With his career and stardom has come plenty a good story to tell, says Leslie Jordan, the Chattanooga, Tenn.-born actor and playwright known internationally for his roles on “Will & Grace,” Del Shores’ and “Sordid Lives.” Jordan has also had a spate of recent appearances in Europe, Mexico and Canada, as well as recent appearances on the hit film “The Help” and FX’s popular “American Horror Story: Coven.” He’ll bring his high-flying and exhuberant story-telling to Charlotte on June 13. His performance, “Show Pony,” is sponsored by the Hearts Beat as One Foundation, a new organization created to raise funds and awareness for local charities.
qnotes recently had a casual Q&A with Jordan, who shared stories from the road, about his family and more, from his home in Los Angeles. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Matt Comer: Hello, Leslie!
Leslie Jordan: Oh, it’s just wonderful to hear your southern drawl.
It’s good to hear yours, too (laughs). How are you doing today?
Well, I’m having a good day. It’s a little overcast here in Hollywood. I don’t know what that’s all about. And, it’s kind of cool. We’ve had this unseasonably hot weather recently, so it’s kind of nice. It’s all good.
I thought Los Angeles was supposed to be the land of sunshine and rainbows?
Well, kind of (laughs). We have our gray days. I love ‘em. Because you wake up and think, “Oh, another fucking beautiful day!” (laughs) It’s kind of nice to have a gray day.
So you’re coming down to Charlotte, soon. Looking forward to it?
Years ago, we did a tour of my show, “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet.” We did about 45 cities in a year. Our two favorite cities — out of all the cities like San Francisco and San Diego — our two favorite cities were Portland, Ore., and Charlotte.
Oh, really! What was so nice about Charlotte?
They had us in a beautiful old hotel downtown, down by the Capital Grille. The Dunhill. I don’t know what it was, we just really loved it and the people. Of course, I spent the first 25 years of my life desperately trying to get out of the South and the last 25 so far desperately trying to go back any chance I get (laughs).
We do certainly enjoy you here. What can we expect from your show this time?
What I’m going to do for this one with the Hearts Beat as One Foundation is “Show Pony.” It’s just me and a mic. I tell stories about what’s going on, starting with stories about “American Horror Story” and some wonderful stories about “The Help.” I did an episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” that was sort of disastrous. I have some funny stories about that and, who knows, sometimes I get kind of dirty. Oh, I have all kinds of stories (laughs).
You’re in for a busy season here, but I hear you get to see family, too?
I’m going to New Orleans for two days and then up to Baltimore for the gay film festival there and then straight down to Charlotte. Then I have a week off, so I said don’t fly me back to Los Angeles. Have those people in Charlotte save themselves some money and fly me down to Atlanta, and I’ll rent a car and go see my momma and then drive up to a show I have in Lexington, Ken.
Do you get to see family often?
I get to see them enough (laughs.) I love my family. My family consists of just my mother and my twin sisters. You know, my mother had me when she was 19. I’m 59 and, my god, I was thinking the other day that my mother is 79. You’d never know it. I don’t know how this happened, but my mother used to live out in California with us forever and one day my mother said out of the blue, “I’m going to go home, kids.” I said, “To Chattanooga?! My god, you live in Laguna Beach! It’s paradise!” She said, “I don’t care. I want to go home.” I was able to find her a beautiful condo and she fixed it up. My two sisters went to live back there later. Those three ladies all live together. You think I’m a big talker? I’m the quiet one in that bunch! But, it is always good to go home.
So, you say you have a birthday coming up. 60! Looking foward to it?
Yes, and my mother will be 80. I told her we were all going to go get face lifts! (laughs) She said she didn’t want a face lift, so we’ll think of something really fun to do. I did take them all to Barcelona on a gay cruise here recently. It was a disaster! (laughs)
Oh, why? What did they think?
They had been on gay cruises before, but they had been on cruises with maybe 700 or so gay people, but also a lot of straight people as well. This particular cruise was an RSVP Cruise, an all gay cruise. It went from Barcelona, down to Casa Blanca and over to Ibiza. It was swanky. But, my mother had problems traveling all the way from Atlanta. We got to Barcelona at 8 in the morning and the hotel rooms weren’t going to be ready until 3. I had to pull them aside. I said, “I don’t care if you have to find a broom closet. My mother’s got to get some rest. She’s been on a plane for 12 hours.” And la la la, it was just one thing after another. But, we still had a pretty good time. There was a clothing-optional deck that my twin sisters wandered into accidentally. They noticed what I notice — that gay men don’t get completely naked. There is like a lot of decoration down there around their privates! Things you don’t even know what they are — cock rings and carrying on and on!
Well, you’ve been traveling quite a lot lately. I’ve heard you’ve done gigs in Europe and Mexico and Canada. Sounds like you’ve been busy!
Oh, I have not stopped. I went to Spain to shoot a sitcom. And, you know, I’m very popular in the U.K. right now, because “Will & Grace” is still popular. I also do my one-man shows in London. I’m a storyteller and they just love that — a little old boy from Chattanooga on the West End of London! (laughs) I did a sitcom there called “Benidorm.” If you want a laugh, I swear I think it’s as funny as “AB Fab.” It’s been on the air for about 8 years. It’s about this kind of white trash family from the north of England and it’s almost like an English version of “Del Shores.” It stars the girl who played O’Brien on “Downton Abbey.” Honey, I couldn’t believe it. I met her and she has all this blonde air and these great, great big ol’ boobies and she plays kind of a trashy, cigarette-smoking mother kind of like Peg Bundy. I kept thinking I know her from somewhere and someone told me she was O’Brien. I thought, my god, they really made her look dowdy, but she’s not. She’s like a show girl! (laughs)
You’ve done lots of TV, films and stage. Which do you prefer?
I like I get to do all of it. But, you cannot beat the immediacy of having an audience. I just love performing in front of an audience. But, I love that television money! (laughs) You just can’t beat it. You can make more in three days doing television than you make out on the road for one month or two months.
What do you enjoy so much about your personal performances?
I get to play myself. I decided a long time ago that I would never be like a Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep, where you just disappear into a role. I’m kind of like Dolly! (laughs) There’s just a lot of me! To tell you the truth, without sounding conceited, I have never played a character or asked to play a character that I didn’t think was more interesting than me in real life. So, I just play me. : :
Photos: Kelly Smith, courtesy Reaction Productions