“Miss? Are you going to clean my room next? No? I need you to clean it now, por favor.” Leslie Jordan is talking to me on the phone at the same time he’s “talking” to a maid outside his hotel room. He’s in Austin, “hot-as-hell” Texas, to perform My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, the same one-man show he’ll perform at the Newmark Theatre on July 1. “They don’t speak a word of English,” he mutters. “Next time I’m going straight to the Border Patrol!”
The sassy-mouthed Southern sissyboy is best known for his Emmy-winning role as bitchy “Beverly Leslie” on the queer sitcom Will & Grace. But while the stars of that show are stuck with the Seinfeld curse—their characters are so familiar to viewers they have a hard time being accepted in other roles—the openly queer Jordan’s career is mucho grande. Not only has he written books since W&G wrapped, he’s also appeared onstage and on TV shows (Ugly Betty) and will soon star in the Logo network’s Sordid Lives with Olivia Newtown-John and The Golden Girls’ Rue McClanahan.
It hasn’t always been mint juleps and magnolias for the 4-foot-11-inch actor from Chattanooga, Tenn. He lost his father in a plane crash when he was 11, and he’s seen his share of drama as a drug-addicted adult, too (including a stint in prison with Robert Downey Jr., no less). But Jordan is upbeat, even when he talks about the downside of being on a successful sitcom. “[The four stars of W&G] were each making $750,000 an episode when I was only making $7,500,” says Jordan. “One year they were each given their own Porsche. But one day I’ll get discovered and then I’ll be an overnight success.”
His chipper attitude serves him well off-screen, too. Although he’s never been in what you call a long-term relationship, he’s lived next to famous men (Luke Perry used to spend Thanksgivings with Jordan) and lived with not-so-famous men. “The longest was with a straight man who was sort of ‘gay for pay.’ I was his sugar daddy for four years,” he reminisces. “It was so tumultuous. He shot me with a crossbow.”
When I asked Jordan if the man was an actor too, his reply shut me up: “Lord God, no! He was a redheaded cowboy from Texas. The real thing, not like when you go to gay bars and see these cowboys that look like cowboys but then they open their mouths and 50 yards of purple chiffon flows out. Honey, he was right off the rodeo circuit. And he shot me with a crossbow; he’s in prison. I live with another straight guy. I adore him. He takes care of me. I call the big, beautiful straight boys who take care of me my ‘poodles.’
“I’m a high-school cheerleader stuck in a 53-year-old man’s body. If you were to cut me open, Hannah Montana would jump out. I’m in my prime. I really am.”
Web Extra Anecdote: The Sissyboy Bride
When I told Jordan about a friend whose child was starting to display sissyboy tendencies, he shared the following story with me:
“My daddy was a lieutenant colonel in the Army. He was a good man. I adored him. But I always felt I was a disappointment to him. He was killed in a plane crash when I was 11. I was haunted with this feeling of inadequacy. I didn’t even know what I was at that time. I just knew that I wasn’t what little boys should be.
“But I just flew my mother out to California for my 53rd birthday two weeks ago. While we were sitting at dinner, she said, ‘I’m going to write a book.’ And I said, ‘Are you?’ And she said, ‘Uh-huh, I’m collecting my stories.’ That’s when my sister said: ‘Tell him the bride doll story.’ As she told me it, I just sat there with my mouth open and thought, had you told me this story years ago, I wouldn’t have been in therapy for years.
“My mother told me I was 3 years old when we went to a wedding. When the bride came down the aisle, she said my eyes lit up. I did not move a muscle. I did not make a peep. I could not take my eyes off that bride. When we got home she heard me in the next room with my cousin Karen playing “Brides and Grooms.” My cousin Karen was the “groom” and I was the “bride.” I had an angel food cake tin on my head and I’d walk up and down the aisle like the bride. Well, when Santa Claus asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, “Bride doll! Bride doll! I want bride doll!” Now, you have to understand, this is 1958. This is the hills of Tennessee. What is the worst thing that a dad can think? That his kid’s going to be queer. And here I am, wanting a bride doll. So my daddy said, ‘Over my dead body. I’m not getting him a bride doll.’
“And so on Christmas Eve, all I could talk about was how I couldn’t wait for my bride doll. My mother finally went to my daddy and said, ‘You’re going to have to explain to our boy why he can’t have a bride doll, because I’m not. I don’t know how.’ My daddy, my lieutenant colonel daddy, went out in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1958 and scoured that town and found his 3-year-old son the most beautiful bride doll. And when I came down the steps and saw it was under that tree, I squatted on the floor and peed. Isn’t that hilarious? I said, ‘Mother that’s the ending to my book! I could have had a wonderful ending. Me squatting on the floor and peeing over a bride doll!’”
SEE IT: My Trip Down the Pink Carpet at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 224-4400. 8 pm Tuesday, July 1. $44-$55.50.