Pose creator says goodbye to his groundbreaking drama: 'There was a very clear end to this narrative'
Steven Canals previews the third and final season, and how the pandemic impacted the show.
It's a bittersweet moment for Pose co-creator Steven Canals as he walks into his office on the Fox Studio lot in mid-March. It was ball week, the time to shoot all of the scenes involving the most fun aspect of the show — the balls. But top of mind was the fact that, just days earlier, his history-making drama, which brought the most trans series-regular roles to TV when it launched in 2018 and earned Billy Porter an Emmy for best actor, announced it would be ending with a third and final season.
Premiering this Sunday on FX, the series' conclusion may feel abrupt to some, but Canals promises the writers "were very intentional about when would be the right time to step away from telling the story."
"When I first met [executive producer] Ryan [Murphy], there was a very clear end to this narrative. And we've stuck to that," he tells EW. "We came into the third season feeling like we're barreling pretty close to the ending. Obviously, we had conversations about, do we stretch out the narrative or do we actually end it where we said we intended to end it? We felt like the audience would know if we were deciding to stretch the narrative."
Season 3 of Pose circles back to the very beginning. In those first season 1 episodes, Canals' characters — including Mj Rodriguez's Blanca, Dominique Jackson's Elektra, and Indya Moore's Angel — made known what they longed for most in life. Canals said he and his writers' room "reacquainted" themselves "with what the beginning of their journeys were" so they could end their stories in the right way. These last seven episodes then became "an exploration of what it means to get the thing you've always wanted," Canals explains. "What are the joys and what are the complications of finally attaining the dream?"
For Blanca, fast-forwarding to 1994, she's now mother to a new crop of kids in House of Evangelista. She's also working as an AIDS-ward nurse's aide alongside Judy (Sandra Bernhard) and has fallen in love with a handsome doctor, played by Hollywood's Jeremy Pope.
Rodriguez says Pope "brought an amazing dynamic to the show." "I had known Jeremy for a while. I had seen him in a show that I had done previously, and I got to watch him be lead in this musical show, The View Upstairs... I couldn't have asked for a better person to work with. He made me feel safe playing my love interest on the show. I was blessed with that."
"A large part of Blanca's journey is figuring out what her wants and desires are," Canals says, "and how she navigates life both as a mother and a partner."
The '90s is more than a backdrop. Amid the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Blanca finds herself at a protest at a time when so many LGBTQ people were losing their lives to this virus. It plays a hefty role as three of the lead characters also grapple with it privately. The period "just raised the stakes on a lot of the narratives," he says.
Talking about a community ravaged by a virus brings up an obvious parallel. Cast and crew, Canals notes, had to be tested a minimum of three times a week for COVID-19 before arriving on set. Once on location, anyone within close proximity to the actors had to wear appropriate safety gear, including face masks and shields.
There was a fear amongst fans that season 3 might not be able to film scenes involving intimate moments or packed balls. Canals had told Variety in June 2020, "Things like kissing — we will likely forgo those moments. The place on our show where the biggest impact will be felt will be the ball scenes: Those scenes have 125 to 150 background actors." Now that he's been able to strategize safety protocols and actually film season 3, that is no longer a fear.
"It felt like the show and the story was going to be greatly impacted by the pandemic," Canals says. "That was truly my belief until arriving in New York City [to film]. Once we really spent time on logistics, we knew that all the precautions were being hit and that we were going to be okay."
It did, however, create "interesting challenges" that Canals wonders if the audience will pick up on. The ballroom scenes are no longer 125-150 people, for instance. For season 3, they will be more like 65 individuals with "a lot of visual effects work."
"You'll notice that we have a lot more exterior scenes," Canals adds. "We're out in fresh air. There's less of a concern around having lots of people in close proximity in an enclosed space. As a result, this season you feel you get so much more New York, which I think is really beautiful."
It's details like these that make it just a little bit easier to say goodbye to a show that has meant so much to those involved and those watching from home.
"We really, truly, built a family while filming Pose," Canals says. "Shooting this season in the midst of a global pandemic has made this season all the more special and has made the process of coming to the end of this narrative all the more emotional. There isn't a single human who hasn't been directly impacted by COVID-19 or some form of loss in the past year. Even if it hasn't been an immediate family member, you know, someone who had lost a loved one. But in the midst of that, we all, as people, have been showing up for one another. It has been so beautiful to witness that."