Billy Porter shares emotional story of feeling dejected before 'Pose' call: 'I was just weeping and weeping'

The entertainer said he was crying to his sister before the call came.

By his accounts -- and anyone else watching the Hollywood red carpets -- entertainer, fashion icon and "Pose" star Billy Porter is having a second chance of a lifetime at stardom.

"What a gift. ... Everybody doesn't get a chance. ... The ones who kick the doors down don't always get to reap the benefits of the door being open, [but] I'm getting to do that," he told ABC News recently. "2019 was literally like a rocket that blasted off, and it's still going."

On Dec. 5, Porter, 50, was nominated by the Golden Globes for his role as Pray Tell in the FX series "Pose."

In his 30 years in the business, Porter has received an Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series in 2019, making history as the first black, openly gay actor to win the award, and he received a Tony in 2013 for his role in the Broadway hit musical "Kinky Boots," as well as a Grammy for the cast album. He is just an Oscar shy of earning the entertainment industry's vaulted EGOT title.

But during those three decades before the call came from "Pose" co-creator Ryan Murphy -- and before the success of his over-the-top, fashion-forward red-carpet looks -- Porter experienced some dark times, as he struggled to find work and to reconcile his identity with the kinds of roles he was being offered.

"The Year: 2019" airs on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

"I went through a time where I didn't work. I didn't work on Broadway for 13 years, I had a hard time working, and it was always difficult for me to work in film and television," Porter said.

"There was nothing for an archetype like myself to do very often," he said. "My masculinity was always in question and I found myself only trying to figure out how to be masculine enough by society standards so I can get a job."

He said he was able to find a space for himself on Broadway with "Kinky Boots" -- donning dresses and heels, show after show, for more than 1,000 performances -- yet, he said, he still noted a "dismissive energy" from the film and TV world.

"If the description of the character didn't include 'Flamboyantly dot, dot, dot,' no one could see it," he said. "Then, when I would go in and give what the description of the character says, I would be dismissed as being too flamboyant. That could drive a person crazy. Crazy!"

When he got his R&B contract in his 20s, Porter said, he spent a lot of time and energy trying to fit the mold of what he thought powerful entertainment industry execs were looking for, which led to confusion and distress.

"I made decisions that I thought I should have made because people in positions of power, who had been successful, were telling me to do certain things," he said. "I tried and I failed. There's nothing worse than failing as someone else. ... When I looked at that -- and the wreckage of what that did to me emotionally -- I said to myself, 'I will never do that again.'"

Fast-forward to the summer of 2017, when new pilots were being cast and auditions were coming. Porter said he was going to audition after audition and being dismissed. He was driving his car, talking with his sister and feeling dejected.

"I just lost it," he told ABC News. "I pulled over to the side of the road and I was just weeping and weeping. ... I just thought, 'I can't keep begging people to pay attention to me. I cannot beg for this anymore.'"

He pulled back onto the road.

The next day, his phone rang. On the other end of the line was someone telling him about an audition for "Pose."

"It's like your gift will make room for you and you must be patient," he said. "One must continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what they say, no matter how many 'no's you get. I am living proof."

He said that the boundary-pushing show "Pose" -- which transports viewers back to the 1980s and '90s in New York, where the LGBTQIA community was embracing the ballroom culture but also facing the deadly AIDS epidemic -- was intended to remind and teach people that "those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it."

"I came out in 1985 and it was in the middle of the AIDS crisis. We went straight to the front lines to fight for our lives. Then ... the pill came and people could live with it (AIDS) and the narrative completely disappeared. We, in America especially, we have the tendency to want to act like stuff didn't happen but ... you can't heal from the fractures unless you own what they actually are. ... What 'Pose' does is remind the world that we (lived) through a plague."

Porter said his role as Pray Tell on the show had given him a chance to be authentic and be a "vessel."

"I get these scripts (for 'Pose') sometimes, and it's like, 'I actually already lived this.' So, all I have to do is show up and be present and tell the story that my friends didn't live long enough to tell," he said. "I am in service. My life is about service and this is the service."

His idea of living a life of service had come from watching "The Oprah Winfrey Show," he said.

"They were speaking of service one day, and I was in the gutter. I was at the bottom. Oprah's show was one of the spaces that I could go to on a daily basis and find strength, and find courage, and find a place of motivation. And on this day, they were talking about service."

He was in his mid-20s at the time, Porter said, but in that moment, he made a decision about how he would live his life personally and in the entertainment industry. Porter said he decided that "if I can have the courage ... that will be my service. Me and all my fabulous flamboyant gayness."

Besides his acting and singing in "Pose," Porter -- who attended Carnegie Mellon University's drama school -- has been turning heads and being lauded for his extraordinary fashion choices, including a tuxedo gown that he wore at this year's Oscars and a Cleopatra-esque ensemble he wore at the Met Gala in May.

These days, Porter said, he's been focused on keeping balance in his life and making sure to, in his words, "breathe it all in, lean into the joy."

He said that he still hasn't gotten used to be nominated for -- and winning -- awards, but that he remained ever grateful.

"I am in a place where losing doesn't bother me, for real, because the win is I'm in the room. ... The win is on paper. I'm not supposed to be here. On paper, I'm supposed to be a statistic that would never even be able to walk into this room," he told ABC News. "So, I've already won several times over."

"The time is here, and it's on my terms," he said. "And that is the greatest gift."