A GoPride Interview

Leslie Jordan

Leslie Jordan: ...the extent of my collecting sports memorabilia is his [Ben Cohen] calendar!

Wed. August 24, 2011  by Michael J. Roberts

...the extent of my collecting sports memorabilia is his [Ben Cohen] calendar!
Leslie Jordan

The Emmy Award-winning actor talks Ben Cohen, gay softball and his own fantastic career

Leslie Jordan will be co-hosting the opening ceremonies of the Gay Softball World Series on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:00p.m. I caught up with the Emmy Award-winning actor who tells me how he became a part of the GSWS. Leslie also dishes the dirt on his fantastic career including his role in the current box office smash ‘The Help', his one man show produced by Lily Tomlin, his days on Will & Grace and how reality television has impacted the sit-com. For tickets and event information for the Gay Softball World Series, please visit www.chicagoseries2011.com/2011.

MJR: (Michael J. Roberts) Hi Leslie, I hear you are coming back to visit us in Chicago!

LJ: (Leslie Jordan) Oh yes Michael... I'm on my way to Chicago! I am going to be hosting the Gay World Series along with Ben Cohen who is such a hero to the gay community. A straight athlete who stands up for our rights is just so incredible. Ben also has to be thanked for all the great work he is doing with his foundation (The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation) that is focusing on battling bullying. Did I mention he is gorgeous?

MJR: Yes he is, especially shirtless. Did you see the calendars he puts out each year?

LJ: Oh, yes. That is about the extent of my collecting sports memorabilia is his calendar!

MJR: How did you become involved with the Gay Softball World Series?

LJ: Well, you know they just called. Since I won the Emmy, they call!! People want me to do wonderful things like this and the scheduling was right. A wonderful guy named Aaron flew out to see me and we went out to the ball field and I pretended to throw the ball.

MJR: Yes, Leslie, I saw that video. You are very jock-like!

LJ: (Laughing) Yes well, you see what you get. I not a big sports fan but I love men who love sports, so there you go. Especially we love men in those uniforms.

MJR: You looked quite striking in the blue baseball uniform. It really showed off your assets.

LJ: (Laughing) That belong to my manager and we had to shoe-horn my fat ass into that damn outfit. I had to lay on the bed just to zip the pants up, which is the opposite of what I like to do!

MJR: Along with your appearance at the opening of the Gay Softball World Series, you are also currently in the number one movie in the nation ‘The Help'. What was your experience like filming the role of Mr. Blackly, who is the editor of the town paper, and how did it come to fruition?

LJ: Well, I did a play several years ago that my friend Del Shores wrote called "Southern Baptist Sissies" and one of the actors in the play was Tate Taylor who is the director of ‘The Help'. Tate has been author Kathryn Stockett's best friend since they were 5 years old. When they were 14 they stole a car from one of their parents and drove all the way to New Orleans. They were just bad, bad children. Kathryn had lots of problems getting ‘The Help' published. There were something like sixty literary agents who turned that book down. In the depths of her despair, Tate said that he and Kathryn should make a low budget movie out of the book. Tate optioned the screenplay long before the book ever got published. Then low and behold it gets published and shoots straight to the top of the New York Times best seller list.

All of a sudden Oprah was interested in playing Aibileen. That didn't work out and probably for the best because that would have taken it to a different place. Anyway, Dreamworks became interest along with Chris Columbus who did all the Harry Potter movies and it becomes this huge deal. Tate fought for my little part and wanted to have authentic southerners. The "suits" wanted the kind of editor that was yelling and screaming and slamming doors; someone very butch. Tate said "no, I know what I want". Next thing I know I'm in Jackson, Mississippi and because it was Dreamworks and we had some money for a budget, something I'm not all that used to because I usually do smaller independent films. We had a two week rehearsal period which allowed all us actors to bond. It was just the most amazing experience. Even though my part is small, it is fraught with meaning.

MJR: Now Leslie, you know there are no small parts!

LJ: Anatomically speaking yes there is. (both laughing). But, Michael, I have become the biggest cheerleader for this film and I've been firing off mean letters to anyone who dares say anything bad about it. You know the New York Times just desecrated it.

MJR: I read the review, but I think this is one of those films that is going to be critic proof.

LJ: I think so too, and I also think it will only continue to grow. I drove all the way from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee to take my mother to see ‘The Help'. It is the only movie I have seen where the audience stayed through the credits, applauded the film then began discussing it in the theatre. Now that may happen in New York but to have it happen in Chattanooga is something special. So ‘The Help' is going to have ‘legs' as they say in the business.

MJR: So Leslie, tell me about your relationship with Lily Tomlin and how she become producer of your one-man show?

LJ: Well, I did a series for HBO which never got on the air, which is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason wrote the series for me, Lily and Mary Kay Place and it was called ‘12 Miles of Bad Road' and we played the richest family in Texas. We were way ahead of the curve and now every network is dying for a Texas show. We shot six episodes and then there was a huge change in regime at HBO and the new people just hated it….hated it. But the good thing is Lily and I got to be such good friends. She came to see my play a couple times "My Trip Down The Pink Carpet" and she said to me that they show should play in New York. I jokingly said "well then Lily, write a check" and what do you know, she wrote a check!! Lily is such an astute business woman. So here I am headed to New York with ‘Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner Presents…'. From there we went to the Apollo in London and I was a real success over there. The British love story telling.

MJR: Tell me about your DVD of ‘My Trip Down The Pink Carpet' and being directed by Amanda Bearse.

LJ: Well, Michael I'm so glad you asked about her. She is amazing. You know she became famous from Married With Children but was an out lesbian before anybody. I would venture to say she was even out before Kristy McNichol. Amanda was the best.

MJR: How has your life changed since winning the Emmy for Will & Grace in your iconic role of Beverly Leslie?
LJ: For some obscure reason, the Emmy sort of ended my television career. You know, you win an Emmy and then you kind of begin to think there are things you don't want to do anymore, cause I don't have to. It takes you to a place where you want to work but you feel like ‘I don't have to do this'. I also did a wonderful pilot for Lifetime that Kelsey Grammer directed and co-starred Cybil Sheppard but that too hit the dust. I think it has more to do with the damn Kardashian sisters. This whole reality genre came in and things changed. The kind of sit-coms I used to do, like Will & Grace, you just don't have those anymore. I do know enough about this business to know it all goes in cycles.

MJR: What do have coming up that we can catch you in?

LJ: I'm very excited to tell you that the Celebration Theatre in L.A. has offered me all of January and February to do anything I want!! I get to do a show four nights a week and that way I will be in L.A. for their pilot season. It is odd that you have to remind these casting people who you are, even after an Emmy. I don't know why that is but I learned you just have to let the agents know I am still in the game. As Elaine Stritch would say "I'm still here!"

MJR: As far as recovery goes and staying sober, what advice can you share for those of us who battle addiction?

LJ: The most important advice I can give is that you have to participate in your own recovery. It is almost like a spiritual journey. We all have our own journey and have to deal with people telling us what we should and shouldn't do. The real big rule in recovery, which many people seem to forget is that we do not give advice. If you come to me with your problems in dealing with staying off drugs or alcohol, I'm suppose to share with you my experience, my strength, my hope, my story and you can take what you want from that. Recovery is like a big buffet. You go to your meetings and listen and you take away this and that and you think ‘oh well, that won't really work for me'. But you never discount anything, you just put in under the chair in front of you because that may be the pearl of wisdom for the person sitting next to you. And it really is as the bumper sicker says, you have to take things one day at a time. I've put together fifteen years now and it has been the best fifteen years of my life.

MJR: Well, you have helped many people Leslie, including me.

LJ: Thank you Michael, that makes everything I do worth while. Just helping one person is worth it.

More on Leslie Jordan: With hundreds of television shows, films and commercials to his credit, Leslie Jordan has become a familiar face on the national entertainment scene. Leslie is the 2006 Emmy Award Winner for "Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series" for his delicious portrayal of "Beverley Leslie" on "Will and Grace." Television recurring roles: "Boston Legal," "Ugly Betty," "Reba," "Sordid Lives: the Series." Film: "Sordid Lives," upcoming DreamWorks feature "The Help," and Independent "Magnus." Stage: Ovation Award, Garland Award, and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for "Southern Baptist Sissies." Autobiographical shows: "Like a Dog on Linoleum," "Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies..." Book: My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, which formed the basis for the one-man show that had a 45-city tour, a twelve-week off-Broadway run and a four-week run at the Apollo Theater in London.

Interviewed by Michael J. Roberts. Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.