KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 ― As a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Broadway star Billy Porter would often watch The Twilight Zone on sleepless nights.
“Growing up religious in a Pentecostal church, the bible is used as a parable and as a metaphor to teach us and show us different morals, different behaviours and ways to move through life ― good versus evil, moral versus immoral.
“It (the show) always moved me because it felt like an extension of that brand of parable-like storytelling,” he said.
The Tony Award winner who won best actor for the musical Kinky Boots and an Emmy last year for the Netflix ballroom scene series Pose will next appear in the second season of The Twilight Zone.
Porter plays a tarot card scam artist who realises the error of his ways when he meets a desperate actor that robs a bank in the episode The Who of You, written by BlacKKKlansman’s Win Rosenfeld.
His appearance is brief but electrifying in a scene which Porter says is a turning point for both characters.
“He’s just a squirrel trying to get a nut like everybody else in a world that is brutal and dismissive and unfair,” Porter said in a phone interview earlier this week.
At the risk of revealing spoilers, the plot moves forward with lots of body-switching between the characters.
“If I could switch bodies with another person I would love to switch bodies with Oprah [Winfrey] because I’d like to be in her mind and see how it works.
“It’s so inspiring and it’s so present and it’s continually evolving ― I’d love that,” the 50-year-old said.
In true Twilight Zone style, the anthology series continues the tradition of probing existential questions of “who we are” and the choices that confront us in the reboot by filmmaker Jordan Peele, who also hosts and narrates the series.
Porter praised the Get Out director for bringing the iconic anthology series into modern day through the inclusion of black actors and people of colour.
“The first version of The Twilight Zone was very white and I am very grateful that this version really reflects what the world looks like today vis-a-vis casting and all different types of cross-sections of colours are represented and that’s fabulous,” he said.
The theatre performer and singer loves the show because it holds a mirror up to society and makes us reflect on ourselves and the decisions we make, good or bad.
Given the series’ uncanny ability to capture our social anxieties and fear, it’s unsurprising that Porter likened the current state of the world to that of an alternate dimension.
“I am in the twilight zone as myself right now, just like the rest of the world,” he said.
“This is the test and for me what I’m realising and learning to do is we must always show up and speak the real truth to power.
“When the people rise up, when the people show up, change happens for good ― it takes getting to the tipping point, to the point of no return for us as a collective species.”
Asked why such a series was important in capturing the zeitgeist of our current social and political fractures, Porter firmly believes in art being the conduit to change.
“We as artists always throughout history have been at the forefront of this kind of epic change.
“Through our work, whatever it may be, we reach into the hearts and minds of people and we can change the molecular structure because it’s not about shame, it’s not about blame, it’s about simply reflecting.”
He added that The Twilight Zone reflects back to the audience, prompting us to hold our humanity to a different kind of standard.
As one who never shies away from using his voice to create positive change whether it’s on the Black Lives Matter movement or LGBTQ rights, Porter also opened up about his journey to self-acceptance and embracing his authenticity.
“My masculinity was in question from the moment I could comprehend thought and I spent a very long time trying to live up to the expectations of what others had set for me.
“It wasn’t until I found the space and honour and love the totality of myself that my life changed for the better and so I believe I was chosen for this part because I had already lived it,” he said.
From playing Pray Tell in Pose to his unapologetic and non-conformist red carpet style that made him a fashion icon, life is as good as it can be for the sought-after performer who is evidently thankful for every opportunity in the world of showbusiness, which he described as tumultuous.
“Pray Tell is a character that when I came into the business was an impossibility and so I’m already getting to play and live the impossible so I am looking forward to what the universe has in store next.
“I’m not going to choose it, I’m going to let the universe choose it for me because like my mum always said God has bigger plans for you than you could ever dream up for yourself,” he said of his next dream role.
All episodes of The Twilight Zone season two are available exclusively on HBO GO now.