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Who's Talking to Chris Wallace

Interview With Quentin Tarantino; Interview With Kara Swisher; Interview With Billy Porter. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 20, 2022 - 19:00   ET



KRISTIN FISHER, CNN HOST: And President Biden forcefully condemned the attack issuing a statement that said in part, quote, "We cannot and must not tolerate hate."

Well, thank you so much for joining us me this evening. I'm in for Pamela Brown and I'm Kristin Fisher. "WHO'S TALKING TO CHRIS WALLACE?" is up next.


Tonight, we have three fascinating conversations to share with you. Each compelling in its own way. Up first, he's one of the most celebrated directors of our time, Quentin Tarantino, on his movie, his method and how he takes his audience on a ride.


QUENTIN TARANTINO, WRITER AND DIRECTOR: Laugh, laugh, laugh, stop laughing. Stop laughing, stop laughing. No laughing. No laughing. Laugh.


WALLACE: And Kara Swisher is widely considered the most powerful and plugged in reporter in the world of big tech. Tonight, we ask our what's next in Silicon Valley and about Elon Musk's wild takeover of social media giant Twitter.


WALLACE: Is it conceivable it could just collapse?



WALLACE: And later, singer and actor Billy Porter shares his painful personal story and tells me about his professional redemption.


WALLACE: What statement were you making there?

BILLY PORTER, ACTOR: F you all. I'm going to do exactly what I want to do.

WALLACE: You've had a few clunkers in recent year.


WALLACE: That's not perception. That's reality.

SHANIA TWAIN, SINGER: I've been feeling stronger than ever now in my life.

WALLACE: How would you rate yourself as a chef?

TYLER PERRY, COMEDIAN: Well, I'm not doing that with you, Christopher Wallace.


WALLACE: Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino has made some of the most highly regarded movies of the last 30 years. As he approaches a self-imposed end to his career as a director, he's out with a new book "Cinema Speculation" which chronicles some of the early films that helped shape him.

We started our conversation taking a trip through Tarantino's own movies and how he developed his signature style.


WALLACE: The first one you direct is "Reservoir Dogs" in 1992 and you announced your arrival on the scene with this particular moment.


WALLACE: That's Mr. Blond torturing a cop.

TARANTINO: Yes. You cut it just before it got good.


WALLACE: Or would have closed the studio down. How did you come up with this idea of highly stylized violence?

TARANTINO: You know, there's all kinds of scenes that I respond to, and movies I respond to. Music sequences, I respond to big comedy sequences. It was like they galvanized the entire theater. Everybody woke up. Everybody got connected and I would go see a film that had -- a sequence like that, I would see it two or three times at the theaters just to see that sequence. And just to have that experience with an audience.

So, you know, again, we're talking about, you know, you're calling it violence. You know, it is violence. It's also action. I think it's also kind of what movies do in a way that's particular to them as opposed to theater or literature is the filming of kinetic violence that can usually, usually, that can have different reasons for the impact but oftentimes give a cathartic release for an audience. WALLACE: Two years later, you make "Pulp Fiction" and there we see

something else that makes you unique, which is dialogue you won't find anyplace else.



SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: What does Marcelous Wallace look like?


JACKSON: What country you from?


JACKSON: What ain't no country I ever heard of. They speak English in what?


JACKSON: English mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Do you speak it?


JACKSON: Then you know what I'm saying?


JACKSON: Describe what Marcelous Wallace looks like.


JACKSON: Say what again. Say what again. I dare you. I double dare you, mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Say what one more God damn time.


WALLACE: He won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. What is the secret to Tarantino dialogue?


TARANTINO: I just get the characters talking to each other. So it's like me the writer is writing it and yes, I'm kind of controlling it for a while but the idea is the conversation, it catches fire amongst the characters and then they take it, and run with it. And then I'm almost like a court reporter jotting it all down, and then usually whatever comes out is what comes out.

Now inside of that, there is a rhythm to it. There is a musicality to it. There is a bit of rhyme that happens between some of the words and some of the phrases, and so, you know, it's not poetry but it's not completely divorced from poetry. It's not rap but it's not completely divorced from it. It's not a standup comedy act but it's not completely divorced from that either. WALLACE: I want to show one other scene for no other reason than it's

just so cool from "Pulp Fiction."


WALLACE: John Travolta and Uma Thurman.


WALLACE: There they are.


WALLACE: How did that come about?

TARANTINO: Everyone knows that I'm kind of -- was bringing John Travolta back from, I think, "Look Who's Talking 3" when he did the movie and it set him up for a whole second act of his career and a really third act of his career for a really lovely way, but at the time, you know, audiences would go see the film. They didn't quite know everything yet, so they're feeling, oh, John Travolta is in it. I haven't seen him in a while.

So he's in a movie and he's playing a gangster and it's all going along and it's funny and it's this. Then they go to Jack Rabbit Slims and everything is interesting and it's a little funny dialogue back and forth. This is all interesting. And then, OK, and now it's time for this twist contest and Uma Thurman goes, OK, right here and then they go up there and then he takes off his shoes. And then all of a sudden, all throughout the audience of a packed theater, and this happened for a few weeks when the movie was first open, you had this little realization like, oh, my god, he's going to dance.

He's actually going to dance. And then John Travolta with the biggest dance stars of the last 30 years in a movie you did not expect that to happen goes out there and cuts a rug and brings the house down.

WALLACE: So let's jump ahead. 2009 your World War II movie "Inglourious Basterds" and here's a scene where Aldo Rain, who's the head of the American commando unit, the Basterds, has a surprisingly civil conversation with SS Officer Hans Landa.



CHRISTOPH WALZ, ACTOR: So you're Aldo the Apache.

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: So you're the Jew Hunter.

WALZ: I'm a detective. A damn good detective. Finding people is my specialty so naturally I work for the Nazis finding people and yes, some of them were Jews, but Jew Hunter? Just a name that stuck.

BJ NOVAK, ACTOR: Well, you do have to admit it is catchy.



WALLACE: So often in your movies instead of realism, you go for the way we wish life would be, don't you?

TARANTINO: Sometimes. Sometimes. Yes. And, well, I mean, starting with that one particularly, all right, where I kind of consider "Basterds" the first part of my rewriting history trilogy with that, "Django" and then "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." But, you know, the way that ended up coming about is I didn't start the movie with the idea, oh, and this will be the movie that I kill Hitler. That will be the whole thing and I'll reengineer everything so that happens.

I never really -- I never have a super clue about exact -- I have a clue. Take that back. I have a clue. But I never know 100 percent how the movie is going to end when I start writing it. So the thing about it is I'm writing the script and now all of a sudden, the Basterds are in the theater and the whole idea is to blow up the theater and kill Hitler and go, hey, this is actually kind of working out.

And it's like 4:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the morning, or something like that, like what am I going to do? What am I going to do? And I just like had the idea. And so I just took a piece of paper and I wrote, just f-ing kill him.


And then, OK, let me put that piece -- I don't know if that's a good idea or a bad idea. Let me just put the piece of paper on my bedside table, let me go to bed. When I wake up the next morning, I'll look at it and I'll know more if this is a good idea or a bad idea. And when I woke up the next morning, I thought it was a good idea.


WALLACE: It's your movie.



WALLACE: Quentin Tarantino made most of his movies with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein who's since then convicted of rape.

Coming up, I ask him about their partnership.


WALLACE: Why didn't you do more to try to stop him and to protect the women?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WALLACE: When Quentin Tarantino was 9 years old, he saw a movie in a theater where the audience was so engaged they started yelling at the screen. He says he tries to recreate that experience in his movies. We talk about that and his long working relationship with Harvey Weinstein.


TARANTINO: With me, it is about that theatrical experience and it is about connecting to the audience, and I want to play the audience.


When you go see a film, either I do it or I don't, either I fail or I succeed, but I want it to be as if I'm a conductor and the audience is my orchestra. I've done the movie, now I'm going to show you a bunch of stuff and I'm going to control your reactions, and I'm going to manipulate your reaction.

WALLACE: I was going to say when are you going to use the word manipulate. You're not afraid of that.

TARANTINO: I got (INAUDIBLE). That's my job. You're an audience member. I'm there to monkey with you. That is definitely the job. OK. Laugh, laugh, laugh. Stop laughing. Stop laughing. Stop laughing. No laughing. No laughing. Laugh. All right. You know, ba, ba, ba, you're scared, be scared, OK, you said you're terrified. You're scared, you're scared, you're scared. Run. Or jump or whatever.

I think one of the things that comes across from the book that I align myself with the audience almost even more than I do with other artists to some degree. That's a great night at the movies. That was worth leaving the house. That was worth spending God knows how much the movie costs to share that experience with a bunch of other strangers.

WALLACE: We're going to take a turn here for a moment.

TARANTINO: Sure, go ahead.

WALLACE: You made most of your movies with Harvey Weinstein.


WALLACE: And he's been convicted of rape. He's now on trial in California on a second sex crimes case. You heard stories about him over the years. You've said that. Why didn't you do more to try to stop him and to protect the women?

TARANTINO: Well, I never -- OK. I never heard the stories that later came out at all. I heard the same stories that everybody had heard. What I wish -- what I wish I had done was talk to Harvey about it and said, Harvey, you can't do this. This --

WALLACE: Well, what did you think this was?

TARANTINO: You know, frankly, to tell you the truth, I chalked it up to a madman era version of the boss chasing the secretary around the desk. I'm not saying that's OK. But I mean, that's how -- that's -- that's how I -- that's how I more or less -- everything I heard was more or less in that category, and as his friend, I wish I had been more of a friend and -- there was never any talk of rape or anything like that.

And like the reason I didn't was because that's a real hard conversation to have because I felt it was pathetic. I felt what he was doing was pathetic and I didn't want to deal with his patheticness.

WALLACE: Looking back, do you have regrets and the thought -- I mean, when you say chasing the secretary around the desk, it's one thing. Obviously you say you didn't know how severe it was but did you think it was casting couch type stuff, kind of Hollywood lore?

TARANTINO: I thought it was the way I described it at first. I didn't think it was, OK, you do this for me or you're not going to get this movie. And I never heard any actresses say anything like that. It was just, you know, you know, just don't get in the back of a limo with him.


TARANTINO: I didn't know anything that anybody else didn't know. I'm just the one honest enough to say that, look, you know, I had heard some of these -- I had heard some of these things but not the things that came out. Just literally -- just the guy abusing his situation as, you know, as a studio head. It was easy to compartmentalize it to, you know, to some degree. Anyway, I feel bad about -- look, I feel bad about it now but what I feel bad about is I feel bad that I did not have a man-to-man talk with him about it.

WALLACE: You are now the father of two small children. Your older child Leo is 2 and a half and you have described him as the audience you have spent your life waiting for.


WALLACE: Are you showing him movies?

TARANTINO: Well, we watched one movie so far. We watched "Despicable Me 2." But you know, he's 2 and a half. His attention span for, like, sitting down and watching something is about 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes or usually if he's watching, like, three "Peppa Pig" things or three baby TV things, they're about 10 minutes or 15 minutes each, he might see two in a row or three in a row but that's about his attention span.


WALLACE: You say that your next movie, your 10th, is going to be your last. Why? You're making great movies.

TARANTINO: Thank you. Well, it's -- I've been doing it for a long time. I've been doing it for 30 years and it's time to wrap up the show. You know? It's -- I've done it. I've given my -- I've given my whole life to it, you know? I didn't start a family until late in life. I've been -- I've always kind of equated -- if you're doing movies on, you know, on the level that I've been doing, actually at the level I've been allowed to do, it's -- I equate it to mountain climbing.

You know, and so this movie is my Mount Everest and this movie is Kilimanjaro and this movie is Fuji and, you know, I've spent all that time on the mountain and I -- you know, like I said, I'm an entertainer. I want to leave you wanting more.

WALLACE: Do you have any idea what your 10th and last film is going to be?

TARANTINO: No, I don't at all because I'm also not in a giant hurry to make my last movie, either. So I've got my book. I'm doing a few other things and then I'll figure out what the next movie will be but also by the time I figure out what the next movie will be, I'll have a better idea of what even a movie is now. Right now I don't even know what a movie is.

Is that something that plays on Netflix? Is that something that plays on Amazon and everyone -- and people watch it on their couch with their wife or their husband? Is that a movie? Because my last movie opened up in 3,000 theaters and played all over the world for a couple of months. So that's what I mean by diminishing returns.

Now the thing is, I don't have the answer to that question but I don't think anybody else does either. I think it's a remains to be seen situation. And so by that time, I'll know what movies even are a few years from now.


WALLACE: Coming up, she's been called the most feared journalist in Silicon Valley. I talk with Kara Swisher about the future of big tech. Will Twitter survive? And why she use a burner phone for one of the most popular apps on the planet.



WALLACE: Welcome back to WHO'S TALKING.

Kara Swisher was one of the first reporters to take on the tech beat, interviewing titans of the industry. Today she hosts two podcasts but she got her start more than 25 years ago as a reporter in what became known as Silicon Valley. We start there.


SWISHER: It was fun. It was interesting. They were -- everything was on the table and they could do anything and I think it was a much more innocent time. Money tends to mess things up rather quickly and they immediately got wealthy. But at the time they were very accessible, open to ideas, open to debate which they are not as much. Not everybody is now. And very just anything goes and I don't mean that in San Francisco style, though it's not that there is anything wrong with that. But it was sort of the idea that these were green fields and landscapes that could be built from nothing.

WALLACE: Well, to pick up on that, you became known as talking to billionaires before they were billionaires.

SWISHER: Yes. Yes.

WALLACE: Here you are. I think by this point, they were billionaires. In 2007 in the only joint interview ever with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.



SWISHER: What's the greatest misunderstanding in your relationship and about each other? What would you say would be this idea of cat fight, this idea of -- which one of the many?

STEVE JOBS, APPLE FOUNDER: We kept our marriage secret for over a decade now.


BILL GATES, MICROSOFT FOUNDER: You know, it's been fun to work together. I actually kind of miss some of the people that aren't around anymore. You know. People come and go in this industry. It's nice when somebody sticks around.

JOBS: There is that one line in that one Beatle song, you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead, and that's clearly true here.


WALLACE: You know, Steve Jobs has become obviously such a mythic figure. Help us understand him not only then but through the arc of his life personally and professionally.

SWISHER: I really enjoyed interviewing him a lot because he was passionate, and I think one thing that people got wrong about him was that he was heartless. I thought he had too much heart. And so he cared a lot and he didn't mind saying so. And I always appreciated that about him.

WALLACE: You know, he was known as being famously demanding and famously difficult.



SWISHER: Define difficult. I mean, I'm not sure if I can say this word, but I have a -- I'm sorry, I can't say but I have a prick to productivity ratio and if you're a prick with a lot of productivity, I give you a little more space, and in that case, I thought he -- I think he was demanding on the products and I thought that was OK. I -- you know, there's of course all these things around his family and everything else, which I didn't cover but I felt like no, I think he was not compared to some of the high jinks today for sure, which seemed juvenile to me.

WALLACE: The big story of course right now is Elon Musk and Twitter, and last year, you interviewed Elon before he took over the company about his affection for tweeting. Take a look.



SWISHER: Someone explained it to me who's very close to you, saying it's your release valve, this is where you feel better?

ELON MUSK, TESLA FOUNDER: Yes, I think I said some people --

SWISHER: It's your happy place.

MUSK: Some people use their hair to express themselves. I use Twitter.


SWISHER: Do you regret any of it or not? You are kind of prominent.

MUSK: I mean, true.


SWISHER: Walk us through when you decided to do it. You go, "No, no, no."

ELON MUSK, CEO, TESLA: Well, I think about it for hours.

SWISHER: Do you?

MUSK: And I consult with my strategy team.


WALLACE: After some of his early moves since he took over Twitter, you tweeted this, or you posted this: "I've been more than fair and even indulgent over the years, especially to Elon. This behavior is heedless, and needless, and more than a little cruel. He's blowing it."

SWISHER: Yes. He is blowing it. He is.

I know him very well. I've done -- I did a podcast this week about our long relationship. We've done a lot of interviews. I think a lot of him as a visionary. I think the cars and rockets are so impressive and such achievements. But right now, the way he is behaving on Twitter, I'm not sure what's

going on. It feels careless in a way that I don't think he has been like.

He has always been -- tried to do his best, I think in many ways, although there's been some issues around COVID and the factories, which we've argued about and a bunch of different things.

In this case, his id has completely taken over and it is out of control, and nobody is controlling it.

And so I had to say it, I was particularly upset by his tweet about -- one of the first twits he did as a CEO was misinformation about the Paul Pelosi attack, and he attached it to a news source that had a ridiculous -- there's no other word to say it, anti-gay trope from the 1970s almost, it was crazy.

And he did it in a way that was so careless, and never apologized. He took it down, but that kind of thing sort of was a warning signal. What the heck is happening here to this guy?

WALLACE: So how does this story of Musk and Twitter? How does this end?

SWISHER: Well, he's got a lot of debt. That's the issue. Even though he is the world's richest man for now, because Tesla stock where he gets most of his wealth is down rather considerably, I'd like him to build the business. He's sort of -- insulting advertisers doesn't seem to be -- wouldn't be what I would do if I was --

WALLACE: It is not a good business plan.

SWISHER: Given 96 percent of their business is advertising, but he attacked them as woke, which is ridiculous. He is alienating his big users like myself and active users.

We had some amazing stuff going on with Twitter Spaces, and every advertiser left us because they didn't want to be part of this. They didn't feel safe on the platform. It was a great deal that we were working on with Twitter.

WALLACE: Is it conceivable?


WALLACE: It could just collapse?

SWISHER: Yes, of course. Yes. They've got it -- they owe -- he is going to owe debt in April and he has to have cashflow. He's got to have money.

Now, he has made a lot of cuts that could help. Again, needlessly and not very nice to the people. You can you can make layoffs, everybody has to at this point in the economy, but the way he is doing it is obnoxious. I don't know how else to put it. And maybe the banks will just give him a break because he's so rich.

You know, you've seen it over and over again, wealthy and powerful people get a break more than others.

WALLACE: Right, too big to fail.


WALLACE: How concerned are you about TikTok as a national security threat?

SWISHER: Very much so. I wrote a column three years ago saying I love TikTok, what a great product, I use it on a burner phone. That was the whole column, like I love it --

WALLACE: Literally, you will not use your regular phone.


WALLACE: You want to have a separate file that they can, if they penetrate --

WALLACE: I don't love having -- I don't Instagram either. I don't like how they use data, but that's just me. But I am very worried about the influence.

Now, I did a recent interview with the COO. She's an amazing executive named Vanessa Pappas, and she is from Google. I've known her a long time.

But the question is, how much influence does the Chinese government have on this app? And what could they do with it? And I'm not as much concerned of them looking at the habits of Kara Swisher who happens to like watching air fryer and, and sand cutting videos.

But I do worry about the slight levels of ability to influence they could suddenly -- on Taiwan or something or things that are -- you know, what's fascinating is TikTok is the most moderated of the social networks. So that could go in lots of directions or not -- or not.

But I certainly think it's appropriate that we look at how we can minimize that influence because the Chinese government is into everybody's business in China, it just is.

WALLACE: I read somewhere that you said that you don't really care what people think.

SWISHER: Yes, I don't.

WALLACE: And you attribute it to two things that and I want to explore that. One is you said that your dad died when you were five years old.


WALLACE: And the other reason you say you don't care what people think is because you say you're gay. SWISHER: Yes.

WALLACE: Why would that make you not care?

SWISHER: Well, I grew up in a period when it wasn't great to be coming out. I don't have time. My dad died at 34, three kids, just gotten out of the Navy, cerebral hemorrhage, dead -- just dead like that.

And so when you have that happen to you realize how short life is. You're cognizant of death. Mortality plays a big role in your life and so everything else falls away and Steve Jobs talked about this in that famous Stanford speech that I love. It is my favorite speech that he ever did and one of my favorite speeches of all time, "Everything else falls away."

And so I don't have time for -- you know, some people say that you may be different -- I'm like, "Are you a jerk or not?" Like are you some people say this, some people say that.


SWISHER: I don't have time for that, and so I have limited time. And so I've got ask questions on the gay thing. So your own family doesn't -- is against you, you know, as opposed to other groups that get discriminated against, and it's better now, but you have to constantly be fighting ridiculously over something that you just are.

And so, it sort of makes you -- it doesn't toughen you more than it is like, you know, if you don't like me for that, I don't know what to tell you. But I'm just going to keep being who I am and have kids and get married and do anything I want because if that's the way the standards you're using, I don't have time for you.


WALLACE: Coming up, a raw conversation with actor and singer, Billy Porter, about his traumatic upbringing, his rise to fame, and the stumbles he took on those rocky path to success.


BILLY PORTER, ACTOR AND SINGER: At the end of that journey, when it all imploded, I thought, there is nothing worse than failing as somebody else.




WALLACE: Billy Porter has won two Tony Awards, a Grammy, and an Emmy Award and in the process has become an icon in the LGBTQ community.

Billy's big break came almost 10 years ago in a show that would become a Broadway sensation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: I want to start with your breakout role as "Lola" in the 2013 Broadway hit "Kinky Boots" and we're going to kick it off with you singing, "Raise You Up." Here we go.



WALLACE: One reviewer after that show opened in Chicago said that that "Kinky Boots" would do for you what 'Funny Girl" did for Barbra Streisand and in fact, you won Best Lead Actor in a Musical.

How did, at that point in your life, how did that recognition change your life?

PORTER: It was everything. You know, I got a Tony. I got a Grammy. And everybody was finally paying attention. You know, finally, finally paying attention to me.

WALLACE: Well, let me -- let's continue.

PORTER: It opened a lot of doors.

WALLACE: Let's continue on that because then three years ago, you win the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama for the show "Pose."


WALLACE: And here you are as Pray Tell, a fashion designer who goes back to your home in Pittsburgh to share some shattering news with your family. Here you are.



I have been HIV-positive for six years and I didn't want to burden you all until it became serious. I know that we've already been through so much. Mommy, I'm not trying to upset you. And I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. Mommy, mommy.


WALLACE: What I find -- you're affected watching that, aren't you?


WALLACE: Was that close to real life?

PORTER: Yes. You know, life imitates art.

WALLACE: I want to talk about that, because what I find so compelling, and so powerful about your entire story is that you built your success out of so much pain. PORTER: Yes. My art is my healer. Art saved my life and I've dedicated

my life to hopefully standing at the intersection of art as a healer for trauma.

WALLACE: Which brings us to your memoir "Unprotected." Which is just out in paperback and I want to read something from the prologue, the very first page of this book you write: "By the time I was five, it was all too clear that something was wrong with me. Everyone knew it and I knew it, too."

Bill, what did you think was "wrong with you?" And how did the world let you know at the age of five?

PORTER: Well, I didn't really have a language for it. In retrospect, it was my gayness. In retrospect, I was a sissy.

I grew up in the Pentecostal Church and my family saw that behavior and they weren't happy with it. And like many of us, queer kids, it's from fear, right? The behavior of our caregivers, they're scared. They fear for us.

WALLACE: I have to say I almost cried at this point, because then after feeling this tremendous -- and you say you couldn't put it into words -- this tremendous sense of being different or being wrong as you say, your mom marries your stepfather and your stepfather seems to take you under his wing and he is going to protect you and he's going to teach you what it is to be a man.


WALLACE: Until at the age of seven, he starts sexually abusing you. And I found that so painful because I thought, this little boy, seven- year-old Billy Porter, he just can't find a safe haven.

PORTER: There was no safety for me.

I was sent to a psychologist, when I was five, for a year, every Wednesday after kindergarten because of my sissiness, and at the end of that evaluation, this man said in front of me, "Billy is fine. You just need to get a man around the house, who will teach him to be more of a man."

So within a year, my mother had met and married my stepfather and when the abuse started, there was nothing violent about it. You know, people talk about grooming, I was very groomed. I felt very loved. I felt very seen.

And because of what I had already gone through, my little seven-year- old mind thought, "Oh, well, these are my man lessons."

WALLACE: I mean, he is abusive.

PORTER: I didn't know that it was abuse until I was 25 years old. I couldn't say the words that it was sexual abuse until I was in therapy at 25 years old and my therapist said "That's sexual abuse." And so for years, I experienced that because when I said I wanted to

stop at 12, it stopped. Right? So, I experienced that as if I had control over it and that it was my choice.

WALLACE: And of course, it wasn't.

PORTER: No it wasn't.

WALLACE: You think you found your safe space in the 90s when you get into theater, but even there, you say, "I was too Black, too gay, too much." In 1997 you release an album in which you play a traditional male role.

PORTER: I love that you say "which I play." I love it.

WALLACE: You love it.

PORTER: I love it. Because it's true. Because it's true.

WALLACE: Well, okay, but this is what I was worried about. I was going to say words that I wouldn't understand.

PORTER: No, it is absolutely true. You can go.

WALLACE: All right, let's play because here you are in a video from the album. This was the song --

PORTER: Oh, I love this so much.

WALLACE: "Show Me."

PORTER: I can't even stand it.


WALLACE: Well, okay, now, I can say it. You're playing a heterosexual traditional R&B man.

PORTER: Yes. I am.

WALLACE: Why did you make that?

PORTER: And I was good at it, too, let me just say that.

WALLACE: Yes, you were.

PORTER: Because they made me feel like I wasn't. Right?

My queerness was the only thing that anybody was interested in. My voice was my savior for the entirety of my life until I got a record contract.

WALLACE: Why did you make that video?

PORTER: Because that was the 90s. I really thought that the only way for me to be successful would be to play the game and do what they told me to do and what came out of that, and what changed the trajectory of my journey forever is that I did everything I was supposed to do. I did everything I was told to do.

I was as straight as I couldn't be. I sang the music that I was supposed to. I showed up in the way that I was supposed to, and I failed anyway.

And at the end of that journey, when it all imploded, I thought there is nothing worse than failing as somebody else.


WALLACE: Coming up: From his failures to his fashion, Billy Porter is known for his unusual Award Show ensembles. He reflects on the red carpet redemption that changed his life.


PORTER: Everything I said, everything I knew for all these decades was right. I was right.




WALLACE: In 2007, Billy Porter was diagnosed with both diabetes and HIV. He declared bankruptcy as well. He lived on friends' couches until 2010 when he got a role in an off Broadway show.

Now, more than a decade later, Billy is a hot property, fully realized as a fashion icon and an entertainment personality.


WALLACE: I want to put up some videos and have you to describe it.



WALLACE: You go to the Golden Globes and here you are wearing a pink cape.

PORTER: Almost knocking Elisabeth Moss out because they were trying to rush me.

WALLACE: And then, there you are in a velvet gown at the Oscars a couple of months later, and I've got to say, you wear it well. You wear it splendidly.

PORTER: Thank you.

WALLACE: If fashion -- if we talk about fashion statements, with those two things, what were you saying? [19:55:07]

PORTER: Be yourself. Whatever that is, be yourself. And for me, it wasn't it -- you know, it was so organic because I've always been a fashion person. I've always been queer, it's never been about wearing dresses or anything like that.

But I knew from watching the ladies in show business, that fashion was another way to express myself. In the market, it's a business decision. I'm a businessman.

And it's like, what would that look like? Because I'm not going to just wear the penguin suit everywhere I go. I'm so bored with it. "The New York Times" on Sunday of the Golden Globes, said, you know, at Golden Globes' parties, Billy Porter is the winner.

I was like, okay, all right, like I thought, fashion is a thing. You know, and people were saying, oh, you're going to go to the Oscars. You're going to be at the Oscars this year.

I am like, I just got on a TV show. Why would I be at the Oscars? Ten days before, 12 days before I get a call to host the ABC red carpet pre-show, and I'm like, "What am I going to wear?" Because this is the moment and there I was sitting at the Christian Siriano show, and saw -- it was my first Fashion Week, and I saw all the ladies walking down, you know, all shapes, all sizes, all colors.

And I remembered at the Fashion Show thinking, when I was in Drama School, we would have Oscar parties. And flippantly I would be like, I'm going to wear a gown. I'm not going to wear that penguin suit. I'm going to wear a gown to the Oscars. I'm going to just blow everybody's mind.

And I say, you know, my life is in two parts. You know, B-O-A-O before Oscar, and after Oscar, it changed everything.

WALLACE: Really?

PORTER: That changed everything. Yes.

WALLACE: So the Oscars are in February-March. In May, at the Met Gala --

PORTER: Well --

WALLACE: Well, I mean --

PORTER: I had to keep it going.

WALLACE: I was going to say. Here you are arriving as an Egyptian god, being borne by a bunch of people and there you are.


WALLACE: What statement were you making there? PORTER: Eff you all. I'm going to do exactly what I want to do. Y'all

have silenced me. Y'all have dismissed me. I've been ignored. I've been dismissed. I've been -- you know, and it's like, "She's here now and she ain't going nowhere." Right?


PORTER: It's like -- it's redemption. Everything I said, everything I knew, for all these decades was right. I was right.

WALLACE: And everything you were.

PORTER: Yes, I am right. I am right.

WALLACE: After being told for all these years...

PORTER: I was wrong. It is -- my queerness, I was told my queerness would be my liability from allies and haters alike, and it was for decades, until it wasn't.

WALLACE: You have now won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony --

PORTER: Two Tony's.

WALLACE: Okay. Who's counting?

PORTER: I'm just saying. I'm just saying.

WALLACE: Okay. But my point is that you need -- you know where I'm going with this. You need an Oscar to pull off the EGOT -- Emmy- Grammy-Oscar-Tony Grand Slam?


WALLACE: Honestly. How important is that to you?

PORTER: That's a tough question. You know, I'm an artist first and I will always be an artist, whether I win awards or not.

With that said, yes, I want one. I'm not going to be one of those people that don't act like -- I want one, but not because of ego purposes.

You know, I want one because when I get one, I get more power. The Black queer boy gets more power. In this industry, my platform expands. I get to get inside of something and continue to make a difference and continue to make a change because of the power that gives me.


WALLACE: Billy Porter told me he intends to use that platform, that power to inspire LGBTQ children and adults to be their authentic selves.

You can catch my full interview with Billy as well as more of our sit- downs with Quentin Tarantino and Kara Swisher anytime you want on HBO Max.

Thank you for watching, and please join us here on CNN every Sunday to fid out WHO IS TALKING next.