Washington Blade presents
Leslie Jordan Live!
7 (sold out) and 9 p.m.
Friday, June 10
1501 14th St., N.W.
Leslie Jordan is one of those actors pretty much everybody knows, but you have no idea how many things he’s been in until you look up his IMDB page.
Films “Sordid Lives” and “The Help,” one-man shows “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet” and “Straight Outta Chattanooga,” and a TV filmography that looks about as vast as that of Cloris Leachman — most notably “American Horror Story: Coven” and, of course, “Will & Grace,” the landmark sitcom that won him an Emmy for his recurring role as Karen’s nemesis Beverley Leslie.
Interviewing him, you kind of expect the frequent giggles and pronounced Southern drawl. What you don’t quite expect is the (almost) no-holds-barred honesty, rare in nicey-nice, PR-drenched Hollywood. He’s here Pride weekend for a packed spate of activities including two Washington Blade-sponsored shows at Studio Theatre on Friday, June 10. He will serve as a Pride parade grand marshal on June 11 and participate in Night Out at the Nationals on June 14. We spoke with him by phone from his home just outside of West Hollywood. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: So it looks like you’ll be quite busy next weekend in our fair city.
LESLIE JORDAN: Yes, it’s all worked out so beautifully. I’m doing the parade, I’m doing this show at Studio Theatre with the Blade and I’m going to throw the first ball out with the Washington Nationals. I’ve been practicing. Who knew I was such a good pitcher, but I am. … I’m a little concerned after this incident with the Padres — I hope I don’t get heckled. I don’t really think I will, but you never know in this day and age. I’m excited to see my friend, Ty Herndon, who will be in town for his own show at GALA Theatre, so it’s just fabulous that all this has come together. I asked the Pride folks if I could have a pony to ride in the parade, but they said no. I said, “Well, can I at least have some pretty boys dressed up as horses to dance with me?” I have this riding outfit I want to wear. So there’s a lot cooking right now.
BLADE: You were a jockey, right? So you certainly know your way around a horse.
JORDAN: Oh yes, for many, many years. Did you hear about the incident at the Starbucks?
BLADE: You threw a drink at somebody, right?
JORDAN: Yes, these three boys came in all cracked out at 9 o’clock in the morning. And listen, these weren’t straight boys. People said, “Oh, they were here to bash the gays.” No honey, listen — these were gay street kids. … They started acting out and I was like, “We can’t have this at the gayest Starbucks in the world.” I told them to get the fuck out. One of them came at me, so I threw my iced tea right in his face. … Anyway, it was a huge ruckus. I got a lot of mileage out of it for my one-person show.
BLADE: You’ve had several standup shows — “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet,” “Straight Outta Chattanooga” and so on. Do you do one for a while or different ones in different cities? How does it work?
JORDAN: It kind of started when I worked with Lily Tomlin years ago on a show called “12 Miles of Bad Road.” She asked me if I made any money doing my stand-up show. I said, “Well, it’s $1,600 just to ship my set.” She said, “Your set? You don’t need a set. Just you and a mic.” So you land somewhere, then you add the bells and whistles. So that’s kinda been the way I’ve done things. When I won that Emmy 10 years ago, I thought my career would spiral but nothing. It was the oddest thing. I called my management after a year and said, “I can’t eat this Emmy. I can’t get any TV work, what am I gonna do?” And I did the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I called this marketing firm out of Palm Springs and said, “Market me. I’m so popular with the gay community. I’ll do one-person shows, I’ll lead parades, you know, just whatever.” So now I’m up to 44 venues a year and I just adjust whatever I’m doing for the place, you know, sort of like a musician with a set list.
BLADE: Does your concept change?
JORDAN: Once a year, the marketing firm calls and goes, “What’s your new show called?” and I just go, “Um,” and I make up a new title. I’ll say, like, “This one’s called ‘Full of Gin and Regret,’” and they’ll go, “OK, that’s good.” But it’s all kind of the same show. Sometimes they’ll call and go, “OK, girl, you gotta quit trotting out all this old stuff, all this ‘Will & Grace’ stuff and so on,” but I kinda disagree with that. I think it’s kind of like when you go hear a band. Nobody cares about their new album. You want to hear their old stuff. … I’m booked all summer, then on July 7, I go back to “American Horror Story” with Lady Gaga, isn’t that fun? I did one season on “Coven.” They offered me another season but I got offered a reality show in London and I needed the money. Let me tell you, those reality shows pay a lot of money. So I turned down “Freak Show,” biggest mistake of my life. I didn’t think Mr. (Ryan) Murphy would want me again because I turned him down, but he did.
BLADE: Have you met him?
JORDAN: No. When I was doing “Coven,” he was doing “Normal Heart” for HBO, so I never got to meet him. But he was very involved. In one scene, I said, “I don’t think I’m going to wear my glasses in this scene,” and they said, “Well, that’s really a Ryan question.” They had him on the phone in like two minutes and they came back and told me to start the scene with them on, then take them off to gesticulate. That’s how involved he is. … Same thing with David E. Kelley. I’ve done like every show he’s ever done but I’ve never laid eyes on him either. They’re both very, very specific.
BLADE: Was the “Will & Grace” set fairly friendly? Were you and Megan Mullally pals?
JORDAN: They all got very famous together and very, very rich together. People thought I was there hanging out all the time and so on, but I only did maybe three a year or something like that. Everybody was friendly to me, but it wasn’t a big part of my life. I didn’t come on until the third season. But there was some real magical stuff happening. It was a very popular character. I remember once I walked out and the audience went so crazy, the director said, “We had Elton John on last week, he didn’t get that kind of reaction.” He said, “You all need to calm down, he ain’t that famous.” I said, “Yet!”
BLADE: Sean Hayes (Jack) didn’t come out until years after the show, which always seemed so odd to me. Was he out to the cast and crew?
JORDAN: You know, Sean, I would never put him down in any way, but Sean and I never really had a real conversation. He was like that person you work with and you’re always friendly, “Good morning,” and so on, but never once do I remember having a real conversation with him. Somebody asked me about him once in an interview and I said, “Yeah, like anybody’s gonna blow her cover.” It got printed and, I don’t know. I remember we were sitting right next to him at the Emmys and my mother even noticed it. She said, “He hasn’t said much.” I said, “Well, he’s gonna be on stage, he’s nervous.” But to answer your question, I never really knew him that well. He’s a lovely boy. … People think we just bond so much on those sets, but it’s not like that. You go to work and do your thing. We had a lot of fun. … The only one I really keep up with now is Megan. I’m not going to do it anymore, but people have sometimes asked me to ask her for something, you know, like a charity thing or something. And she’s done it, but I feel bad — people ask them for so much all the time.
BLADE: I bet.
JORDAN: I love ‘em all. I ran into Eric (McCormack) on the street in London. He said, “I’m here with my show (“Perception”).” I don’t watch TV at all. I’m kind of in my own little world, I read. … I said, “Oh, is it a pilot?” He said, “Uhhhh — no, we’re in our fourth season.” …. Debra (Messing) I haven’t spoken to at all but when I won the Emmy, she sent me this huge orchid that must have been like $800 or something.
BLADE: So you’re shooting a sequel to “Sordid Lives”?
JORDAN: Yes, I return as Brother Boy. I’m in the mental hospital but I’ve escaped and I go on the lam with a serial killer. We shot it in Winnipeg, then we’ve got about a week in Dallas left to finish it. You know, you watch these comedies with Melissa McCarthy and so on. And they’re funny, but nothing is as funny as this. You have no idea. It’s so outrageous.
BLADE: And Whoopi Goldberg is in it too?
JORDAN: Yes. She rode a bus up to Winnipeg from New York, shot for like five hours, got back on the bus and went home. I said, “Do you remember me from ‘The View’? I got up and danced and almost kicked you in the face.” She said, “Uh-uh.” I think there’s some pot smoking there, but what a lovely human being. So down to earth. … She’ll blow a line and just say, “Shit, let’s do it again.”
BLADE: Where do you get your clothes? Do you have them custom made?
JORDAN: I shot a pilot for Lily for HBO that never made it on the air. They built me a whole wardrobe. I have about five suits. I was supposed to play the richest man in Texas, so I have these velvet smoking jackets, pants. … The other day I looked in my closet and said, “You know, my wardrobe is complete.” I really don’t need to buy another thing ever. … I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m down to about a 30 waist. I can wear jeans I wore in high school.
BLADE: How did you do it?
JORDAN: I swim in the morning and do the treadmill and I never miss a day. … I also just really, really got into my diet. Sugar is the enemy, period. If people would just cut that out, but oh my God, it is difficult.
BLADE: You know a lot of people in the industry and live near West Hollywood, yet you travel so much. What’s dating like? Are you in a relationship?
JORDAN: Well, that’s the only thing I don’t talk about. It’s complicated and I learned that a long time ago. But I’m happy. Real happy. It’s caused so many problems over the years, that I just learned to zip it. Relationships are hard enough without that kind of burden. You know how Gwyneth Paltrow was never photographed with her husband? People say, “Oh please, what’s that about?” I’m nowhere near that level of fame, so I can’t even imagine, but that’s just the way it is. But let’s just say I’m very happy.