Award-winning actor Billy Porter has said that the “homophobic” music industry killed his attempts at a career in the ’80s and ’90s.
Porter, speaking at the New Yorker Festival earlier this month, said that racism also stymied his acting career at the time.
According to Deadline, Porter said that casting agents in Hollywood were only interested in specific types of African American actors — “James Earl Jones, the patriarch, Denzel Washington, the sex symbol, or genius clown, Eddie Murphy.”
And, despite a deal with A&M Records, the music industry was “hugely, violently homophobic,” according to Porter.
“It just was never about the music,” he said. “It was about trying to fix myself so other people would feel comfortable around me.”
He found himself asking “Where am I fitting in?” and said that he became “a character actor to hide behind little weight and work so I could eat.”
Porter released his self-titled debut album in 1997, but ultimately declared bankruptcy, lost his apartment, and spent 13 years without health insurance, he said.
His fortunes changed after he was cast as Belize in the 2011 revival of Angels in America, and Porter’s star truly rose after he won the Tony Award for his performance as Lola in Kinky Boots in 2013.
Since then, Porter has also claimed a Grammy Award, for his role on the Kinky Boots cast album, and last month took home an Emmy Award for his role as Pray Tell in FX’s Pose.
Porter made history, becoming the first openly gay African American actor to win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
It also means that the 50-year-old is now only an Academy Award short of a full EGOT — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards.
Speaking of the challenges he’d faced in establishing his career, Porter said “the calling in my life is where I am now.”
“We must speak life into ourselves, even when everyone around us is doing the opposite,” he said. “I never saw anything that looked like me, and visibility…when we see ourselves reflected back…is so important.”
At the New Yorker Festival, Porter also revealed that he will portray the Fairy Godmother in a new, live-action adaptation of Cinderella.
Porter will star alongside singer Camila Cabello, making her acting debut in the title role of Sony’s “modern reimagining of the classic fairy tale.”