That four-foot-11 pixie from Chattanooga, Emmy winner Leslie Jordan (best known as the uppity Beverley Leslie from Will & Grace), has swept into town for his autobiographical show My Trip Down the Pink Carpet at the Midtown Theater, with a story up every flouncy sleeve.
I seized the chance to get the gayer-than-Ricky-Martin funnyman on the horn and nab some piquant doses of Southern comfort.
Me: Hi, doll. Tell me about your show.
Jordan: I am basically a high school cheerleader stuck in a 55-year-old male body. I don’t know how to love in a healthy manner, only like a high school girl. I write entries in my diary and I stalk. So in my imagination I’ve had affairs with people I’ve worked with, like Billy Bob Thornton and George Clooney.
Me: Maybe they were for real?
Jordan: I’ll leave that to the audience. I had a torrid affair with Mark Harmon years ago! The running joke is, “This cannot leave this room.” I don’t want to end up like Kathy Griffin, who has to hide in Hollywood.
Me: Well, as long as you’re going public, what’s the motivation behind this show?
Jordan: An evil casting director, who was a big queen, once looked at me and said, “You know, dear, you’re peripheral at best.” I want to show people I can entertain for an hour and 15 minutes. I’m not peripheral. Maybe I’ll come to New York and Hollywood will discover me. [laughs] It’s like that old Susan Hayward line: “You come crawling back to Broadway . . .”
Me: Do you have a role for your old Will & Grace costar Megan Mullally?
Jordan: Do I ever! She called me a year ago and said, “Karen the Musical. What do you think?” I said, “You don’t own that character. You’d have to clear it.” She said, “Oh, honey, I’ve done that.” I asked her, “What about Jack?” She replied, “No! Just Beverley Leslie and Karen Walker!”
Me: Well, she’s certainly available. Anyway, you played an outrageous gossip reporter once on Ugly Betty. Based on me?
Jordan: It was supposed to be Dominick Dunne. I had all the transgender gossip. Rebecca Romijn what’s-her-name had been a boy at one time and I had the scoop on that. I wanted it to be a recurring role, but I think there were way too many homos already on that show. Tons of them! They can’t trot me out like a show pony!
Me: Let’s go back to when you were just a colt. Was growing up in Chattanooga any fun for a little queen?
Jordan: No! I was scared to death. With the Baptists, we dunk, we don’t sprinkle. They couldn’t wash me clean. They baptized me 14 times! When I was 12, I first told my mother I’m gay. They sent me to a psychiatrist and they prayed over me. One time, this really handsome one with a beard said, “Leslie, when you have these same-sex thoughts, it’s the voice of the Prince of Darkness that you’re hearing.” I remember saying, “He’s got a loud voice.”
Me: Was he also the voice of substance abuse later on?
Jordan: Quaaludes, crystal meth—that’s what I was strung out on. I could idle around the house and look at pornography for hours. Six days could piddle by without me closing my eyes.
Me: How did you clean up?
Jordan: I went to meetings. And I went to jail, which I never want to do again. You have no idea. After 17 days, they told me, “We’re gonna let you out because we have Robert Downey Jr. coming in. The bad news is, because you’ve had so many DUIs, we can’t let you out till the bars are closed. You’re gonna have to share the cell with Robert.” He was so dope sick, he was sweating, and I was chatting away. “I’m so glad to meet you . . .”
Later, when I did a part on Ally McBeal, they introduced me to Robert and in front of everyone, he goes, “Do I know you?” I said, “I’m not sure.” Later on, I told him, “Pod A, cell 15. You were top, I was bottom.”
Me: Speaking of tops and bottoms, you almost met Elton John, right?
Jordan: After a concert, I asked his people if I could go backstage. I said, “Tell him it’s the funny little guy from Will & Grace.” They came back and said, “He doesn’t want to meet you.” Just like that! They said, “Don’t take it personally. He didn’t want to meet Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz either. It depends on his mood.”
Me: Any other regrets in your career?
Jordan: Not one! I stepped off a bus in 1982 and I had $1,200 sewn into my underpants and my dream was to earn a living as an actor. I did that right off the bat. But honey, I want a big series of my own. These rent boys are expensive! Remember the “poodle” I was with last time I saw you? Big, built guy. He went to prison! He called and said, “I’m in jail for rape and I didn’t do it!” And I don’t believe he did.
Me: Pod A, cell 15?
Jordan: But I replaced him. I have two guys named Nathan: Nathan 1 and Nathan 2. Everyone has pets; I have straight boys. My next show should be The Proper Care and Feeding of Poodles.
Me: —The Musical!
Every Day a Little Death
To prove I’m not peripheral, let me grab center stage and discuss some other theatrical hoo-ha around town, as long as you promise none of it leaves this room. First off, the gunshot you heard in Times Square last week was Catherine Zeta-Jones when she learned that Sherie Rene Scott‘s Everyday Rapture was moving to Broadway. Insiders are figuring that Sheri is now the frontrunner for the Best Actress in a Musical Tony.
The awards-bound Red is a pitch-dark portrait of Mark Rothko that at first seems like one of those one-man impersonation shows studded with biographical info and pronouncements (“We crushed cubism!”), only with another character added so there’s someone to vent at. Later on, when Rothko monstrously announces, “It’s all about me,” I wondered if he should actually be performing with Michael Feinstein. But the piece grows into a full-fledged battle of wills—more convincingly than the one between Tallulah Bankhead and her producer down the block—and Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne play it to the hilt till they’re red in the face.
Painted in lighter hues, Lend Me a Tenor is a door-slamming mistaken-identity screwball comedy being done with flair, if also with some self-indulgent touches that underline the play’s boniness. Still, from Jan Maxwell‘s “Shut uppa!” to Mary Catherine Garrison‘s piercing scream of recognition, joyful noises are definitely mixed into the uneven pot of hambone marinara.
Meanwhile, Lucie Arnaz has been the victim of some comical mistaken identity of her own. At her concert at Queens Theatre in the Park last week, the brassy daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz related how a woman once gushed to her, “I love your sister, Liza!” In her show, Lucie not only explained her actual bloodline, she also sang tributes to both parents, along with a batch of other love songs, all in a strong, crisp voice that announces, “Here’s Lucie.” The choicest moment—aside from when I recognized her drummer from my old Motown band—was Lucie admitting about dad, “One of the only things he wasn’t good at was staying married to my mother.” Still, he never had an affair with George Clooney!