Ryan Jamaal Swain On How ‘Pose’ Helped Him Heal From Personal Trauma

Photo by Matt Doyle

“This is the first time America will see a young, black, queer teenager going through this experience”

Earlier this week, FX premiered Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking show about New York’s ball culture in the 1980s, Pose. And in that first, heart-wrenching episode, we met young Damon Richards, an aspiring dancer who traveled to New York City after being kicked out of his conservative home in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Found dancing in a park for money, Damon soon becomes the first member of Blanca Rodriguez’s newly formed House of Evangelista—his new chosen family who ends up helping him redefine who he is.

Even more poignant is the fact that this emotional (yet undeniably inspirational) story—with its Trump tie-ins and frank discussions of homophobia—hits extremely close to home for the actor who plays Damon: newcomer Ryan Jamaal Swain. As Swain himself tells us, Pose may be set in the past, but it’s definitely the narrative mainstream television needs right now. Get ready to tear up as you read our Q&A with him, below.

What drew you to this show and what did you want to bring to Damon?
I believe this is the first time America will see a young, black, queer teenager going through this experience, right? We had the amazingness that was Moonlight in 2016, and we saw how that indie film blew up into a worldwide phenomenon, but we've never seen something like this. Movies are a different medium. TV—as Ryan Murphy explains it—is like [this thing where] these people now become your friends, your family members, your colleagues, people that you look to as confidants. So when I first read the script, I was just blown away, because I'd never seen or heard about anything like this, especially in such a polarizing time like the '80s. It was just an amazing opportunity to breathe life into work on the frontline of social change. I was scared though, like, "Oh my god, he's gonna challenge me to expand and to become all this greatness that he is.”

Why do you think it took so long for a history-making show like this to finally get mainstream screen time?
I think it just has to be the right time, the right moment. The political climate being the way that it is right now, we're all yearning for authenticity. We're all yearning for something that is genuine, that is factual, that gives us hope. Stories that give us love and unity and take us to a place of acceptance, we need that now, I think. There's no hiding the fact that we are in a time, with our current administration, in which we are looking for something that is going to unify us because everything around us is trying to separate and segregate us. A show like Pose can only exist in a time in which we need to be reminded of that... I think that art has a beautiful way of creating discourse, creating movements. So what better time than now is there to challenge the legislation and administration, who are [trying to] hide these stories? What better way to showcase this vivid time, bold and upfront, in your face and on FX?

In terms of the show's Trump parallel, this easily could've been a show that did not touch contemporary politics, it could have definitely stayed in the '80s. What were your initial thoughts when you heard that he would be incorporated?
It's very interesting how Pose is about acceptance, love, and unity. [So when I first] read the script, I was like, Oh this is an interesting exploration of the hierarchy and the social caste system we place upon ourselves or that society places on us. You know, people of color have been marginalized and have been excluded from the narrative, even when they are part of the narrative. They are in the fabric, woven into the heart of what makes America, America. And, when I saw that [this reality was in the show], I said, "Perfect, Ryan Murphy gets it." Ryan Murphy gets that this is a time where we [can give this to an] audience that would've probably written off this show as too niche before. [We can give this to] a specific market of people that necessarily don't know about gay culture, that don't know about trans folks, or are not engaged with the LGBTQIA [movement that has become] interwoven into pop culture. There's no better time than now to do that, and when I read it, I was intrigued. And, you know, Ryan Murphy is not going to make that clichéd.

You know, in all the interviews that he has done about people trying to criticize him about it, he's just like, “No, this is a moment in time in which we challenge everyone to understand that this narrative is part of the American history, and never to negate that.” In order for us to [move forward], we need to be educated on our history. 

I'm not gonna lie, your character made me sob the first couple episodes. Right out of the gate, the story line has this level of intensity—especially when Damon gets kicked out of his home. What was it like to film those scenes for you?
You know, growing up and coming [to New York] from Birmingham, Alabama, with $50 in my pocket, not knowing anyone and trying to make this dream a reality, it really hit home. Ryan, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, the co-creator, were asking me to breathe life into this experience that is so familiar. I come from a family of a bunch of health care specialists and professionals, like nurses and pharmacists. And being the only artist in my immediate family was kind of a bit like, "We don't understand you, we don't know what's going on. We're gonna support you, but we don't know why you're doing this." And you know, I believe that made me connect with Damon. 

I also hope audiences out in America and beyond will connect with this young man and his dream. This man has a dream to pursue something that is bigger than him, and nobody and nothing will get in the way of that. I think that all of us New Yorkers or L.A. aliens, we all have this yearning, this insatiable search and this hunger for something bigger than ourselves, to leave our legacy, our mark. 

When we were filming that scene in particular, it was really really jarring for me because there was an instance in my life where, because I wanted to live my truth and live out loud and be who I am, a male figure in my life—my stepfather at the time, who's no longer in my life—had a moment where he pinned me to the bed and was just very, very verbally and physically abusive with me. And my mom had to stop him. I never had time to heal from that, so now being able to do that at work, and in such an intense and authentic way, really was the healing [I needed]. I remember specifically after we filmed that whole day, Ryan was like, "You did good, kid, go get you a drink, do whatever you need to do. You did your work, I'm so proud of you." And, during that time, I was literally and figuratively shaking, because that moment was so, so real and so polarizing for me and so jarring. Being able to do that in such a huge and dynamic way really gave me the freedom and the opportunity to heal from that afterward, and really I'm pleased and I'm humbled that that touched you. 

And in that particular scene, Ryan went through that, as well. He and Steven Canals write a lot of the story for Damon. And, there was an interview in which [Ryan] said that he was kicked out, and it's a very emotional scene. It was a very emotional day for him, as well, because that was something that he went through personally in his own life. And just being able to share that space with him and knowing that even the emperor that is Ryan Murphy went through that… [it’s amazing to know that] I'm giving voice to an experience that so many individuals have had to deal with. It's powerful, and it's humbling.

Pose airs on Sundays at 9pm ET on FX.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes

Photo by Rich Polk/ Getty

Her hypocrisy would be mind-blowing if it weren't so predictable

It's been just over two years since Tomi Lahren appeared on ABC's The View to assert that, despite her ultra-conservative bona fides, she holds one position more normally associated with the left wing: She's pro-choice. In that talk show appearance, Lahren made clear then that her pro-choice views were consonant with her self-identification as a "constitutionalist," further explaining:

I am someone that's for limited government. So I can't sit here and be a hypocrite and say I'm for limited government but I think the government should decide what women should do with their bodies." I can sit here and say that as a Republican, and I can say, "You know what? I'm for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well."

Back then, we noted the hypocrisy inherent to that position, since Lahren was an ardent supporter of President Trump—who made no secret of his desire to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court and other judicial benches—and Vice-President Pence, whose anti-abortion views are even more ardent.

Since Lahren's appearance on The View, she has appeared in the anti-abortion film Roe v. WadeRoe v. Wade, which co-starred fellow execrable conservative troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, and, um, Joey Lawrence. Though the film has not yet been released, it is alleged to contain "several graphic scenes depicting aborted fetuses," and also the acting styles of Jamie Kennedy, so we're not sure for whom it will really be appropriate.

But while Lahren's role in that film would be enough to make anyone question just how committed she is to her alleged pro-choice stance, the recent news about de facto abortion bans in Alabama and Georgia has incited Lahren to speak out about her views once again.

On Twitter, Lahren opened herself up to "attack[s] by [her] fellow conservatives" and spoke out against the Alabama abortion ban as being "too restrictive." And, indeed, her "fellow conservatives" did quickly attack Lahren for not actually caring about human life, and for having too liberal a position on whether or not a woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy that resulted from rape. But then also, as Lahren must have known would happen, other people supported her for... not having one irredeemably monstrous position amongst her arsenal of irredeemably monstrous positions.

But, let's be clear: Tomi Lahren is not—no matter what she tweets—pro-choice, and neither is any supporter of the Republican Party. There is no doubt that there are Republicans who are in favor of safe access to abortion—particularly when it comes to themselves and their family members having said access. But by supporting the Republican Party, they are showing how little it actually matters to them, and showing what it is that they really prioritize over women's safety and freedom: namely, access to guns, bigoted immigration policies, the continued disenfranchisement of voters across the country. I could go on, but there's no need.

Lahren's tweet doesn't reveal in any way that she's an advocate for women's rights, all it reveals is her hypocrisy and that of anyone (Meghan McCain, hi), who would love to have a world created specifically for their needs, and who is willing to sacrifice the rights of the less privileged in order to secure their own. It is despicable and dangerous and incredibly predictable. But, at least, it might give Lahren something to talk about on the red carpet with her fellow anti-abortion movie costars, if that film ever gets more than a straight-to-video release.

If you want to find out how to help women have access to abortion, please visit here for information about donating and volunteering.

Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty also appear

Lil Nas X went all out with the visuals for his hit "Old Town Road," tapping all of his newfound collaborators and friends, like Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty, to star. The movie travels from 1889 Wild Wild West to the modern-day city outskirts, so saddle up and come along for the ride.

As the visuals start, Nas and Cyrus gallop away with a bag of loot, obviously having pulled off a heist. The trio of men on horseback that were in pursuit of them come to a halt, unable to catch up, and Chris Rock—the leader of the group—states, "When you see a Black man on a horse going that fast, you just gotta let him fly." Just as Nas and Cyrus think they're able to relax in stranger's home, it turns out the homeowner isn't so friendly. Nas jumps into a hole to escape, only to end up hundreds of years in the future on the other side.

Forget trying to figure out the logistics of time travel, and just embrace the hilarity of Nas' horse also having wound up there, and in peak racing condition. He impresses the locals not only in the race (with Vince Staples losing money in a bet against him) but with his sweet square dancing skills. Once he and Cyrus (yes, he time traveled too) trade out their old-timey duds for some fresh, rhinestone-adorned outfits, they enter a room playing bingo with Rico Nasty in it. Diplo is playing the washboard, I feel like I'm losing my mind, and this is probably the best music video I've watched this year.

Watch the movie for "Old Town Road" again and again, below.

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road (Official Movie) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus

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Screenshot via YouTube

They really "don't care" about how this was edited, do they?

Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber used the name of their song as inspiration for the "I Don't Care" music video, and have presented what is essentially a long blooper reel of the pair messing around with a green screen.

The visuals show how dedicated the two are to proving just how much they don't care, because I'm pretty sure they did the editing on this video as well. They dance around in costumes, as an ice cream cone, a panda, a teddy bear, and more. I have a clear vision of Bieber and Sheeran raiding a costume shop just an hour before setting up a tripod and going to town on this one. They also juxtapose their faces on top of a ballerina, a skydiver, and a corn inside the husk.

Blink, and you'll miss the funniest moment of all in the video: Ed Sheeran gets married to a cardboard cutout of a young Bieber with swoopy hair.

Watch the visuals for "I Don't Care" below.

Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber - I Don't Care [Official Video]

Photo by Jena Cumbo

Her new LP, 'Take Me to the Disco,' is her most personal work yet

Meg Myers isn't afraid to admit she's still figuring out who she wants to be. Originally from Tennessee, Myers moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to dedicate her life to her music career. In 2012, she released her first EP, Daughter in the Choir, which set the groundwork for the releases of Sorry (2015) and Take Me to the Disco (2018). Well-known for her poetic lyrics, crude vocals, and cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," the honest singer-songwriter makes a point to tell me that self-acceptance is a process. After listening to her deeply personal LP, Take Me to the Disco, I know she's not wrong.

In the middle of producing her new forthcoming music, the star opens up to NYLON: "I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art. Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free." It's clear that it is this fearlessness to self-reflect that not only makes her body of work so authentic but also what motivates her to continue to grow.

Below, we speak with Myers about her new music, self-love, and her ever-evolving relationship with creativity.

The Great Eros Pants, Chae New York top, Schutz shoes, and Via Saviene rings. Photos by Jena Cumbo

How did moving to Los Angeles influence the artist you are today?
I feel more safe here. I've been tapping more into my truth and expressing myself on a deeper level here. Growing up, my family was very chaotic, and I never knew what was about to happen. I have four brothers and a sister, and we grew up basically as best friends, making fun out of the chaos and always creating some type of art from it. I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art.

Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free.

What are some of your biggest influences?
I think all the barbecue and shrimp and grits [in Tennessee] really adds a smokiness to my music.

My queerness gives me a lot of material to create with. It's allowing me to be more playful and not take every little thing so seriously.

Silk Laundry jumpsuit, Wild Vertigga T-shirt, and Nakamol earring.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Tell me about your new music. Why is it different than anything you've ever created?
This EP is going to have a lot of similar vibes to my last album, because I wrote it at the same time with the same producer about a lot of the same struggles and self-discoveries as my past music. I'll share more with you on my third album.

I'm such a fan of your cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." Why did you gravitate toward that song to cover?
It's such a powerful song! Kate Bush is magic. It's almost like I've been being guided to cover that song for a long time. I don't know how to explain it in words, as they can feel so limiting, and this song is beyond words to me. It's just a deep inner knowing, and it makes my heart flutter.

Chae NewYork blazer; Saku top, The Great Eros bottoms, and Inch2 boots.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Are there any other songs you feel really connected to?
I would love to collaborate with Active Child. The songs "Hanging On" and "Johnny Belinda" are also otherworldly to me. I've been listening to this band called Walk the Moon a lot. I also love Phoebe Bridgers. I have a crush on her. I generally listen to instrumental music and classical. If you look up 432hz music, it's incredibly healing, and solfeggio frequencies have helped me with a lot.

What does self-love mean to you?
It's been a process for me. It's been quite the journey. Right now, I would say [self-love for me] is about accepting myself, and having love for all the experiences that have led me to where I am. It also means being grateful for growth. It's also been about learning to be in the present moment. It's been learning to trust myself and not listening to what others think I need to be doing. As I learn to do this, I also learn how to love others deeper. All this being said, it's a process.

Chae New York blazer and Saku top.Photo by Jena Cumbo

What advice do you have for someone struggling to find happiness right now?
Spend some time in solitude if you can, or with a really safe person who you feel you can express yourself freely with. Find someone who has no expectations of you and is supportive. In that present moment, ask yourself, What feels good to you? What do you feel like doing? Use your imagination. Daydream. Find what it is you enjoy doing. I promise you can unlock magic inside yourself. It just takes patience.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.