I will never forget the first time that I saw Leslie Jordan. He was making a series of guest appearances on Designing Women as Reggie Mack Dawson. A swindler who took our precious Suzanne Sugarbaker for everything she was worth and bought a circus. “That wasn't me.” Leslie tells me. Imagine my horror. Leslie Jordan and I have not met, yet during our brief time on the phone he was easy and open with me. It was as if we had been friends for years.
Leslie is of course best known as Beverly Leslie, arch nemesis of “Will and Grace's” delicious Karen Walker. Leslie has turned some three appearances a year into one of the greatest, most memorable comedic characters of our time. I am sure Joan Collins kicks herself to this day for turning down the role (reportedly over a scene in which her wig was to be pulled off in a catfight with Karen).
Beverly Leslie while his most recognized, is only one of many roles on both stage and screen that Jordan has left his brilliant comic stamp on. Leslie Jordan began his career some twenty five years ago in a PSA for Selective Service (What?). A Commercial that ran some ten years. He has toured the country for years in the one man show based on his life. The name changes as the content is always updaing. I have seen it under the moniker's “Like a Dog on Linoleum”, “When You Swish Apon a Star”, “My Life on the Pink Carpet”. No matter the name he always does what Leslie does best...Makes us laugh. This weekend Jordan returns to Dallas in “Uncensored”- a benefit for the Legacy Counceling Center. Jordan dishes on his life which always includes plenty of dish about the many co-stars he has worked with along the way. The show which thanks to it's years long run has rightfully earned it a reputation that rewards Jordan with sold out houses anywhere he goes.
I have talked to Leslie several times over the years and run into him a couple of times and he is always on, always fun. He is my favorite interview because he is the most fun and the easiest. Soon after hello he does all the work.
I went back into the archives and found the first time I met Leslie Jordan and share that article here. At the time he was an Emmy Nominated actor, he won that award for his work on Will & Grace. Since then he has kept busy popping up all over our screens, big and small. “American Horror Story”, “The Neighbors”, “Raising Hope” and really proving he is good for more than just laughs in “The Help”. And of course the never ending tour of his one man show. No matter the name I promise it will be something you remember fondly for years to come.
August 18, 2006...
I was thrilled to catch up with Jordan recently as he and friend apartment hunted. There were only a couple of interruptions. “We're fighting” Jordan tells me. “Would you just talk to him?” retorts the friend. Well if what I heard was fighting I need lessons from Leslie, in every relationship I've had what I eperienced between Leslie and his friend were the good times.
SL: You were born in a rather conservative town, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
LJ: I grew up in a very conservative town in a very conservative Southern Baptist family.
SL: What was that like for you?
LJ: Well, you look back in retrospect and I think that is what made me what I am today. You know I grew up in Sunday School and I was very questioning. I was baptized fourteen times. That's a true story. It never did take; I think it made me want to get out of there. I think that if I were heterosexual, I'd probably still be there. I'd probably be married and have some kids, and just be miserable. I think that the wonderful thing about being gay and growing up there is that we tend to move to the big cities and want to make something of ourselves.
It's interesting though, I have gone full circle. I moved my mom out here from Chattanooga to Laguna Beach, she was here for years and two years ago she said to me “I want to go home.” I said To Chattanooga? I said, Mom you live in Laguna Beach; it's the prettiest place in the world. She said, “I know, but I want to go home.” So she is back in Chattanooga now.
I go back there quite regularly. You know I just did my show (“Like a Dog on Linoleum“) March, April and May in Atlanta. I was off every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I would drive to see my mother. I am telling you that is not the Chattanooga that I left. It ís a wonderful city; I don't think I could live there. I do have twin sisters who live here in California and we've been talking a lot about trying to find some old Anabellum home to redo it and have us a bed and breakfast called “Company's Coming”.
It all comes full circle. But I hated it growing up, during dodge ball there they were yelling 'Smear the Queer' and here I am tap dancing; but that ís how I honed my comedy skills.
SL: You mentioned growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, as did I. This is where I met my first boyfriend; did you meet any boys in church?
LJ: OH MY GOD, YES! Oh, those fun boys. They were rebuilding the Chapel and we'd crawl up there in what was going to be the belfry and fool around. Oh I was fooling around really, really early. I think that's why I'm so messed up sexually. What does my therapist say? I have intimacy issues. I said, Well honey I didn't even have sex in a bed until I was twenty four years old. That's the honest to God's truth. My gosh, I had done it in parks and bookstores, and truck stops. Back then it was wherever you could find it.
SL: In your mid twenties you just hoped on a bus and went to Hollywood.
LJ: Mid Twenties, lord I was in my thirties.
SL: I was being generous.
LJ: Mid Twenties plus tax and deposit. I got on a Greyhound; I had a degree in theater. I went to school and I didn't know what to do and everyone said take that intro to theater class, which is a wonderful way to get your arts elective out of the way. The first day we go up in front of the class and did some acting exercises. It just hit me like a drug. I thought this is what I want to do. That day I went to the head of the department and I said Tell me what to do! I got a degree in theater and then I thought I can either go to New York or I can go to L.A. and if I am going to start I am going to start with a tan!
I am so glad that I made that decision. I've spent a lot of time in New York doing New York Theater and it's just Hell. Itís just awful. I love being in California and I love the TV Industry and I love the movie industry. I do theater, I do a lot of theater, but I do it mainly to showcase myself for better TV and Film roles.
But here I am, almost twenty five years later, and here I've got this Emmy nomination (He won this award). If that's not perseverance, I don't know what is. I do have to tell you that right now I am living the life that I have always dreamed of living. It's amazing. I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day and he said, “Are you just shitting your pants about this Emmy?” I said I'm not. It's really interesting...I remember thinking over the years, if I could just get that TV series, I'd be happy, if I could just get that six figure salary, if I could just get a movie, but you know none of that really brings you happiness.
SL: When you got to L.A., you started in commercials.
LJ: I did commercials forever and then, I guess my break was Murphy Brown; I was a secretary to Murphy Brown.
SL: The first place that I remember seeing you is Designing Women.
LJ: You know that wasn't me. I'll tell you the story, usually I just say thank you. There was an episode of Designing Women with a character named Reggie Mack Dawson. That was Harry Thomason, who was Linda Bloodworth Thomasons' husband's brother. We could have been twins. He's not even an actor he is a Dentist from Little Rock. They put him on that show and a few weeks later I came in to audition for a show called “Hearts of Fire”. It starred John Ritter, Bill Bob Thornton, and Markie Post. I walked into audition and their mouths just all dropped and they just keep starring at me. I didn't know if I had spinach in my teeth or what they were staring at. Finally, they said, “you know Leslie you look just like Harry's brother.” So for years people have thanked me for that wonderful part. But I promise you it wasn't me.
SL: You are known on a cult status level for your role in “Sordid Lives”. Was that the first theater role that brought you a lot of attention?
LJ: Well, years ago I did a Donald Margolis play that got some attention. I had won a lot of theater awards around L.A. Then I did another Del Shores show called “Cheating” that was a huge hit years ago. I have been Del's muse for twenty years. I guess you'd say that Brother Boy got the most attention.
You know we did it in L.A.-the stage production and one night Olivia Newton-John walked in and Olivia jokingly said if you ever make a movie of this, I want to play that lesbian that sings. Well, that stuck in Del's crawl so he called her management and said, “is she serious, because I think with her name attached we could raise the money.” So we raised Four Hundred Thousand Dollars which sounds like a lot of money but in terms of movies that's not low budget, that's no budget. It didn't do that well at the theater, but it's a huge cult hit.
SL: You are a self described substance abuser and sex addict. I remember from your play “Like a Dog on Linoleum”, the story of a young man you met while filming a movie over seas. It is a great example of sexual addiction. Tell me that story.
LJ: Well, I was doing a movie called Mad House. This was filming in Bucharest, Romania. We all went out to the gay bar. There was only one gay bar because Romania was under Communist rule. We all went out to the gay bar and I noticed that I was the most popular one. Well we finally figured out that because I am older and silver headed. They all want sugar daddies. These were young beautiful boys who think that you can get them out of the country.
Well, I was the belle of Bucharest. I met this beautiful young man and everyone kept telling me don't trust him because he's Gypsy. All of the Romanian people at the hotel kept telling me don't trust him, he's Gypsy. Well I trusted him, he stole everything I had, but then came back with it all. All of it, thousands of dollars, Passport, leather jacket, leather bag, came back and was sitting under a tree out front of the hotel and I went over there and asked him why he did it? He was sitting there with all of my stuff with tears running down his face and he said, “It's all I know. It's just all I know.”
Well, I just fell in love with him. I moved him into the hotel much to the horror of the staff. It was almost like an interracial love affair. Then I wrote it into my show and it was called “Gypsies, Tramps and Queens”. I tried to get him out of the country several times and I couldn't, Thank God! I had that story in my show and my director said Honey, this is not a mini series; this is just way too much.
SL: Back in America you end up in the LA County Jail. Tell me about that.
LJ: Well, I had gotten arrested for two drunk driving arrests in a row and they gave me One Hundred and Twenty days in the twin towers. I had to do a little time down there. Well, on the seventeenth day down there I had a panic attack and I thought I can't do this. That very day they brought Robert Downey Jr. in and because I was in the celebrity tank, I got out because of him.
SL: This brings us to Will and Grace and Beverly Leslie. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest comedic characters in television history. How did you land such a great part, the part that has lead to your first Emmy nomination?
LJ: Well, people don't realize that I have had twelve television series where I was a regular. I have done every kind of show known to man. This was the first one that was a really big hit, so it kind of put me in the public eye. I only do about three a year but the character is so popular and of course this being the eighth year and it being over I was so surprised to get the Emmy nomination.
In the past I have done little campaigns, you put a little ad in this and that to try and get nominated. I didn't do anything this year. It's just absolutely wonderful and it is at a time when they are casting a lot of the series for the fall and I have had some offers and I am just kind of mulling it all over and trying to decide which one I'm going to do. It's just absolutely thrilling.
SL: I really loved you in Boston Public. I hated to see your character killed off, but at the same time seeing you whacked in the head by Betty White with an iron skillet was just brilliant. I am constantly amazed by her as an actress.
LJ: Oh, she's amazing. You know she's eighty-four years old and she'll walk on the set and she'll say to the cameramen who are these big, tall, butch kinda guys, “You boy's lookin' at my ass?”
You can see Leslie on Saturday, November 12th at the Majestic Theater in Dallas. There are VIP tickets available which include a meet and greet. This is a don't miss!! Tickets are available at http://lesliejordandallas.com/
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