Janet Mock Talks Plans for Season 2 of 'Pose,' Her Directorial Debut & Whitney Houston

Aaron Tredwell
Janet Mock

FX’s Pose is one of the most groundbreaking television shows in recent history. Not only has it employed the largest cast of transgender actors ever put on television, but last week’s episode, “Love Is the Message” (July 8), was directed by Janet Mock, the first-ever trans woman of color to write and direct a television episode.

The show is a critical darling too, sitting pretty with a 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Mock’s directorial debut earned early Emmy buzz across social media (the show isn’t eligible until next year’s awards).

Following “Love Is the Message,” it was announced on Thursday (June 12) that Pose was picked up for a second season. Mock spoke to Billboard about the exciting news, her ideas for season two and the role that music plays on the show: “People laugh and joke that half of our budget goes to the music on the show. But music gives you such a feeling, it takes you back.”

Congrats on Pose being picked up for a second season! Where were you when you heard the news?

It’s funny, Ryan [Murphy] called me yesterday and he said, “Girl, we did it, we got a season two!” and I just kind of screamed. I'm just really excited, number one for the actors and the rest of the cast and crew, because it means that we get to continue to tell these stories. We get to continue to keep them employed. The show is a vehicle not only to tell these stories, but it deeply impacts the lives of all of these artists and technicians and cast and crew who often are never invited into these spaces, right?

That's incredible. Do you have any storylines that you'd like to explore for season two?

There's a rule in the writers room that we do not talk about what we're going to do, but I think that it's really going deeper every episode. As viewers kind of notice, we tend to focus in on a character that we may not have known as much before, right? For example, this week will really be central around Lil Papi’s character, his relationship with Blanca and things [that] have been alluded about throughout the season. There will be some of the origins stories of characters that we may not have heard as much from before, but whom people of course love because they are either on Team Abundance or Team Evangelista.

Will you be back in the director's chair in season two?

I will be, yes.

Awesome. What was it like seeing the response to your directorial debut?

It's just -- it's a lot of energy. I'm so used to the world of books and words, right? Whether that's articles or cover stories that I write,you know -- when someone buys a book, they read it and it's such an individual experience and then they write you an email. Television is such an immediate platform: [eople have it in their homes and they immediately talk to you about it, and so for me it was a lot of energy. It was overwhelming, but it was also deeply affirming.

Directing was never something that was on my to-do list. It was never a goal of mine, and so for it to to be received in such a way -- for people like industry journalists and television critics who are just like, “This was so superbly done and I can't believe this is your directorial debut” --  it's deeply affirming and it's encouraging of me to continue to do this.

Ryan [Murphy] has known it from the very beginning -- one of his greatest gifts is his gut and his instinct. He gave me an opportunity to shine and I'm just really proud that I got to be the leader on “Love Is the Message,” which a lot of people believe is our stand-out episode for season one. But I also don't do it alone. I'm also very fortunate that I have a DP and ADs and I have a whole cast and crew behind me who help support in telling this story and shooting the script.

Pose wasn't eligible for the Emmys this year, but have you started working on an acceptance speech for next year?

[Laughs] I'm too much of a pessimist to ever think about even being nominated. For me, even the opportunity itself, when Ryan pulled me aside in March and was just like, “Janet, you're going to direct the episode that we just wrote,” all of it has been very much a surprise.

More importantly, I’m glad that people are talking about performances by Indya Moore and Mj Rodriguez and Billy Porter. They will likely make history in that they will be able to take center stage not just on our set, but in the industry, so that excites me more. I want to see them up there. I want them to take that space because they are so deserving and they've worked so hard. I know that our cast and crew would just love that moment.

In the episode you directed, Laith Ashley made a cameo. Obviously, Pose has been such a fantastic platform for telling stories of trans women. Do you think we'll be seeing a prominent transmasculine character?

There are a lot of intersections of identities and experiences in our community that we want to make sure that we get to highlight more of in season two. I think that season one was really about zeroing in on our lead characters and really unpacking and telling their stories as much as we could. It really was about Blanca's journey; it really was about Elektra's journey and Angel's journey and Pray Tell's journey and Damon's journey, right? So I think for the next season, we'll get to introduce some new characters. We don't know who they are yet because we have not sat down together as a room to unpack that and pitch ideas, but there are a lot of intersections that we want to include. There were a lot of folks that existed and who exist who really hold up the ball community and also the queer movement who were gender nonconforming or butch women, so we want to make sure that we tell some of those stories.

There's a lot of gaps that we weren't able to accomplish in the first season but this is the reason why one show is not enough. Hopefully there can be a show that really centers on transmasculine folk and gender nonconforming folk and genderqueer folk and all of the different people that are part of this long LGBTQIA community. We can't hope that one show does it all. We will try to include more, but we're never going to be successful including every single experience.

No, absolutely, you can’t do it all. I really do think this will open doors for other shows. In the music world, we're seeing so many queer musicians just owning it and the audiences are hungry for it. On the topic of music, Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and Pray Tell (Billy Porter) sang a duet in “Love Is the Message.” I was so excited because I saw Saturday Church with Mj and I remember having chills when she sang. How was the song “Home” chosen?

I'm a Whitney Houston fan. I've been mourning her since her death and I wanted Mj as an actor to have a similar moment that Whitney had when Clive Davis introduced her to American audiences on television for the first time. “Home” really is the embodiment of what Blanca has built and what she is building. The song always makes me cry. I just knew that MJ would be able to hit the notes and bring her own rendition to it. I think she just truly killed it.

It started off as a pitch in the room where I was like, “Blanca has to sing ‘Home,’ period.” Billy Porter had already said that if we ever were to have him sing on the series, he wanted to sing Donny Hathaway's song, so that was there in our mind. But Mj had never said anything about wanting to sing. We just knew she could.

Music plays a big role in Pose. Is there a song that you are dying to see worked into the show somehow?

I would love some Anita Baker. I grew up on Baker's music, having my father and my grandfather always playing Rapture on repeat. Steven Canal, the co-creator of the series and executive producer, he has the same experience of his mother Evelyn playing that album over and over and we really have wanted to incorporate Anita's brilliant artistry. I think it speaks to a specificity in being black in America.

People laugh and joke that half of our budget goes to the music on the show. But music gives you such a feeling, it takes you back. It transports you to when you were a kid in the kitchen listening to something with your parents or with your cousins or with your siblings -- or being on that dance floor in 1987 if you were lucky to be alive then. That is really one of the central things with “Love Is the Message” -- it's the first episode that we had as a song title. The song means so much to Pray Tell’s character. It reminded him of a time when he first heard it and used to dance on the dance floor that summer and not be afraid of dying and not being afraid of possibly killing someone by loving them and having sex with them and finding desire and joy and pleasure. So we know that music can do that for us. It's just one of those pleasure points.

On that note, you mentioned that Whitney Houston was really special to you. Have you seen her new documentary yet?

I saw it on Saturday, the night before my episode premiered, and I was deeply moved. I was deeply saddened that no one could intervene quicker and she wasn't ready when it was probably time, when she could have probably turned things back around. It just sticks with me because there's just so much greatness there, this God-given talent, she had one of the greatest voices ever. For me, the tragedy really wasn't so much the drugs and the relationships and having to hide from who she was and going through the trauma as a young person. It was when she wanted to come back [and] the voice was no longer there.

I think she knew that she could always just step on a stage and move people with her instrument and she could not play it anymore. That was probably the deepest, most heartbreaking thing that had happened to her and I could see why then that would be her end, right? The story is over for her; there was no more for her to really live for beyond Bobbi Kristina. It's a lot. I could be interviewed about Whitney pretty much over and over again -- it could be its own thing.

Totally. Are you working on any projects aside from Pose?

Well, this summer will largely be about coming up with ideas and pitches and storylines and characters that we like to introduce for season two before we go back into the room after hiatus in the fall. I'm directing an episode of one of Ryan's other shows as well this summer, and I am working on the adaptation of my memoir, Redefining Realness. I’m working on the script and hopefully I'll be able to direct that as well.