FX’s ‘Pose’ Stars, Producers & Writers Talk Casting, Costumes, and Authenticity

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FX's POSE_101_3651r
JoJo Whilden/FX
JoJo Whilden/FX

Billy Porter

Role: Pray Tell

Why say yes to this role?

I had Ryan Murphy on my vision board for five years because I knew, watching his material, reaching his work, he was probably the only person in the industry in film and television who I could see would get me. Who would understand my journey, understand how to create out of me. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.

What was it like working with the consultants?

They’re all so knowledgeable. I was adjacent to the ball culture. I moved to New York in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I was in the AIDS crisis. Going to the balls was a celebration of that — a choice of life. To be able to stand on the shoulders of these people, who came before us and didn’t make it, we get to tell this story. We get to change the world. It’s remarkable.

What did you take away from this project?

I think the T in LGBTQ is on the outside for too long. We’ve ignored the T. I’ve learned so much about the struggle and idea that they face death everyday simply because of who they are. We’re all human beings and demand to be treated like such.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Janet Mock

Role: Producer, Writer, Director

You’re a triple threat! How did you balance your multiple roles on this series?

Ryan Murphy told me I had to! He told me right from the beginning he wanted to have the right team, right collaborators, co-workers to pull this off. Pose is all about authenticity so the only way we can have that grain of realness is by making sure we’re as close to the source as possible. For me, as a trans girl of color, growing up loving stories, seeking reflections of myself, to work with such a master was inspiring.

Talk about the casting process.

So many of the actors on our show were not cast in the roles that they came in for. We didn’t have all these lead roles so we created roles for them to embody because we saw something special in them. And we wanted to make sure we created a universe where the transwomen are center. They’re not serving someone else’s storyline, they are the storyline.

What was the first thing you looked at for research?

Paris Is Burning was a huge inspiration and a leading force for us wanting to create a fictionalized space in that world. We also made sure we got almost all of the surviving members of the documentary, who were featured, to be consultants and producers on our show. For us, how we tell their story is through their eyes, through their experiences. They really informed us in the writers room. The opening act in the pilot is a true story and we got that from Hector Xtravaganza.

Talk to me about the amazing costumes.

Our costume designer, Lou Eyrich, and her entire team were warriors. She went across the country and bought bags and bags of vintage clothes that were late 1980s appropriate. Our ball scenes have about 200 extras in them and everyone is dressed to the nines. It’s a great mix of vintage and built costumes.

James Van Der Beek in Pose
JoJo Whilden/FX

James Van Der Beek

Role: Matt

What was it like working with this ensemble cast?

Well, they don’t look like newcomers when you watch these cuts. They are authentic, telling their stories, and getting a platform that’d been denied them for many years. They shine. Actually, it was challenging for me to keep up.

Why this project?

The chance to work with Ryan Murphy was everything. He tells such compelling stories. And my character is this raging example of toxic masculinity. He’s not a great dude. He’s perfectly-written and I feel like I’ve seen this guy so much throughout my life. For me, it was about mixing and matching from a palate of different examples.

What makes this series stand out compared to others?

This one feels transcendent. When you get to give people a voice who are marginalized and looked down upon, that’s really special.

The Paley Center For Media's 33rd Annual PaleyFest Los Angeles -
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

Brad Falchuk

Role: Co-creator, executive producer, writer

What was it like inside the writers room?

This project had to go slow. We had to go ‘Wait a second… how would this character react?’ This is different than how I would react, different from how any other character I’ve written would react. We need to be authentic and true. I don’t know what it’s like for a transwoman in 1987. What her worries would be and what it would feel like on the first date, to feel rejection. I needed to understand that so we had conversations about the smallest things to make sure we got everything.

On this show, we are so fortunate to have a community of people both in front and behind the camera to generate the authenticity we demanded to make this show. Someone like Janet [Mock] never brings it halfway, she brings 100 percent everyday. She’s so smart, so thoughtful and she has an answer to every question.

How did you approach casting?

When somebody comes in and blows you away but [they] aren’t right for what you created, you can’t let them go. When you find greatness and beauty, a star, you figure it out because it doesn’t happen everyday.

What do you hope audiences take away from the series?

The time for progress is always right now. And progress happens with compassion. We do it through entertainment, by showing people a world they don’t know.

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Family and a sense of belonging.

That’s what Ryan Murphy’s new FX series, Pose, is about. The story pulls the curtain back on a part of New York City-late ’80s life that many audience members probably didn’t even know existed — ball culture.

The show “looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in New York: the rise of the luxury Trump-era universe, the downtown social and literary scene and the ball culture world.”

Even before its premiere, Pose is already setting new standards in the television industry by casting of the largest number of transgender actors and largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever to star in series regular roles for a scripted show.

The cast and producers/writers spoke with TV Insider on the Pose red carpet about what they hope people take away from the groundbreaking series. Click through the gallery above to see what James Van Der Beek, Billy Porter, Janet Mock, and more had to say.

Pose, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 3, 9/8c, FX