by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
DANCING QUEEN: THE MUSIC OF ABBA
SEATTLE MEN'S CHORUS WITH LESLIE JORDAN
Leslie Jordan can talk. A lot. The lady can chatter like no one's business. But what intrigued me most during our lengthy conversation was how earnest he was - speaking honestly about his highs and lows, successes and disappointments as if we were best girlfriends sipping sweet tea on a porch swing. Widely recognized for his Emmy-winning role as Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace, Jordan has appeared in hundreds of film and television projects over the past 30 years, including The Help, Boston Legal, Sordid Lives, and last week's installment of RuPaul's Drag Race. The 4-foot-11 actor/comedian will star alongside the Seattle Men's Chorus in Dancing Queen: The Music of Abba on back-to-back nights, April 6 and 7. (Tickets are available at www.seattlemenschorus.com.) This is what came up for discussion when I spoke with the very funny - and very Southern-accented - Leslie Jordan.
Rodriguez: When's the last time you were in Seattle?
Jordan: I have had several appearances with the Seattle Men's Chorus over the years, not only for their shows but I've been up a few times to help them raise money. I came up and we did a wonderful breakfast with some investors and they were raising money for the chorus, so it wasn't too long ago that I was there. I adore the whole crew with the Seattle Men's Chorus & it's just such a beautifully run outfit. I was robbed at the fish market, which is not a good thing to say. [laughs] You know, where they throw those fish back and forth? Somebody pickpocketed me! I had my bag, my man-purse, and it's very easy to open the flap where I keep my wallet. I went to eat down there and went to go for my wallet and it wasn't there! I was pickpocketed at the fish market. [laughs hysterically] And I still have no grudge. I love Seattle with all my heart.
Rodriguez: Do you have any favorite places to go in Seattle, any haunts?
Jordan: What I do in Seattle is the same I do in any city - I just get up in the morning and I wander. I love that whole district with that beautiful library you have. They usually put me up at the W, or somewhere right in there, and I wander down to that fish market and do the touristy stuff. I found wonderful little restaurants here and there. I love going to a little chocolate place that makes chocolates, and a little bookstore-slash-coffee shop. People are always apologizing about the weather. Oh, I love the rain! I don't care about the rain at all. I'll get out and walk in it.
Rodriguez: I've seen My Trip Down the Pink Carpet several times. Was that just a DVD special, or did you take that show on the road?
Jordan: The way that happened was I wrote the book, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. I had a dear friend in Dallas, Texas, who was a book agent. He ended up at Simon & Schuster in acquisition and for years had told me, 'Write down 10 of those funny dinner-party stories and I'm gonna publish a book for you called Can You See My Pussy Now?' I started laughing and said, 'Oh, I think that's a terrible title.' He said, 'We'll have you on a chaise lounge with a cat.' But anyway, I have a dear friend named Dave Morgan, who has a marketing company. He's real good at marketing and I said, 'Help me sell this book.' Well, he came up with this idea that we'd do four to five cities in a tour bus and I would tell stories from the book and then we'd sell it at Gay venues around the country.
Well, that morphed into a one-man show based on the book. I hired my dear friend David Galligan to direct and we hit the road and did more cities, and it ended up Off-Broadway. A guy named Robert Bruce Harris brought Lily Tomlin on board and we did a long run in New York, and then we took it to London. My new show is called Fruit Fly and we are taking it apart and adding ABBA music, and that's what you're going to get in Seattle. My new show answers that age-old question, 'Do Gay men become their mothers?' It's going to be quite a dog-and-pony show.
Rodriguez: You admitted on that DVD to having a crush on Mark Harmon. Do you still?
Jordan: [laughs] It's so funny you said that. I was channel-hopping last night and I've got this young man - you know I've always got a young man working about. But this one's young. Here I am at 58 courting a 24-year-old boy! And that television show that Mark Harmon is on [NCIS] flashed on and I said to my friend, 'He's aged so beautifully.' He said, 'I don't know who that is!' and I regaled him with all my Mark Harmon stories. Yes, I still have a crush on him, to answer your question. I think he's the most handsome man.
He told me the funniest story I've ever heard. When he was 17 years old he was a lifeguard at Santa Monica Beach, with long hippie hair. He said the biggest fear of lifeguards was when someone drowns they don't go to the bottom - a lot of times they'll float midway and fill with gases and just pop out of nowhere. The first day on the job, he was sitting in his lifeguard station and a body popped. He saw it floating out there. He was freaking out and called his superiors and they said, 'Get on your longboard and paddle out there and hold it in place, and we'll send the Coast Guard to come get it.' He got out there and it was a cow! It was a great, big dead cow! [laughs] The crew in the boat started laughing at him holding onto that dead cow and said, 'Pull it to shore and we'll send a truck to come get it,' and they left him right there in the middle of the ocean with this dead cow! He pushed and it wouldn't move and he devised this idea. At the end of his surfboard was a rope and he swam under the cow and put the rope completely around the cow and then he got on his board and started paddling, and it moved. So he's paddling this dead cow to shore and all of the sudden it split in two. [laughs hysterically] When he told me that story, I told everybody I knew and then the last time I saw him, not many years ago, he said, 'I've gotten more mileage out of that dead cow story.'
Rodriguez: You were on the final season of Desperate Housewives. Were there any catfights off-camera?
Jordan: Here's what happened, as I saw it. Eva Longoria and the redheaded one, Marcia Cross, are joined at the hip. They're good friends. Teri Hatcher, I've known forever. I did the first season of Lois & Clark and I've worked with Teri many, many times over the years. I actually adore Teri. She comes off as difficult to work with because she's a real perfectionist. She wants it to be right, and sometimes in TV you've got a crew of 80 who just want to go home. Anyway, she apparently doesn't speak to any of them. I didn't see any interaction there. William Macy's wife, what's her name, Felicity Huffman. She was pleasant, but I didn't see her speaking to any of them either. They just seemed miserable. Nine years is a long time and these hour-long shows are 12- to 14-hour days. It's hard, hard work. Even though they're pampered in making $500,000 an episode, it's hard work, so I saw both sides of the coin. But, oh Lord, there's more drama backstage than on stage!
Rodriguez: What about Vanessa Williams? She a big hag.
Jordan: She wasn't there that day. I know Vanessa. I did Ugly Betty and had a couple of scenes with her and I really like her. People think when you work on a show that you trade phone numbers. I don't have a phone number of anyone on Will & Grace. It's a job, you go and do your work. I don't have any complaints with Desperate Housewives. I just like a happy set, and it wasn't a happy set. I recently worked on Raising Hope and that's a happy set. I just love when people are having a good time. I always question the transportation department. They're responsible for taking the actors to and from the set to their homes. You can get all the good dirt from them. [laughs] They told me those four girls on Desperate Housewives wouldn't ride in the same van. I thought, 'That is so silly that they won't ride in the same van with each other.'
Rodriguez: You also worked on The Neighbors with Jami Gertz. I'm such a fan of hers.
Jordan: I adore her. She's everything you think she would be. She's had one of those careers that you forget about. She was on that Square Pegs with Sarah Jessica Parker when they were like 15 years old. She's been around as long as me. She is lovely, as real as could be. I cannot say enough about her. I've always thought that if you're going to have a TV show and people come in to work on your show, you're the hostess. People look up to you. Not to say anything against Miss DeGeneres, but I worked on the Ellen show and never got a hello from her. If you're the hostess, you're the one that needs to say, 'Hello, welcome to our show. Is there anything you need?' I love the way in which Jami the minute she saw me said, 'We feel so honored to have you.'
Rodriguez: You've been in the industry a long time and back when you started there were no openly Gay actors. How you feel about the way the industry has changed for Gay actors?
Jordan: I got off the bus in '82 and back then all the casting people were Gay, the producers were Gay, you'd see them at the bars - we all went to the bars. But during work it was all wink-wink. I have never been closeted, I think because I was a character actor and didn't care one way or the other. I've had management handling me who were Gay. I've had the same manager for 30-some-odd years, Billy Miller, and they would tell me 'Now, keep your feet on the ground with this one. Butch it up, honey.' [laughs] It was just a fiasco!
I'm at the point where the only thing they'll cast me for is an older Gay man, period. I'll tell you a little secret. My 30 years in the business the only people that have ever opposed me, or anytime I have ever had trouble in this business, was from other Gay men. That's a little-known secret that Gay men do not support other Gay men in the entertainment industry.
Rodriguez: Where do you keep your Emmy?
Jordan: I'm looking at her now. She had an accident - her ball broke. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason asked me to bring her to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, for a charity event and I said, 'Absolutely not.' She begged me - you know, she's the one who created Designing Women and I've worked with her over the years - and so I put it in my suitcase because they wouldn't let me carry it on board, and then they lost my luggage. I was beside myself - my Emmy was lost! When I got it back, it was broken. So I tried to glue the globe she holds back on, so bless her heart she's just a mess. She's got glue running down her arms. But it's a nice conversation piece.
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