone is talking to me in between singing this song and Billy Porter and I just had a sex scene. What is this!?”
Pose airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.