There was a time in the '90s where, as an African-American man, you had to be a misogynistic R&B star or a rapper, and I didn't fit into either one of those. I was advised by my label to remain closeted at that time.
Many movie stars or American Idol contestants sort of fall into theater... and say, 'Oh, yeah, I would love to do theater.' And then they get here and say, 'Oh, wait a minute, this actually is a craft!' It's not just show up one day and do it. It's show up eight times a week, twice on Wednesdays and twice on Saturdays.
I was so beat down as a young person - being black, being gay, being unable to assimilate because I could never, ever pull off being butch.
I took 'Grease' to play my trump card, my voice, and get attention that would lead to auditions for serious work like 'Angels in America.' But I backed myself into a corner with 'Grease,' and it took me 17 years to get out.
I grew up when one of America's greatest black playwrights, August Wilson, was writing about life in Pittsburgh, but I never saw myself in any of his straight-male plays. And then I see 'Angels,' which was so honest and painful, and it had this black drag queen in it, Belize, with a big heart. I finally had a character to relate to.
I just feel like we as a human race tend to fear that which we don't understand. It's cause for a lot of bad things and bad behavior to exist on the planet. Artists have a way of touching people and changing minds in a way that sometimes other mediums don't.
Seeing Jennifer Holliday from 'Dreamgirls' perform on the Tony Awards telecast and later discovering Barbra Streisand by listening to her albums at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh really changed everything for me.
We need to understand that whatever we do, we're all human beings first.
I'm not one of those actors who gets so taken by a role that I can't live my life. I'm the type of actor who goes to work, transforms into a character, takes you on a journey, and then comes back home to be Billy. When I'm in it, I'm in it, but I know how to get out of it. When you can't shut it off, you're a crazy person. I'm not crazy.
I had to come out to my mother three times over a twelve-year period, but I first came out to her when I was sixteen. It didn't go over so well, because I grew up in the Pentecostal Church. It was a very strict environment. She has since done a lot of work and has really blown my mind. She has learned about my life and has changed her mind.
People don't see me in traditional roles; I'm not getting cast in the revival of 'Company' as Bobby.
I love the community of theater. There is something about the camaraderie: People who show up eight times a week to do a show. It's unlike any other business. It's just lovely. You feel like you're in a family.
I was fine being in the closet at the beginning of my career because that's what you were supposed to be - until I realized that it didn't serve anybody, and I was left feeling utterly empty. This is who I am, so I've gotta be me.
If you gauge how you're doing on whether somebody is responding vocally or not, you're up a creek. You can't do that; you kind of have to be inside of your work and play the scene. And tell the story every day. Tell the story. Tell the story. Regardless of how people are responding, I'm going to tell the story.
I don't in any way disparage any time I've had in the trenches because it really has made me the artist I am today.
I've worked with a lot of gay and lesbian organizations. I sit on the board of the Empire State Pride Agenda. I've also done a lot of work for Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS. I think it's important because, when we can be of service to others, it only enhances our lives. I've been helped a lot in my life.
For me, life is about being positive and hopeful, choosing to be joyful, choosing to be encouraging, choosing to be empowering.
When you're doing what you love, it's not exhausting at all, actually. It's completely empowering and exhilarating.
You can't ever put yourself in a position where someone is requiring you to inhabit somebody else's energy. You have to own your thing, or own it with very fiber of your being.
When I had a record deal in the '90s, that was my dream - to make an album like Barbra Streisand's Broadway album - and they laughed me out of the room. Broadway wasn't cool. But artists like Michael Buble and Josh Groban have brought the classic genre back to the forefront, so I'm trying to find my way inside that market.