He’s well-known for his many guest appearances on shows such as “Boston Legal,” “Desperate Housewives,” and “Will & Grace,” for which he won an Emmy in 2006, but accomplished actor/writer Leslie Jordan has played a leading role in bringing awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community through stage and film.
Hailing from Chattanooga, Tenn., Jordan, 57, never thought there were enough gay role models for youth to emulate until homosexuality began making a more blatant presence in film in the 1980s—about the same time Jordan did after getting his foot in the door with commercial work. Some argue that shows like “Will & Grace” changed the playing field in how mainstream Americans began viewing homosexuality. Jordan was just glad to be a part of it.
A self-admitted alcoholic who has been sober for 15 years; a party boy of the 1970s and being close friends with the likes of Lily Tomlin and Olivia Newton-John has given Jordan plenty of fodder to entertain the masses, gay and straight alike. In his latest one-man show “Fruit Fly,” he directs his focus to his mother and growing up in the hills of Tennessee with a collection of pictures and stories in the largest venue to date at the Pensacola Saenger Theatre on May 27. As delightful, poignant and hysterical as many of his rolls are, so was the conversation when he took some time to talk to Independent News.
IN: I think it’s inevitable that most people become their mothers, and that’s the premise of your one-man show “Fruit Fly.” Without giving away any of the show, can you tell me a little about it?
JORDAN: When I told my mother I thought I was gay, I was about 12 or 13, so immediately I was sent to Christian therapists and they prayed over me. They prayed and prayed and prayed. It’s a wonder I’m sane! When you have those thoughts ringing through your head of the Devil, you think, “Wooooo, he’s got a loud voice!” Over the years my mother and I developed this wonderful “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I knew, she knew, but it came to a big head about three years ago when I invited her, out of the blue, on a gay cruise. I was performing for about 2,000 gay men. This was about three or four years ago. Then something really amazing happened that gave me the idea for the play. My mother and I are on the phone daily. This was a wonderful thing that mended our relationship. That was the idea for “Fruit Fly.” I began thinking, “Lord, honey! I’m running out of things to write about.” So I just wrote this lovely tribute to my mother, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I took a whole bunch of stories and I sat down and clearly knew I wanted to go from A to B. Pensacola will be the first time it’s played in a large arena. I’m real interested to see how it goes. It involves a lot of pictures and slides. So far, it’s played wonderfully.
IN: You are probably best known for your guest-starring role on “Will & Grace” and, to many of us, “Brother Boy” in “Sordid Lives.” Can you tell me what it was like to work with the actors of those shows?
JORDAN: I always judge famous people by how they treat my family. People think that when you work with famous people, you end up as best friends. That’s just not true. Now, Megan (Mullally) I talk to quite a bit. She’s kind of kicking back. Her husband (Nick Offerman) is on “Parks and Recreation.” He’s the burly guy on there. She’s letting him work right now. Olivia (Newton-John) and I got to be very friendly. I am an acting coach, and I coach her daughter Chloe. She’s one of the few that I have worked with that I absolutely adore.
IN: The hot topic right now in the LGBT community is President Obama’s support of gay marriage. What impact do you think this will have on the future of gay marriage?
JORDAN: He’s the first sitting president who has supported gay marriage. It’s just inevitable now. It’s going to happen. But sometimes, I get madder at the gays than I do at the straights. “He didn’t to this, and he didn’t to that.” We have wars—gay marriage is very important, but he will get to us when he can. I swear that there are some gays that won’t be satisfied. I am of a generation that when I see boys holding hands in L.A., they have no idea of what the older generation had to go through just to hold hands, much less get married. I have a new platform. I was not sober until I was 42—and I can’t even believe I am admitting this—but I had never registered to vote. I was in the bars seven-to-eight nights a week. Who had time to vote? These young gay people have to register to vote! Encourage the readers to go and vote. Honey, you can be hung over, just get to the polls and push for Obama. For a sitting American president to endorse gay marriage is beyond our wildest dreams, so get over it you queens that it’s not happening immediately.
IN: Do you think shows like “Will and Grace” and others that brought homosexuality into mainstream culture contributed to this paradigm shift?
JORDAN: When I won that Emmy, I was happy to have been a part of a show that did so much for my tribe. America welcomed those characters into their homes. Progress, honey, progress. There are two ways to combat homophobia: put a face on it and … humor. You can get your message across that way.
IN: I love the story about when you were growing up Baptist that you were baptized 14 times. Can you please share that again with our readers?
JORDAN: When I was a kid, I had a secret. People don’t realize, and when I talk to people from other generations that don’t realize how deep and dark and scary it was if you have sin in your heart. I was scared to death. My mother would say, “Son you’re already saved! Remain seated!” I’ve been baptized in creeks, swimming pools, everywhere. It just never did take. You just could not wash me clean. When I went to Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, I walked in and burst into tears. My friend asked me, “Why are you crying?” I have never thought in my life that I could walk into a place of worship with my tribe. The strides that we have made are phenomenal. I’m so honored to have been a small part of it. When I started “Will & Grace,” guys were coming to me saying: “My wife watches that show,” and “My girlfriend watched that show.” It was never them who said they watched the show. By the end, I had construction workers yelling at me saying, “Hey, you’re on that show!”—That was progress.
LESLIE JORDAN STARRING IN “FRUIT FLY”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 27
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: Tickets start at $42 (plus applicable service charges)