What happened when impish comic actor Leslie Jordan played it straight?
He was shoved face-first into a boiling oil deep fryer by Jason Voorhees in the horror sequel, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.
It probably wasn’t that role that caused this magazine to consider Leslie a LGBT icon.
Of course, he’s not too crazy about being referred to as an icon anyway. Such stature brings on waves of self-doubt to the 4-foot-11-inch actor, he said.
“I was a pioneer,” Leslie countered. “I was playing gay before other people were playing gay for sure.”
One of the gay roles he originated for playwright and director Del Shores could certainly be considered iconic.
That would be Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram from the play-turned-film-turned-TV-prequel Sordid Lives. Leslie’s portrayal of the Tammy Wynette-worshipping failed patient of de-homosexualization spawned plenty of catchphrases:
“I think you are just an evil, bitter, old, alcoholic sex fiend who needs therapy yourself!”
“Shoot her in the head, Wardell!”
And, of course, “Ohhhkaayyyyyyy,” delivered multiple times with Leslie’s syrupy Southern dra-aw-al.
When his frequent collaborator, Del, heard Vital VOICE was naming Leslie an icon, he said, “Well, doesn’t icon mean ‘sacred?’ So, sacred midget? KIDDING. He certainly is iconic to me and others.”
Leslie is probably best known as the foil to Anastasia Beaverhausen aka Karen Walker, as played by Megan Mullally on the pioneering (and iconic!) gay NBC sitcom, Will & Grace. He won an Emmy in 2006 for strutting and slutting through guest spots as Beverly Leslie.
“I thought I smelled gin and regret,” Leslie purred, snatching every scene he was in away from Mullally—no small feat!
“What I’m finding absolutely ridiculous is young people who don’t know Will & Grace,” Leslie said in a recent interview with Vital VOICE. “It just went off the air in 2006! If they were younger then, maybe they didn’t have any interest, but if they were gay I would think they would want to (watch). Maybe their parents didn’t let them.
“So now, they’re probably 20. I did the math. If you don’t know Will & Grace, just give me your gay card!”
He recited the rest of a possible conversation with a young gay:
“What else were you on?”
“Never heard of it.”
“Give me your card!”
“Maybe they’re giving in a quiet way. Not me. Honey, I gave $200 to the Obama campaign and everybody in Los Angeles knew. I told them. ‘This morning, I gave $200 to Obama.’ ‘Did you hear I gave $200 to Obama yesterday?’ ‘A week ago, I gave $200 to Obama,’” he said.
With nearly 100 film and TV acting credits throughout his 30 years in Hollywood, Leslie is still trying to “make it,” even though for all intents and purposes, he’s made it, honey.
When he’s not collecting young gays’ cards for not knowing Will & Grace and Sordid Lives, Leslie is writing and directing hysterical one-man shows like My Trip Down the Pink Carpet and his latest, Fruit Fly. He spends 45 weeks a year on the road with his live act, and recently took it to the high seas on a cruise from Barcelona to Casablanca to the Island of Ibiza.
“And I’m sober. God. You can’t go to Ibiza SOBER,” he laughed.
Anyone who’s ever interviewed Leslie or seen him perform live knows he can spin multiple yarns at a time and easily veer off on a tangent, even though his plays are all tightly scripted. It’s a clever divisionary tactic to ensure the audience is paying attention and not too inebriated to keep up.
“Then if it gets ugly, I say, ‘Shut your hole, honey. Mine’s makin’ money.’ If it gets real bad, ‘Shut the fu*k up! Have a nice day!’”
Leslie’s parents were the babies of their families, as was he. He grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and recently bought his sisters, twins, a condo with the money he’s saved since sobering up more than a decade ago.
“I’ve been able to keep this career afloat not being 30 paces deep in a beer bath,” he laughed.
He was visiting with his kin over Thanksgiving and his sisters brought out boxes of all the awards Leslie has been honored with over the years—as a trophy case would not go with the French country décor Leslie has in his home.
Out they trotted major theater performance awards, keys to cities like San Francisco and Minneapolis and a certificate naming Leslie an Honorary Conch of Key West. “They only give that to the biggies,” he shared.
The 30-year career came rushing back to Leslie and he realized, hey, maybe a title like icon isn’t so inappropriate after all.
“They should call me Liza,” he joked. “They should call me Liza Cher Diana Barbra—or some cute acronym like Brangelina. Hell, throw Elvis in there, too!”
As of this interview, Leslie was about to return to another iconic Del Shores-penned role, Peanut, one half of a pair of bar flies who offer the comedic relief (and some heartbreak) in the play Southern Baptist Sissies.
Leslie and other performers from Dels’ troupe like Dale Dickey, Ann Walker, Rosemary Alexander and Newell Alexander will perform the play live in front of an audience in January while cameras roll in an effort to bring the play to the big screen.
The effort has been a long time coming, as raising funds for a gay-themed film about religious intolerance isn’t exactly easy. The message of the film isn’t anti-Christian; it’s anti-hate and pro-tolerance.
“There are two ways to combat homophobia,” Leslie said. “One is humor. I learned that in the fourth grade during dodge ball. ‘Smear the queer!’ The funnier you are, the less they hit you. The other way is to put a face on it. I learned that during Will & Grace. I think the tide has turned now.”
The best lesson Leslie has learned after 30 years in the business is to not take anything personal, something he was constantly reminding himself of at the time of this interview. After not getting any TV bites for his one-man shows, he has written a script that he considers to be “shit-your-pants funny,” and he’s begun shopping it around to the networks.
It’s about a 24-year-old boy who has returned from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. Leslie’s not the lead, but he’s written himself a juicy part. “I will steal the show and win the Emmy,” he assured.
It’s also very rural, so Leslie is throwing the ratings of shows like Hillbilly Handfishin’ and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo at them during his pitch.
“Country people don’t watch that. They want to rise above. It’s city people watching Honey Boo Boo. They’re fascinated with the rural South,” Leslie said, and added with pride, “There is nobody that can write the rural South better than me.”
By COREY STULCE – VITAL VOICE WEST
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