• June 16, 2024

The Twilight Zone: A Conversation with Billy Porter and Morena Baccarin

The sophomore season of Jordan Peele’s reimagining of The Twilight Zone is almost here. We caught up with two of this season’s stars for a conversation about their journey into that other dimension, “not only of sight and sound, but of mind.”

In the episode titled “The Who of You”, written by Win Rosenfeld (BlacKKKlansman), Pose star Billy Porter plays a fortune teller caught in the middle of one man’s nightmare.

In the episode titled “Downtime”, which is also executive producer Jordan Peele’s first solo writing credit on the show, Morena Baccarin plays a successful woman who comes to the startling discovery that the world as she knows it may not be what it seems.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Billy Porter as Keith in the Twilight Zone episode "The Who of You."

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: I was watching “The Who of You” last night and found it to be so incredibly timely. The idea of a disgruntled white guy who essentially appropriates other people’s bodies to serve his own selfish needs, who then refuses to listen to reason, feels like the perfect metaphor for our current moment. It was subtle, it was nuanced, and I wanted your take on it because it feels like we’re living in a time where there’s little room for subtlety and nuance. What role does a parable like this still play in our discourse?

Billy Porter: One of the things that I love about The Twilight Zone, is that the identity of the show, and the intention of the show, has always been rooted and based on parable. It’s based in this idea of creating stories that hold up a mirror to humanity and just simply ask the questions that we should be asking ourselves. But in a creative way and in parables. To me, it’s sort of what I feel the Bible has been intended for, and was written for.

A story, a piece of fiction, can sometimes allow for us to see ourselves differently and excavate a different kind of humanity that we may not be connected to. So yeah, I do think that there is a space for these stories to exist in a subtle way. But I also agree with you. This isn’t a time to be subtle. But I don’t think this episode is very subtle. I think it’s right out there. You got the point. And you know who I am, I’m not about subtlety at all. I’m going to tell the truth in the easiest way that people can comprehend.

UA: There is that wonderful moment in your episode when Ethan Embry channels his best Billy Porter. Just how much coaching did you have to give for him to be able to pull that off?

BP: I have to say I didn’t see him doing that. It’s a very confusing episode on paper to read. And it was very confusing to sort of shoot.  When is he? Who is he being at any particular time? And what are the attributes that he sort of picks up of the other person? And we had one session together. Where we were just in a room together, probably for about a half an hour, and we were sort of working on the scene. My scene. And he was playing opposite me, even though he wasn’t playing that character. We staged that scene, and he saw how I would play it. And that’s what he went from. I don’t know if he did any other research in my work. I don’t know if he had seen me speak on social media or seen Pose

UA: … have you now seen the completed episode?

BP: I have seen the episode. My husband and I saw it and I was like: “Oh my God, he’s doing me!” It was very funny and really good. He was really good.

Morena Baccarin as Michelle Weaver in The Twilight Zone episode "Downtime".

UA: The episode that you’re in, “Downtime,” dabbles with ideas that have taken on a whole new meaning in the age of COVID-19. Escaping our everyday reality is something we’ve all been actively doing these last few months – via TV, via video games, via the Internet. Do you now see the episode differently now from when you first taped it?

Morena Baccarin: For sure. When we first started working on it, the episode brought up a lot of concepts of self identity, and reality, and escapism in a different way. And now, we’ve all been self medicating in very different ways, on video games, and the Internet. And the way we consume information is really different. More so, in this age now, where you have to think twice before you do anything that involves other people in public spaces.

Our new reality involves being able to do things virtually. And that’s not far from what the episode is about. So yeah, it’s very strange, but the episode kind of morphed into a lot of different things.

UA: It really is so refreshing watching this reboot of The Twilight Zone. With its new stories and diverse faces, I feel that Jordan Peele has managed to bring a whole new take to the show. Talk to me about his voice and how important that diversity has been.

MB: I think it’s happening in general in the world slowly. Not as fast as we would like. But I think people from all over the world are seeing themselves more represented than before. And that’s really important because that is the reality we live in.

Speaking to my episode, because I haven’t yet seen the other ones, we had several black and, including myself, brown people on the show. And it was nice to see that it wasn’t about race, but it was just representative of the many different people that live in the world. And so you’re right. It’s a sort of updated vision of what the world looks like now.

BP: Let me talk about the voice. What he has done is arrive in Hollywood, make a name for himself, and then create a space. He has created a space for people of color to thrive in where we really didn’t exist before in any sort of way.

Having a black man at the helm of this series that has been so singularly associated with white people for so long really cracks open the breadth of who we can speak to. The Twilight Zone can really, directly, speak to everybody. Because when we see ourselves reflected back at us, we can go even deeper into the journey. We can fall into this space even easier. Jordan has created a space for us. I’m just happy he sees me and put me in it.

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