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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deeper Dish with Leslie Jordan


Leslie Jordan has always made me laugh ever since I first saw him on a 1989 episode of Murphy Brown, in which he played one of Candice Bergen's secretaries. I also enjoyed him on the John Ritter sitcom, Hearts Afire, back in 1993-95, but the actor is now best known for two of his more recent--and hilarious--characters:

Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram, the cross-dressing Tammy Wynette-impersonating homosexual in the 2000 "black comedy about white trash", Sordid Lives, and its 2008 TV series prequel.

And Beverley Leslie, Karen Walker's nemesis on TV's Will & Grace (this recurring role earned him an Emmy Award for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 2006).

I'm not the only one who adores both Brother Boy and Beverley, who have gained Jordan many fans. The openly gay man is also an accomplished stage actor and playwright, having written and starred in his autobiographical play, Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel (which was made into a film in 2000), and three successful one-man shows, Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far, Like a Dog on Linoleum, and My Trip Down the Pink Carpet (which was based on his 2008 autobiography). Jordan can currently be seen in the film, Eating Out: All You Can Eat, and next month (December 10-20) he will be performing his brand new show, Full of Gin and Regret, at L.A.'s Renberg Theatre with his special guest, singer/actress Alexandra Billings.

Leslie Jordan has come a long way since he boarded a bus bound for Hollywood in 1982 with $1,200 sewn into his underpants. And I couldn't be more honored and thrilled to have this fabulous man here on the Dish to discuss his career and answer a few pop culture questions.

Let's start with your new show, Full of Gin and Regret. What's it about?

It's basically stand-up. I have three main stories, including my time on Will & Grace, but nothing is set in stone. The title is from one of Beverley Leslie's lines, "Well, well, well, Karen Walker--I thought I smelled gin and regret."

What is the most memorable moment you have had while touring with your previous one-man shows?

One night when I was doing Like a Dog on Linoleum, I peeked out and there was Phyllis Diller in the audience. She and Carol Burnett were my childhood idols, and I used to pretend to be her when I was a kid. So I called my mom and said, "You’re never going to believe this." Phyllis was so tiny--a little bitty thing like me--and she was really old with her wig all askew. I waited for her after the show. She told me, "Happiness is a choice", and I remember she was crying so hard, her false eyelashes fell off.



We, of course, have to talk about Sordid Lives. How did you first meet Del Shores and become involved with Sordid Lives?

I was Del's best man at his wedding, and I'm the godfather of his children. I have great gaydar, so I was surprised when I learned he was gay. Del was married to Kelly, the daughter of Dr. Eve and Wardell--Rosemary and Newell Alexander, who are married in real life. I’ve known Del forever.

As for Sordid Lives, I gave Del a book of short stories to read when he was having a lull in his own career. It was called Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason, a wonderful Kentucky writer. It inspired him to write three short stories--"Nicotine Fit" about three women trying to stop smoking, "The De-Homosexualization of Brother Boy" about a drag queen being held in a hospital, and another one about a woman going into a bar and holding up her husband with a gun for cheating on her. Del later combined them all into a play, Sordid Lives, and I told him that there was too much going on in it. Thank God he didn’t listen to me.

What has been your favorite Brother Boy scene?

My favorite scene is when he tells Dr. Eve off and says, "Now if you’ll PLEASE excuse me...I have a show to do."



In a war of words, who would win--Brother Boy or Beverley Leslie?

Beverley Leslie--only because he’s so much cleverer. Brother Boy is a little dim.

On your website, you mention that Megan Mullally is thinking of developing a musical around her Will & Grace character, Karen Walker. If Karen and Beverley could sing a duet, what song would you choose?

It would have to be an original tune. Something that starts with "Well, well, well" and goes back and forth like a takeoff on that Bea Arthur song, "Bosom Buddies". My favorite Karen line is when she says to me: "Beverley Leslie, you look more like a woman every time I see you." And I love my line when I walk into a room and see Karen and Grace together: "Well, well, well. Karen Walker and her Jewess." It's so politically incorrect.

You grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and moved to Hollywood in 1982. In three words, how would you describe each place?

Chattanooga: Frozen. Backward. Fad.

Hollywood: Liberating. Exhilarating. Through the roof. When I got off the bus in '82 and saw West Hollywood, I was home.

You've appeared on many different TV series over the years. What's the first thing that pops into your mind about:

Murphy Brown?

The break.

Hearts Afire?

Memorable. It was a blast working with John Ritter, Billy Bob Thornton, Conchata Ferrell and Markie Post.

12 Miles of Bad Road (a series that HBO decided not to air in 2008 after filming six episodes)?

Heartbreaking. It was brilliant, but then HBO brought in a prissy queen who hated it from day one.



In high school I was:

Popular but terrified--because I had a secret.

If I had to gain 30 pounds for a role, I would eat:

Pasta and pizza. And bread--lots of bread.

The last good book I read was:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:

Green Acres. And My Friend Flicka and Fury--I’ve always loved horses. I wrote my first fan letter to Bobby Diamond, the star of Fury.

Today I never miss a television episode of:

The First 48 on A&E. It’s a reality show that follows the first 48 hours of a murder investigation. They show the body and everything. I’ve always been fascinated by forensics.

The very first record album that I purchased with my own money was:

The Beatles--their very first album with all their faces. I liked Paul, the cute one. And my first 45 was “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris.

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:

Joan Baez from my early hippie days and Bonnie Raitt. I’m not into S&M (Streisand and Midler).

Six movies that I think everyone should be required to watch are:

To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck.
Raging Bull--I don’t know what that's all about. I’m not even a boxing fan.
Garbo Talks, a wonderful movie--and one of the most underrated.
My Little Chickadee with Mae West.
Altman's Nashville and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which is a perfectly cast movie.

If I could give an Oscar for any neglected film performance of the past, I would give one to:

Anne Bancroft in Garbo Talks.

If I could star on Broadway in any role in any musical or play, I would be:

Beverley Leslie in Karen Walker: The Musical.

If I could have anyone in the world--living or dead--be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:

Joan Didion, who wrote The Year of Magical Thinking. She changed my life when I was a 14-year-old hippie with her book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Jesus Christ--to find out what really is supposed to be going on and to see if he really exists. And Montgomery Clift.



What's next for Leslie Jordan?

Two things loom. I’ve been desperately trying to get on Dancing with the Stars, but they’ve turned me down the last three seasons. I’m a good dancer, but I don’t have the same level of fame as someone like Tori Spelling. And since I fell out of my mother’s womb and landed in her high heels, I would try to be masculine and butch it up if I got on Dancing.

I’ve also just been talking to some investors, and I’m hoping to bring My Trip Down the Pink Carpet to Off-Broadway in February. It would be great to first appear on Dancing with the Stars and parlay that into the New York show. I think it would sell some tickets.

Thank you, Leslie, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish (and I hope to see you on Dancing in the near future). Click here to purchase tickets to Leslie's show, Full of Gin and Regret, at L.A.'s Renberg Theatre or call the box office at 323-860-7300. For information on other upcoming appearances, check out his website at www.thelesliejordan.com. You can also become a Facebook fan by clicking here.

2 comments:

Caleb Country said...

What a fun interview. I really enjoyed that. Thanks Marc and Leslie!

Deep Dish said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the interview! :)