Dyllón Burnside is having a hell of a year so far. In May, the entertainer returned for the third and final season of LGBTQ+ drama Pose as his breakout character, Ricky Evangelista, a homeless man turned professional dancer for the stars who finds solace in Pray Tell (Billy Porter) after learning he’s HIV-positive. For his performance, Burnside received widespread critical acclaim.
The star’s PBS short-form series Prideland – which follows Burnside as he explores modern day life of the LGBTQ+ community in the American South – has also been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Form Daytime Non-Fiction Program. Not only that, Burnside has received rave reviews for his gospel-inspired anthem Heaven, featuring British artist Daley, which was written in response to his church claiming that “LGBTQ+ people would be damned to hell”.
“Love is not discriminating. That’s true for queer love. That’s been my experience for queer love, it has been such a blessing to me and brought heaven on Earth. So, that is what the song is about and that is my reason for writing it and releasing it out into the world,” Burnside tells GAY TIMES over a Zoom call. “I think, at this time, when so many LGBTQ+ people across the world are being persecuted and the church is doing whatever it’s doing, it’s important to have that counter-narrative to affirm people in who they are and in their loving relationships.”
Here, we speak with Burnside about the success of Prideland (and whether a second season is in the cards), the end of one of television’s most beloved LGBTQ+ dramas of all time, and how his experience with the church has influenced his direction as a singer and songwriter.
It’s been over a year since we last spoke, where we discussed your incredible Prideland series. How have you been?
I’ve been doing really well, Prideland is actually nominated for an Emmy right now! I found that out this week. Prideland was a really special experience that I was really grateful to be able to tell my story in that way, and to tell the story of so many people across this country in that way.
Do you think you’ll ever revisit Prideland for a second instalment?
I hope so! We’ve been talking about it with PBS and it’s yet to be seen whether or not that will be a reality, but it would be so nice to do a second instalment.
I have to talk to you about Pose. You were absolutely sensational in the third and final season. What was it like for you, saying goodbye to the series and this wonderful cast?
It was really difficult. You all saw in real time what some of that was like. That was a lot of what I was using and what I was accessing, personally, to bring some of those emotional scenes to life; saying goodbye to the show and experience, just processing. I think we’re not always encouraged to express our emotions, particularly crying, which is something that is stifled in us. Especially with men and Black men, we’re told to not cry. Even as kids when you’re crying it’s like, ‘Stop crying.’ Crying is a thing that we’re discouraged from doing. So, it felt really good to have an outlet to process a lot of these emotions in a way that felt safe and where I was encouraged to cry and being asked to cry. There were lots of things that needed to come up around Pose, so many different things, particularly around what this experience has meant for me and to me, and these people that I got to do it with; just mourning the end and also celebrating all of the things that we were able to accomplish together and get to do moving forward.
You shared a lot of your scenes with Billy Porter. What was it like for you to bring such a powerful storyline to life?
The thing that people don’t always realise is that, while the scenarios and the characters are fictional, the emotions are real. Our bodies don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. Our bodies just know that it’s going through a familiar thing, which is that mourning and that grieving. So, it was really tough. When you’re filming something, it’s over a course of time. Sometimes it’s out of order, so the emotional processing of it can feel disjointed. It was very heavy. It was very dark. I went home, carrying the weight every night. Just about every scene in the finale was just an emotional scene for my character. I went home feeling that. So, I had to find ways to release that when I got home, and that was through therapy, message therapy, exercise, eating well, yoga and meditation. I really leaned into my wellness practices, staying in touch with family and friends, watching feel good TV, listening to good music that helped me release some of the heaviness that I was feeling.