Leslie Jordan is the small-in-size, grand-in-stature comedic actor whom you have seen in nearly everything on television since the ‘90s. From American Horror Story to his Emmy Award winning turn in Will & Grace, he’s the big mouth full of Southern charm.
Now on the road with his new one-man show Straight Outta Chattanooga, Jordan’s star is burning brighter than ever, and the belle of the ball is bringing that show to the Tampa Theatre for the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Oct. 5.
Before he hits TIGLFF, Jordan cozied up to Watermark for a little girl talk and a nice cup of tea. Well bless our hearts.
I’ve heard they swear you all to secrecy, like you swear your first born children, when you’re on shows like [American Horror Story].
We do! We have to sign [a non-disclosure agreement] and I got in trouble for talking before. I was in Washington, D.C., for Capital Pride, and they asked me what’s up with the show, and I said, “Well, American Horror Story will have Lady Gaga, and it went on the internet and they jumped on me and said, “You don’t announce!” But that shit had already been announced. But, anyway, we can talk about everything but that, but it starts on Sept. 14 and my character I think shows up by the third episode. But that’s all I can say.
How did you get involved with American Horror Story in the beginning? Cause you had a small part in season 3 also.
You know, I’m at a point in my career, the wonderful part is I rarely audition; they just call and say they’ve just written you into this show. Mr. [Ryan] Murphy has a home in P-town, and I think that maybe he’s seen my show and he just knows of me and he loves to write for people. I’d never met him and never laid eyes on him. I’ve done that a lot in my career. I did that with David Kelly. I did every show he ever wrote, and I never met him or laid eyes on him until I started on his show, but yet he wrote for me. You know Ally McBeal and Boston Legal and all these shows. So I don’t know why that happens to me.
All of a sudden it happened very quickly. I was in New Orleans and I was there for a really long time, like nine weeks. Even though the part wasn’t that big, I was around a lot. I worked with Jessica Lange and Francis Conroy, but then I got to watch – you know I’d show up early and get to watch Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett, both of whom are back this year; I think that’s been announced. Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett, Lady Gaga is of course back and…whew get ready, Cuba… Cuba’s been added to the cast; I think that’s been announced. Cuba Gooding Jr., Wes Bentley has come back so, whew, get ready, this may be the one.
Anytime Ryan Murphy announces a new project it seems like the same group of actors are attached. What is it about him that makes actors want to repeatedly work with him?
I think he’s just really good. I remember watching Nip/Tuck and thinking to myself, “Who writes this?” And I thought I wonder if he’s gay or not. And then the season progressed, and I thought he must be gay because there were like odd little things. There was one episode where someone got screwed up the ass or something. My friend Del Shores does that too: using new actors is a very scary proposition.When you audition, you’re in a room with a piece of paper and you’re just reading a script, and if you don’t know that actor and then they get on the set and can’t walk and talk at the same time, [it doesn’t work]. So if you use people you’ve seen before or you know their work, I think it’s a wise thing to do.
It used to drive me crazy, because I started out in commercials, and here they would work on a commercial campaign for a full year and at the very last minute they would hire the talent. That was like the last thing on their mind. I’m thinking you’ve built this campaign and now you’re just getting to the talent… and we were called “the talent back then.” They would say “Well get the talent in,”and I’d say, “My name’s Leslie and I’m not really that talented. I’d rather you know my name.”
Tell me how you got to meet Del Shores and how the part of Brother Boy [in Sordid Lives] came to you.
I was taking an improv class with a girl, and she said, “You’ve got to see this play; it’s called Cheatin’.” It was the very first thing that Del Shores wrote. I saw it five times; I never met him. Then one day that girl in my improv class said they were casting for that show, so I got me an audition. I walked into my audition and they said, “OK, go,” and I said, “Mornin’ Sid, nice day ain’t it?” and Del fell off the couch laughing and wouldn’t stop. I thought he was mentally challenged, I thought,“What is wrong with him?” He’s just laughin’.
He was engaged to be married at the time to a woman, and it never crossed my mind that Del might be gay. He was real different back then; he was kinda pussy whipped. Anyway, I was at their wedding. I’m godfather to his children. When he came out 10 years later, I was at his second wedding to that unmentionable young man. Then he put him in [Sordid Lives: The Series], and that was the triple threat: She can’t act, she can’t sing and she can’t dance. That’s all I’m going to say about Mrs. Dottley. We got rid of her. He broke my best friend’s heart, so you can print whatever you want on that one. And so that was that and I got to play Brother Boy.
So you’ll be at The Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival with a lot of shows going on before and after. You’re on quite the tour aren’t you?
You know when I won the Emmy in 2006, I really thought I was going to get to kick back, and it was all going to come to me. And I called my manager a year later and said, “I can’t eat this Emmy, honey! You need to get me some work.” So I’m up to almost 44 venues a year and people come to us. You wouldn’t believe it. I was filming for American Horror Story, and then I was at the Lazy Bear Weekend up in Guerneville, California. The Bear festival is this week, all this week. Them stinky bears up there. I told them, “Girls, you stink!” Then I was in Dallas, and I was in Provincetown. I mean, it’s a life that I never imagined, but it’s hard. I’m 61. But I’m in L.A. right now, and I have about three days off and I need a colonoscopy. I had one and my doctor wants me to get another one. I’ve already canceled this three times, so I’m getting my colonoscopy, then I leave immediately again.
Tell me about the one man show you’re touring right now.
It’s a brand new show. I found out that I live in an apartment where Tupac used to live, and I didn’t believe it, so I asked the post lady and she said yes. So we came up with this idea. It’s called Straight Outta Chattanooga. It’s stories about me getting out of Chattanooga; like, what does it take for a little gay boy, 17 years old, to be brave enough to get out of Chattanooga? And I include a lot of the stories about me. I don’t know if you know this, but if you Google my name and Starbucks together you’ll see I had a huge ruckus out at a Starbucks. This boy called us faggots, and no one was sticking up for us. So I told them to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out and I threw my tea on him. Then TMZ and 10 cop cars showed up. It was a huge ruckus. It fell out into the street. I was going to be arrested for throwing the first punch. But, anyway, I’ve all these stories about what a thug I am. It’s just fun; it’s the best show I’ve written.
I opened Straight Outta Chattanooga in D.C. the same weekend as the tragedy in Orlando. So I did my show on a Friday night, Saturday we had the parade and then the tragedy happened, I woke up on Sunday morning to all that news, and it struck me how important Straight Outta Chattanooga is. It had this added relevance because we lost so many people and we lost their stories. It just has this added relevance to me.
While I was there in D.C., they invited some of us gays, Ty Herndon, [and] we were all going to sing the National Anthem at the ball park, and I got to throw the first pitch out [in front of] 38,000 people. They walked us out onto the field, and I thought, “Oh Honey, I’m never gonna throw this ball,” but something other worldly came over me and I hurled that ball and Sammy Sosa, one of the catchers, caught it, and he goes, “Dude!” You know, I threw my leg up like those pitchers do, I’m used to that, holding my legs up. My leg went straight up, and I hurled that ball. It’s on the internet you can find it.
You might have a second career in line for you.
As a pitcher, because God knows I’ve been the catcher.
How much of being a gay man born and raised in the South affected you as a person and affected your comedy?
It isn’t so much being raised in the South as it is raised in the church. My family was pretty devout; we went to church quite a bit. You know my parents were good. I mean, I had the best parents in the world because my mother was 19 when she had me and my daddy was 21. They were just these little… daddy was the baby in his family, momma was the baby of nine, so when the babies had a baby: Oh my God, I was so spoiled. So I had a lot of love; I had a lot of support, but you have a lot of inner turmoil. You didn’t even know back in my day there was “queer.” I didn’t know what that was. I knew Liberace, I knew Paul Lynde, I knew effeminate. And then you get to a certain age and you realize, “Oh, I’m kind of effeminate.” And you got all that turmoil from the church. I don’t remember them ever saying that what I was was a sin but you felt it. They didn’t talk about homosexuality.
That’s a big thing of my trip down the pink carpet is that I couldn’t embrace my struggle because it was so shameful. It’s not even like an African-American or Latin child, who has been told their history and this is what we’re up against but we’re all in this together, you know. I had nobody. I thought I was the only queer on the planet, and I think that has factored in a big way. Because, first of all I learned to be funny, to keep the bullies at bay; that was a very big defense mechanism. And I have brought that into my adulthood, and I think because we all have found our voice, that’s part of the discontent of these fat, white people that want to talk. They’re like, “Enough with you.” I want to ask them one question: “When was American great?” They say, “Let’s make America great again.” Oh, when the women and blacks couldn’t vote? When exactly are we talking about that America was great? When there were dead queers in the alley? Explain to me exactly.
But you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. Because I am 61 years old, and I am closer to my authentic self then I have ever been. There’s no area of my life now that I’m uncomfortable in. And the wonderful part about that is I’ve achieved everything I’ve set out to achieve career-wise, but I ain’t anywhere near where I think I’m going to be. People think, “Oh, well you’ve done this and that.” Honey, wait. I’m just on fire right now and it’s all good.