If you've been online at all in the past month (which, yes, you're reading this), you've most likely seen something about the Cinderella revival. Maybe it was the high-stepping villagers. Maybe it was the eggshell-blue pantsuit as part of a very timely #girlboss gag. Or maybe it was Billy Porter's history-making turn as "Fab G."
On August 28, Porter extends his dream-making duties offscreen as he hosts the "Dressed for a Dream" livestream (11pm GMT), created in partnership between Refinery29 and Mercedes-Benz, in which 11 "everyday Ellas" are swept off the street and onto the runway. Ahead of his appearance at the fantasy fashion event of the year, we sat down with Porter to talk clothes as armour, his personal fairy godmothers, and how to remind yourself of your own power when you're dealing with evil stepsisters (or the equivalent).
The Mercedes-Benz "Dressed for a Dream" livestream celebrates strong individuals and empowerment. What does it mean to you to host this event?
"As a queer person of colour, I live a life out loud and proud, and very much about authenticity. There was less inclusion earlier in my career, but we — me and all those who came before me — have fought to have the right kind of representation, to have all kinds of representation. And what better way to do that than through our classic fairy tales? So it's lovely to be a part of this particular Cinderella and also to be associated with companies like Mercedes that are really aligned with those values."
You play the Fabulous Godmother in the Cinderella revival. What do you hope to accomplish with your interpretation of the fairy godmother?
"Magic has no gender. These stories are fairy tales, they're parables, and they can be told and interpreted through various types of people, genres, and communities. It's exciting to have a Latinx Cinderella and to have — as I identify — a genderqueer man playing the fairy godmother, who's usually a woman. It's change-the-world time for the next generation with this one."
In the film, clothes act as a means of escape, i.e. Cinderella's dress business, the ballgown she designs and wears that changes her life. What power do clothes hold for you?
"Clothes make the man or woman. I'm the first generation after the civil rights movement — I was raised to consider, What is the first impression you give? The first impression is based on what you're wearing, what you look like. I also grew up in the Black church, which is a fashion show in and of itself. I come from that background and family, and it's always about putting your best foot forward."
In your own life, what's an example of a time someone acted as a personal fairy godmother to you?
"I've had so many. I grew up impoverished in Pittsburgh, and the arts were my saviour. I was a senior at a performing arts high school, and these two women got wind that I wanted to move to New York. They swooped in and essentially told me I had to study at Carnegie Mellon University, because that's what I needed to prepare for the work in my life. And they were right. With all this talk about opportunity and access, it took somebody white to tell me that I was a 12-minute ride away from one of the best drama schools in the world, and I had no idea. So that was an angelic moment for me."
How do you act as a fairy godmother to others when you're not playing one onscreen?
"I'm on a mission to make sure I can be the fairy godmother to others in need: I work a lot with the Trevor Project, I teach a lot, and I'm working on a lot of projects at home in Pittsburgh — I've been here for the last 10 weeks directing my first feature film. It has really ignited me to want to come here and create programs that give back to my community. I'm on that road, and any time I can lend a helping hand, I am there."
In the movie, we see Fab G dress Cinderella in a business suit. As someone who knows the power of a statement suit on the red carpet, what is it about wearing one that you find empowering?
"A statement suit means business. The truth of the matter is, a statement suit has always been synonymous with masculinity, and masculinity has been synonymous with being better than femininity. So I'd like to smash that paradigm and ask the real question, 'What is your personal suit?' What is the personal suiting-up for an individual that makes them feel powerful? Let's redefine what that means — it doesn't just mean pants and a jacket, but it's armour.
"On the red carpet, I've stopped wearing traditional suits and started playing with gender in my fashion and feeling very empowered by that. It doesn't have to be one thing. Now, I'm in the middle of a hodgepodge of whatever it is I feel in the moment — whatever makes me feel fabulous is what I'm going to wear, here until the rest of time."
Not everyone has an evil stepmother, but everyone goes through experiences that undermine their power. In those instances, how do you remind yourself of your own power?
"I have to look at myself in the mirror and give myself a pep talk. I do therapy. I do meditation. I do all of the things that are meant to keep you sane. Self-love has to come from the inside. Encourage yourself in spite of yourself — it's not easy to do. It's really hard work. I've just recently become more and more comfortable and savvy at it. But it takes time, so be compassionate with yourself."
Like Cinderella and the participants in "Dressed for a Dream," being chosen or picked out of a crowd can change your life. What advice do you have for those who are still waiting for their big break?
"Stop waiting and start working. There's a difference between waiting idly and being proactive. I will always say, 'What are you doing personally every day?' Take one step, one active thing in a day to get you closer to your dream. My advice would be to stop waiting and start activating. Be present and motivated and go get what you want — that's what Cinderella does, she goes and gets it."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.