Leslie Jordan is a talker.
I’d spent the morning being nervous about our upcoming interview, having barely had time to research him and scrape together a few questions. I wanted to sound professional, right?
It turns out I needn’t have worried, because Leslie was prepared, even if I wasn’t. I’m not sure why that would surprise me, because he’s given far more interviews than I’ve ever done. He’s so good, he could even give an interview while he’s chasing down his mother’s dog after it had surreptitiously slipped the bonds of the condo Leslie had bought for his mother. Like he did with me.
“I’ve got to catch Mother’s dog,” he tells me breathlessly.
“We have a little dog named Conway Twitty,” he adds, as he hands the dog back to his mother. “It’s always something.”
It is always something for a hard-working Jordan, because he’s always working. Even today, when he’s in the middle of trip to visit his mother, he’s on the phone with me for an interview.
“I came to my mother’s because I had about six weeks off,” he explains, “and that hadn’t happened in years.”
“It’s hard,” he adds. “I work hard, and I’m 61 in a month.”
He’s probably best known for his TV appearances; first for his Emmy® award winning role as Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace, and more recently as Quentin Fleming on the 4th season of American Horror Story or Harold Blackly in the 2011 movie The Help. He’s also starred in many commercials, had several touring shows, and even published a book.
It wasn’t always that way of course. Fresh off the Trailways bus in Hollywood, with $1,200 sewn into his underwear, the young star-to-be faced more than your typical Hollywood newcomer. Unlike some other gay actors, who started (and are continuing) their careers in the closet, Jordan didn’t have that luxury. Playing it straight wasn’t a choice.
“The networks would say all these nice things: You know what? Funny,” he says, describing the frequent results of his auditions. “They loved the character. Funny. And I’d have to say: There’s a ‘but’ in this room. What’s the but?”
Of course his comedic chops have never been in dispute, as anyone who’s seen him perform could attest. But this was the early 80’s, and television just wasn’t ready for someone like Jordan.
“They would say that we don’t think we can have a character as openly gay as you,” he confirms.
“Now why didn’t I do what Ellen [DeGeneres] did,” he asks. “She never tried to pass. We all knew. But her plan from Day 1 was: When my show hits #1, I’m gonna come out, and they can’t touch me or bother me. I didn’t do that.
“Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not,” he adds. “In retrospect, what would I… Ellen could pass somewhat. I can’t!”
But persistence paid off in Jordan’s case.
“I’m so lucky that, in 1992, I had my first one man show that went to off-Broadway and ran 7 or 8 months,” he tells me. “And then I didn’t do much. I did TV for a long time, and then that dried up a little bit. And then I hit the road with a show about my recovery which was Like a Dog on Linoleum. And I did that for years. And then it morphed into Pink Carpet, which Lily Tomlin produced.
“So, what happens is… Lily said to me before she produced my show, she said: You make money out on the road? And I said: Well Lily, it’s $1600 to ship my set. She said: Your set? Oh no, honey. Just you and a mic and a turtleneck is what I travel with.
“I said: Well, I’ll leave that turtleneck behind.”
Still, despite all of his apparent success, Jordan hadn’t progressed much beyond the fame and success he achieved on Will & Grace. Always a co-star, never a star. For Jordan, it was all about how he marketed himself.
“I guess it started when I won that Emmy®,” he tells me, “and then I thought: Well, I’m set. And nothing happened. Nothing. I called my manager and said I can’t eat this Emmy®.”
“I didn’t know what branding was,” he confesses. “This was way before the Kardashians. I just knew I wanted to… I could sell me.”
Things began to change for Jordan when he helped to start up a Palm Springs marketing firm.
“It’s amazing,” he admits. “I’m Grand Marshall of the Capitol Pride in Washington. I’m throwing the first pitch out for the Washington Nationals. I do Bear conventions. P-town.”
Not to mention the hundreds of appearances he’s made on stage, on television, and on the big screen throughout his career. Still, it’s added up to a lot of work for Jordan, who’s recently been thinking about the future.
“You know what my goal is,” he asks me. “I’ll tell you, it’s the truth. I want to quit traveling so much, and the only town I can think of that I can land in and keep this ship afloat would be Vegas.”
“Now, I certainly ain’t Elton, or Olivia Newton John,” he admits. “I know both of ‘em.”
What, then, is Jordan’s vision for his own Las Vegas residency?
“I’m writing on it right now,” he explains. “It’s called When You Swish Upon A Star. I had showgirls. I got rid of the showgirls this morning. I wanted 12 fully nude showgirls and a tiny fairy, and I wanted to tell my stories. I’ve added, this morning, it hit me: I want a black diva with a big voice, I want a white diva with a big voice, and I want a very young diva. I’ve got 3 in mind. And I want to tell stories while they bellow and sing and carry on. We’ll see!”
“By the time I get to Seattle I may have a little bit of it ready,” he adds, teasing.
Even with all the plans that he’s making, Jordan shares that he finally feels like he’s in a very good place in his life.
“I’ll tell you something,” he says. “My real, true contentment and happiness didn’t begin until I was 59. There was a day, I can’t remember when, that I thought, what an interesting thing to wake up and think, if you could put me anywhere in the world, I’d just be fine right where I am.”
Perhaps When You Swish Upon A Star will have Jordan rubbing elbows with Elton, Celine, Britney, and the other Vegas glitterati. If he’s to be believed, you may even get a chance to catch a sneak preview when Jordan makes a stop in Seattle at the end of March to appear in the latest installment of Triple Threat with Kimball Allen, a recurring, 90-minute, live variety talk show. Triple Threat is happening on Thursday, March 31 at the Triple Door. You can find more information or purchase tickets on their website.