Leslie Jordan dishes on 'The Help' co-star Emma Stone, 'Will and Grace,' and his one-man show
In the production he shares a collection of funny stories, from his experiences in Hollywood, to growing up with an Army General father while being a "baton twirling boy," to his role in the cult-classic film Sordid Lives with Olivia Newton John.
It may be a surprise to people that this veteran performer didn't always want to act. He grew up riding horses, and worked as a race-horse jockey. When he realized that he wasn't good enough to make it in that profession, he enrolled in school at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to pursue a degree in journalism. Jordan was encouraged to take a theater class to fulfill an art elective credit, and instantly fell in love with improvisation.
"I've always been funny, but I think that it was more to keep the bullies at bay when I was a kid," Jordan says. "Improv just hit me like a drug. I went to the head of the theater department and said, 'This is what I want to do.' After I got a degree in theater I thought, 'I either have to go to New York or L.A. and if I'm going to starve as an actor then I'd rather starve with a tan."
He took a Greyhound bus from his home state of Tennessee to California with the hope of becoming a television and movie actor. With $1,200 sewn into his underpants, he found an apartment, and used his last bit of money to take a situation comedy acting class, as he had never worked in front of a camera. His teacher told him he was "commercial gold" and that he would have the best luck shooting television commercials. Initially, he didn't like the idea, but found great success as Pip the printing guy and as the spokesman for Del Taco.
While Jordan was always openly gay in Hollywood, and now refers to himself as "the gayest man I know," he was not always comfortable with his sexuality. He says he didn't realize how riddled with internal homophobia he was until he spent a brief stint in jail for a DUI. He decided to quit drinking and doing drugs for good at age 42. A spiritual advisor concluded that Jordan's biggest fear in life seemed to be heterosexual men.
"I told him that it wasn't exactly a picnic on the playground, and I never felt like I measured up to my dad," he says. "I wasn't good at sports, I twirled a baton, and I played with Barbies."
He decided to face his fear, and joined a 12-step recovery program with a group of straight males. It was terrifying for him, but it ended up being a blessing.
"It taught me what it means to be a man," he says. "It has nothing to do with how far you can throw a football, or how many women you've bedded, or whatever else I thought it meant to be a man. I was under the impression that heterosexual men didn't have shame or fear. I don't know where I got that. Trust me, heterosexual males are riddled with shame and fear.
Everyone is -- it's a human thing."
One of Jordan's most well-known television characters is Beverly Leslie, the closeted homosexual on Will and Grace. Interestingly, the part was originally written for Joan Collins. She and Megan Mullally, who played Karen Walker, were supposed to get in a fight over Rosario, Karen's maid. The scene was supposed to end with the women pulling each other's wigs off. When Joan's management rejected the wig pulling stunt, the part was rewritten for a male and Jordan auditioned. He was given the role, and immediately loved the energy on set.
The role won him an Emmy, an accomplishment that he is proud of, but that wasn't quite as rewarding as he thought it would be.
"People think that being up for an Emmy is so glamorous, but it's nerve racking!" he says. "On my way to the Emmys I had to make my limo stop three times to go to the bathroom because I was so nervous."
In The Help, one of Jordan's more recent roles, he plays a newspaper editor who gives Skeeter, played by actress Emma Stone, a job. Jordan, who hadn't seen any of Emma's films, says that he was told by director Tate Taylor that Stone was an up-and-coming actress.
"When I first met Emma, she asked me, 'Are you going to watch me host Saturday Night Live?'" he says. "I thought, 'Who are you, and why do you get to host Saturday Night Live?'"
He wasn't impressed with her acting skills initially, and told the director that he "wasn't getting much" from Emma.
"I'm used to Karen Walker!" Jordan explains. "When I saw the film, though, I thought her performance was really good. The interesting thing about Emma is you see her on the screen, and there are a million things going on with her facial expressions that you didn't even notice when you were filming."
As he makes his way across the country with his one-man tour, Jordan says that he really enjoys spending time in Minnesota.
"I love the Twin Cities, and I didn't realize that it is such a cultural mecca here," he says. "I'm a really good tourist. I've been to Kincaid's twice and to Meritage, which is an amazing French restaurant."
And while his show may be titled Stories I Can't Tell Mama, he says that he gets a lot of material from his mother, and that she has always been his biggest supporter. (His father died in a plane crash when he was 11.)
"My mother wrote me the sweetest letter 30 years ago when I first moved to L.A. that I still have today in a box under my bed," he says. "She said, 'Go for it and you know that if it [acting] doesn't work out, you have your biggest fan here at home, and you will always get a standing ovation from me."
He encourages people to come to the show to have fun, and to enjoy hearing about his journey.
"Come! You're going to have the most amazing night you've had in years," he promises.
IF YOU GO:
Stories I Can't Tell Mama
Friday, Feb. 24 at 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb 25 at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
490 N. Robert St., St. Paul