"I don't aspire to the middle. I aspire to the tip-tip-top of it all."

By Marcus Jones
June 02, 2021 at 12:45 PM EDT
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Billy Porter is proof that it's never too late to succeed — and there's no such thing as an overnight success. The 51-year-old Emmy, Grammy, and Tony winner has been in the business nearly three decades, inspiring many with his unapologetic approach to roles both on stage and screen. 

Billy Porter
Billy Porter at the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party wearing a look from designer Christian Siriano.
| Credit: Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

In honor of Pride Month, and Pose coming to a close, EW honors the breadth of the LGBTQIA+ icon's work, which includes cult classics, Broadway smashes, and a look to future roles that prove he will continue to slay us.

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FIRST WIVES CLUB, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, 1996
Credit: Everett Collection

First Wives Club soundtrack (1996)

Interestingly enough, Porter is a former Star Search winner. Giving it a go as a recording artist while simultaneously finding his footing on Broadway, the entertainer made it onto the soundtrack of the beloved comedy starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton after Midler heard him sing "Love Is on the Way" at a party.

THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB: A ROMANTIC COMEDY, (top l-r): Billy Porter, John Mahoney, Ben Weber, Timothy
Credit: Everett Collection

The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy (2000)

The groundbreaking romantic comedy from writer-director Greg Berlanti, centered on a group of gay friends in L.A., is often considered to be ahead of the times. Sure, it’s short on out gay actors playing the lead roles considering the time it was released, but Porter more than delivers as the scene-stealing Taylor. 

Related: The Broken Hearts Club: Inside the making of the 2000 gay rom-com

Kinky Boots the Musical
Credit: Matthew Murphy

Kinky Boots (2013)

Even though Broadway musical adaptations of films have been all the rage on the Great White Way in the past decade, rarely do the shows actually eclipse their source materials. Kinky Boots, a Best Musical winner at the 2013 Tony Awards, is one of the most notable exceptions. Much of that is due to Porter’s star-making turn as drag queen Lola, elevating the already awards-worthy book by Harvey Fierstein and songs by Cyndi Lauper.

Related: Kinky Boots cast reunites virtually to celebrate Pride with "Raise You Up" performance

Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Shuffle Along (2016)

It’s an absolute shame to see history repeat itself, and this show — whose full title is Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed — become as forgotten as its subject matter. Much of it sees Porter partner up with Brian Stokes Mitchell, as they tap danced the house down alongside Broadway bona fides like Audra McDonald, Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, and Adrienne Warren.

Pose
Credit: Michael Parmelee/FX

Pose (2018)

If Kinky Boots led to Porter’s reintroduction to Hollywood, this Ryan Murphy-produced drama about New York City’s ballroom scene during the era of Madonna’s “Vogue” and Paris Is Burning was his reintroduction to the world. After his first season as master of ceremonies Pray Tell, Porter became the first openly gay Black actor to be nominated and win in a lead acting category at the Emmys. Deservedly so given how he balances humor and heartbreak in a story arc that emphasizes the high highs and low lows of gay nightlife in the 1980s.

Related: The best speeches from the 2019 Emmys

Billy Porter
Credit: Taylor Swift/YouTube

Taylor Swift’s 'You Need to Calm Down' video (2019)

By the time Taylor Swift sought to gather LGBTQIA+ talent to be in her music video, an eventual Video of the Year winner at the 2019 VMAs, there’s no way she could have done it without booking Porter. Dressed in 1970s protest drag, the actor stands defiantly on the frontline between an angry homophobic mob and queer people just trying to live their life.

Related: Every celebrity in Taylor Swift's “You Need to Calm Down” music video

Like a Boss
Credit: Everett Collection

Like a Boss (2020)

Porter’s entry back into film post-career refresh allowed him to flex his comedic chops as the pitch hitter among the supporting cast. His hilarious “tragic moment” opposite stars Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish is something to witness, and is even the highlight of the movie’s trailer.

Related: How Like a Boss stars Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne became real friends

62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Jan 2020
Credit: Christopher Polk/Rolling Stone/Shutterstock

Red carpet with the shade hat (2020)

Ever since he opted to wear a gown to the 2019 Oscars, Porter has become the doyen of out-of-the-box, gender-bending red carpet looks. Our personal favorite is his sparkly turquoise ensemble at the 2020 Grammys, which was part rhinestone cowboy, part lampshade, with the fringe hanging from the hat moving at the push of a button to reveal the actor’s expertly made-up mug.

Twilight Zone
Credit: Dean Buscher/CBS

The Twilight Zone (2020)

Porter only has a quick guest spot in the second season of Jordan Peele’s reboot of the iconic sci-fi anthology series, but he makes the most of it as the proprietor of a psychic parlor. The role, in the episode titled "The Who of You," involves a lot of body swaps, and earned him a nomination at the upcoming Saturn Awards.

CINDERELLA
Credit: Kerry Brown/Sony

Cinderella (2021)

The film is not even out yet, but given what we’ve seen of Porter’s role as the fairy godmother, reimagined as “The Fab G,” he’s sure to be a showstopper. Writer-director Kay Cannon actually wrote the role for him, and teases that although he’s only in the film for less than 15 minutes, "He'll be your favorite part."

Related: Billy Porter reinvents the fairy godmother as 'the Fab G' in Kay Cannon's Cinderella

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This article was written independently by Entertainment Weekly's editorial team and meets our editorial standards. Clorox is a paid advertising partner in Spring 2021.

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