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Leslie Jordan: Ham on a Roll

This article shared 1746 times since Wed Aug 16, 2006
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To say that out actor Leslie Jordan—best known for his role as the hilarious closet case Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace, his short stature and charming Tennessee accent—is thrilled about his first Emmy nod for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series is an understatement.

The voicemail message on his cell starts out, 'If you'd like to speak to the Emmy-nominated actor Mr. Leslie Jordan…' followed by cackles of joy. It's safe to say that Jordan has never been happier. His role on Will & Grace is opening doors for him. He has also been tremendously busy performing his hit one-man show, Like a Dog on Linoleum, and returning to the stage in roles originally created by Del Shore for him in the cult classic Sordid Lives and Southern Baptist Sissies.

Jordan took a few minutes to kick back and chat with Windy City Times from his Los Angeles home about his wonderful—and at times painful—Hollywood journey that started at a bus stop in California.

Windy City Times: How's it going lately?

Leslie Jordan: I'm just living the life I've always dreamed of living. I got to L.A. in 1982. I took a bus from Chattanooga, Tenn., where I had gotten a degree in theater, and had $1,200 sewn in my underpants. [ Laughs. ] …And here I am with an Emmy nomination!

WCT: Where were you when you first heard about your Emmy nomination?

LJ: I was in San Francisco doing my one-man show…and I had a call from my manager when I got up. He said, 'You have an Emmy nomination.' I didn't even know I was eligible on Will & Grace because I thought I recurred. I also do a voiceover for a show called American Dad [ so ] at first I thought, 'Oh gosh, I'm getting an Emmy for that little voiceover?' Then my manager said, 'No, honey, it's for Will & Grace,' and I nearly fell on the floor!

WCT: You must be walking on clouds.

LJ: Yeah, it's really exciting. …My manager said, 'You know what honey, it doesn't matter [ whether you win ] , because from here on out, every time you're listed it'll be Emmy-nominated actor Mr. Leslie Jordan.' So, I'm making all my friends address me thusly. [ Laughs. ] It's all fun.

WCT: So, what was it like working with the cast of Will & Grace?

LJ: You know, I've done a lot of guest work for a lot of shows, and you're always the odd man out. …You know, everybody always wants the dirt, but there is no dirt. They are four of the nicest people you could ever meet. And you know what? They stayed nice. I've worked with them before they got really, really well known. …Now they are part of pop culture. They got really, really rich, too, which can change people. I mean really rich, and they didn't change at all. They always made me feel so welcome. They could have trotted me out like an aging show pony once every two months. They were really, really tight, but they always made me feel welcome. I adore each and every one of them.

Being an openly gay actor in Hollywood, I always thought there were two ways in which you can combat homophobia. One is through humor, which I learned during dodge ball in junior high—kids would shout 'Smear the Queer!' and I had to tap dance or get creamed. I learned I could be really funny and keep the bullies at bay. Another way is putting a face on it. America welcomed these characters into their homes and lived and laughed and loved with them. There was a lot of progress made, and I'm really, really proud to have been a part of that. It could have just been any sitcom, but it wasn't; it was a gay-themed sitcom. Even though my character played a kind-of-closeted gay, which is just hilarious for me to get to be as sissy as I wanted to be and deliver lines like, 'Well don't homosexuals usually run in packs?' I'm most proud that I was actually in the finale. I had heard from then it was just going to be the four of them and Rosario, so when they added my character, I was like, 'Wow, that it really cool.' I really felt like I was family. It was so cool. It was a lot of fun.

WCT: It had to be great to be there for that last episode.

LJ: Yeah, my character flew out the window, and something really odd happened. They had me on this sort of Peter Pan wire that I had to fly. We rehearsed it, and I just kind of flew out the window. The night before the very last night, my shot of me flying out the window was the very last shot of the night because it involved a stunt. We went to shoot the scene, but I don't know if they pulled the lever too hard because I flew out that window so fast my shoes came off! It was very funny.

We ended up not using it. I think it was just so disconcerting because I flew out the window so fast you just didn't see me! I flew out the window, and all that was left were my velvet opera slippers. It knocked me out of there so fast, I think the blood rushed out of my head. I'm not sure what happened. I'd love to think it was some sort of spiritual something, but I was floating above the whole audience about 20 feet in the air. It took them a while to readjust the weights to lower me, so I was just hovering. Everything got muffled all of a sudden. I thought I was going to pass out. But I looked down, and here was Debra Messing and they were all looking up and laughing and clapping. It was kind of like slow motion—like an out-of-body experience. It was almost like those dreams you have where you are floating above yourself or something. Then, all of a sudden, it just went 'Shoomp!' and everything went right back to real time and they let me down. I didn't talk about it for a while, but I tell you, something kind of wonderful happened. What a way to go out, you know what I mean? To have worked on that set for six years and then you are just floating above it all like your little last goodbye.

WCT: Are you happy with where your life is right now?

LJ: I'm happier. You know, I was thinking the other day [ that ] since this Emmy nomination, doors are really opening. I'm being offered recurring roles. I decided it was time to take off the party dress. You know, the jig was up! Actors have a lot of down time. We work, work, work, make a lot of money and then there are just months of down time. I had fallen in this partying trap and I was a mess. So, I got sober. I think that's the most important gift I've ever given myself.

I thought these last eight years, the interesting part was that I've always kind of been openly homosexual, but I've never been openly homosexual and completely sober. [ Laughs. ] All of a sudden, I get sober and I'm kind of riddled with this internal homophobia. It was weird! I feel like eight years ago I came out, even though I've been out since I landed in my mother's high heels. To come out, you had to have been in! But this journey began eight years ago where I really started my life. … It's all coming together right now. Fifty-one years old, and here I stand with an Emmy nomination, happy has a clam. I'm still waiting for the axe to fall any minute!

WCT: Don't say that!

LJ: That's just my nature. But I'm telling myself, 'You deserved this. You earned it.' Do you remember that game, with two apples and the orange, and you ask 'Who does not belong?' That's me! Who does not belong at the Emmys? Like any minute someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and say 'No. Mr. Jordan, we decided not to nominate you for an Emmy. We decided you don't belong in Hollywood.' That's just my nature. It's all good. It's just wonderful.

WCT: What's it like to revisit the characters of Peanut and Brother Boy [ from Sordid Lives and Southern Baptist Sissies ] , characters created for you years ago?

LJ: Brother Boy is easy because I put those high heels on and I know where I am. [ Laughs. ] That Peanut character is a little rougher only because that character was based on me back when I drank. I would tell Del stories of me sitting on a bar stool and picking up these young guys for sex and all this awful stuff, and he wrote it into a play! He's my best friend. I said, 'How dare you tell all my secrets? I don't want to relive all that!' He said, 'Well, it will be healing.' A big part of the 12-step program is sharing; it really is. If you can stand in front of a group of people and say, 'This is my story,' well, that happens to be what I do on stage. It's like I'm a free man. I walk out of the theater every night almost like a free man because I'm reliving being an alcoholic. In Southern Baptist Sissies I'm playing a guy who picks up hustlers all the time. You know, really sad, sad stuff. So, to revisit that is kind of painful, but I walk out of there a free man, so that's cool.

WCT: Sounds like things are going well.

LJ: It's a blessed life. I get to travel. I make good money. My work is now being appreciated. It's a good thing.

This article shared 1746 times since Wed Aug 16, 2006
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