Ryan Murphy Explains How 'Pose' Season 2 Is Shaped by Hope (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Inside the Bronx, New York, location of Silvercup Studios, where Pose is in the middle of production on season two, reporters are gathered tightly along the balcony of a dark auditorium watching as a ballroom scene unfolds below.
All the key characters -- Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Elecktra (Dominique Jackson), Angel (Indya Moore), Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), Ricky (Dyllón Burnside) -- are scattered about the room, surrounded by dozens of neon-clad background actors as they watch male dancers compete in the lofting category -- an evolution in vogueing at the time performed by banjie boys -- in the middle of the crowd. Moments later, Candy (Angelica Ross) dressed as an “Express Yourself”-era Madonna with a cone bra and blonde hair appears, bringing the competition to a halt, much to the dismay of emcee Pray Tell (Billy Porter).
In between setups, co-creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy, who is directing this particular episode, emerges from the side with one note. “Make sure it looks messy,” he says. He doesn’t want to see straight lines of crowds or people holding back. Instead, he wants the room to feel fuller, louder and, most importantly, rawer. This is, after all, supposed to be the ballroom scene in 1990, just weeks after Madonna’s “Vogue” has hit the radio, exposing what’s long been underground to the masses.
After debuting to critical acclaim, two Golden Globe nominations and a Peabody award, the groundbreaking FX series is back for a second season -- what Murphy considers the middle chapter of a multi-season story that will end in 1995 -- skipping ahead two years after season one, with the Madonna hit merely a jumping off point. While “Vogue” is heard plenty in the first episode, which debuts Tuesday, June 11, Madonna herself is an unseen character much like Donald Trump was in season one. The main focus of season two, however, is the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was just reaching new heights in New York City as the LGBTQ community started fighting back.
Sandra Bernhard joins the cast full-time as Judy, a lesbian and nurse who is friends with Pray Tell and exposes him to the advocacy group, Act Up. Meanwhile, Blanca is facing off with a new foe, Frederica Norman (a character loosely based on Leona Helmsley, played by Patti LuPone), Angel chases her modeling ambitions, and Dominique finds a new way to survive without the benefit of a wealthy financier. When it comes to the decisions faced by many of the characters, “you’re going to root for them even harder because bad things happen,” Murphy says between directing scenes.
While many of season two’s storylines unfold in the funeral parlor nearly as much as it does at the balls, Murphy still wanted to do the opposite of what is expected of a show about the daily struggles of the African-American and Latino gay and transgender community as they deal with the death of their friends and family while their underground world suddenly becomes a mainstream commodity. “It was a dark period and it starts to get very upsetting, but in that, this group of people are still together. They still have family meals and they still take care of each other,” Murphy says.
Tucked beneath all that grief and anxiety, Murphy says is hope. “Hope is the important thing,” he continues. “Does every episode end on a happy note? No. But I think it ends on a hopeful note.” Conscious of who is watching the series, the TV producer says he was always mindful of that in the writing and construction of the series. “I try to think, What would I have done at 12 years old if I had seen a show like this that was about my community or my world?” he explains. “I'm very conscious for young people to know that it is sometimes hard but you can get through it and you can get through it with some dignity and a sense of humor. And that's important.”
While he admits it’s difficult at times to be true to what’s happening in their world but also wanting to give viewers that sense of fun and style -- like the decadence of the ballroom scene and Candy’s ensuing battle with Pray Tell witnessed by reporters -- Murphy is aware of the responsibility he carries with Pose. Something he’s much more attune to now than he was when Glee first premiered a decade ago. “I didn’t really understand the global impact of those characters and what they meant to people. I get it much more now -- maybe because I have children of my own, I don't know -- but I get the responsibility to not take that message for granted and to be very responsible with that,” Murphy explains, adding with a sense of pride: “And I love these characters.”