There are few actors as distinctive and consistently hilarious as Leslie Jordan. The Emmy-winner is best known as Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace or as Brother Boy in Sordid Lives (written by his good friend Del Shores). Jordan will be coming to Phoenix as a Valentine’s present, when he appears with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus in an evening of entertainment called Under the Big Top. He’s been touring the country in his wonderful one-man show, My Life Down the Pink Carpet, which Phoenix audiences were lucky enough to see last year.
“I tell you, I’m a little exhausted,” Jordan explained. “You know, I did forty-five cities with this one man show, which I’m bringing portions of to Phoenix. My mistake was that I came home in December and I should have just rested, but my manager said, “Let’s just do a little three week run in L.A., which was just exhausting. I’m supposed to be in New York and I have no idea how I’m going to make it,” he laughed. “I just can’t imagine doing six, seven eight performances a week. I’ll probably just have to live like a monk.”
He also spilled the news that he’s thrown his hat in the ring for another high-profile gig. “I want to be on Dancing with the Stars!”
He’s excited for the show in Phoenix. “They came up with a wonderful idea where I’ll tell stories, some from the show and some from other things I’ve done, and then they’ll sing around it, 'cause I don’t sing,” he laughed. “We’re going to put on a wonderful show. I told them, Under the Big Top? You should have Top underlined! There’ll be surprises galore.”
“Brother Boy may even show up,” he continued. "That’s a big “if”! They’re begging, but I thought, I don’t know – I have to shave my whole body, it’s so torturous to do that character. People think I just throw on a dress and there I am. You have no idea,” he laughed. “It’s no fun shaving. Del Shores made me. He said, “You can’t have a hairy Brother Boy (in the TV series Sordid Lives).” He agreed as long as all publicity photos were taken while they were filming. Of course, two months later, Shores called back to say they needed more publicity shots. “They’re going to have to Photoshop out my hair, I’m not shaving again.” We put me in that orange jumpsuit, and I’m really hairy. I looked like a big monkey. We put that orange jumpsuit on me and we just laughed and laughed. They said, “We can Photoshop out a lot of things, but we can not Photoshop out that hair.” So, I ended up having to shave again. It’s not bad when you do it, it’s bad when it grows back.”
Jordan hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee. “The internet always says I’m from Memphis, but I’ve only been to Memphis once or twice. I guess they’ve got me mixed up with Elvis. Where I grew up was called Missionary Ridge,” he said with a chuckle.
Jordan’s mood dampened when I asked about a great show that he filmed called Twelve Miles of Bad Road, costarring Lily Tomlin and Mary-Kay Place. “I think it’s pretty much history,” he said. “It was just the saddest thing that ever happened to me. I have all six episodes on a DVD and I show it to people and their mouths just fall open. It was just a matter of taste and they brought in these new people. The whole regime at HBO left, who were fans of our show. It was similar to Sordid Lives in that it wasn’t everybody’s taste, but for the people who loved it, they would have gone crazy over it. It was a big, loud, raucous Texas comedy about millionaires, so it was the opposite of white trash. We were the Texas elite, but we still sort of acted like white trash.
“Lily Tomlin was just brilliant in it, and I thought that I did some of my best work in it, and then I hear that this guy over at HBO just hated my character. He’s apparently gay and he thought that my character was a poor representation of the gay community, which sort of angered me. I just thought, “Since when do we have to be politically correct?” You know, I think we’ve reached this point where there’s all kinds of gay people. There’s good, there’s bad. Now, I think we’re at a point where we don’t have to be politically correct. I played the richest homosexual in Texas who had a penchant for young hustler boys. I have no idea where they got that idea! It was hilarious. I’ve always got some hustler who’s hounding me or blackmailing me.”
I suggested that fans could bombard HBO with a letter-writing campaign, but Jordan didn’t think it would make any difference. “They didn’t just cancel it, they buried it. It was the most expensive comedy in television history, so no one else could afford it.” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason shopped the show at Lifetime and FX, but it was too costly. “Then I heard rumors that the gay networks asked them to just let them air it, they wouldn’t even have to pay them, but they said no.”
“You would have laughed your ass off. It was brilliant. They thought it was “too broad”, but then again, why do you hire Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Lily Tomlin, Leslie Jordan and Mary Kay Place. What did they expect? The John f***ing Adams miniseries?” he laughed. “You get what you hire. I thought I was being very subtle.”
Jordan told a funny story about pitching a show idea with Shores. “We wanted to do a show called C.L.A.P. — Christian Ladies Against Pornography, and we were going to dress in drag, but we wanted to look real. We wanted to do this reality series where we would protest gay events, and we were just hollerin’ in this room and they just stared at us. They just stared at us like, “We don’t get it”.
He got the same reaction when they pitched a show called The Happy Hollimans about a gospel singing family headed by Tomlin that was decidedly un-Christian offstage (a pill-popping daughter, a gay son, et cetera). “When you put Del Shores and I together, it’s like a dog and pony show. We act out all the parts. His agent said, “You should teach a class on how to pitch a show,” he said, laughing. “Ah, well. It’s a wonder anything gets on TV at all. I think that’s going to be the death of network television. There are too many cooks in the kitchen. The head of HBO came from “Business Affairs”! He was a lawyer!”
Still, Jordan keeps positive about his future projects, and has resolved not to let it upset him so much. “Along for the ride in 2009 is my motto,” he stated. He considers himself very lucky to have his career, and he takes time out to donate money and time. He has to be selective, given his schedule, but he states that there are a select few that he will never turn down. “I never say no to the Human Rights Campaign. The Trevor Project, which helps gay teens who are contemplating suicide, is one of Jordan’s favorite organizations. “Most of the calls come from the Bible Belt, and that’s my story. I thought that’s just heartbreaking ... someone who’s considering killing themselves because their family has disowned them.”
His charity work has also brought him to the Valley of the Sun. “I’ve come to Phoenix several times. I’m real involved in the whole recovery movement, because I’ve been sober for ten years. I’ve been to Phoenix twice to big recovery conventions.” He went on, “I’m so blessed. I’ve just had this amazing career, and they teach you in recovery that you have to give back, for what you have been so freely given.”
He also came to Arizona while filming a show called Hidden Palms, which was set in Palm Springs. “We filmed in Glendale in August ... God, what a hell hole that was! Can you imagine?”
Then he concluded the conversation in true Beverley Leslie fashion. “I love Phoenix. Phoenix has the best rent boys – I don’t know why! I think it’s because there are a couple of shady internet sites out of Phoenix, like “brokestraightboys.com” I’m always amazed at what’s available for an aging homosexual with a few dollars in his pocket,” he joked.
Leslie Jordan in Under the Big Top will be performed February 14 in Phoenix. For tickets and more information, visit the official website of the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.