How Far Will Leslie Jordan Go? Find Out at the Crown
When Leslie Jordan takes to the stage at the Crown and Anchor this week, he won't be alone. Joining him on the stage will be some of the boys - the rent boys - he has known over the years. No, they won't be there in person (unless one makes an unannounced cameo); rather, they will be seen on movie posters-sized enlargements of photos Leslie has accumulated over the years thanks to the work of Jim Cox, his long-time friend and photographer from Palm Springs. Put simply, the 60-year old Emmy winner has had a thing for straight boys for 40 years now, and has seen many come and go over that time. Now he's sharing those experiences with his audience.
They take the shape of his new show, christened Say Cheese! My Love Affair With the Camera, which Jordan is premiering on June 30 and July 1 in one of his favorite places - Provincetown. He even admits to having a secret desire to spend a winter there. "My friends think I'm nuts. It's too bleak. I love bleak. I'm a gregarious recluse. I think I would love it."
Another reason why Ptown holds a soft spot for Jordan is that it was one of the first places where "Sordid Lives," the indie sleeper by Del Shores in which he played his iconic role of Brother Boy, became a cult hit. He reprised the role on the television series on Logo, which only ran one season, was a critical and audience hit, but was inexplicably cancelled. (Its 12-hour long episodes can be found unedited on DVD.) Next came an Emmy-winning stint on "Will & Grace," where he played Beverley Leslie, the "frenemy" of Karen Walker, one of the countless television and film roles he's played over the years. Most recently he's played a menacing, foppish witch on "American Horror Story: Coven."
On stage his solo pieces include "Like a Dog on Linoleum" and "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet," which "Say Cheese! My Love Affair With the Camera" is the next (and from the sound of things) most revealing chapters. EDGE spoke to Jordan as he was putting the finishing touches on his latest script.
Living 'rough trade'
EDGE: Your new show at the Crown and Anchor is called 'Say Cheese! My Love Affair With the Camera.' Could you describe it?
Leslie Jordan: Certainly, darlin'. I am really proud of it. It is like a world premiere. I'm not completely off book yet. What it is basically about is that I am 60 years old and I've never had a lasting affair with a gay man; but God, I've had lasting affairs with straight men. I'm from that generation that just loved 'rough trade,' as we use to call it, now they call it 'gay for pay,' which I think is a little classier.
I have a dear friend in Palm Springs, he's a wonderful photographer and he has chronicled it. Every time I was in Palm Springs, he'd say let's have a little photo shoot. And I always had the 'boy du jour' with me. I started looking at all his pictures and I thought, 'I barely remember that one... But at the time, though...'
I read a book not too long ago by Gloria Vanderbilt. Of course, Anderson Cooper is more famous than his mother, but in my day Miss Gloria Vanderbilt was something. She wrote the best book. She was young. She was wealthy. She was good-looking. And she fucked everybody and told it all in her book. All those angst-ridden love affairs, waiting by the telephone in love with this one or that one. But I love the title, 'It Seemed Important at the Time.' This is my little homage to all those straight boys. The reason why I wrote it, even though it is widely funny, it really is a character piece. The only thing in my life where I achieve true serenity is in these affairs. But they're fantasy. As my friends would say, 'He's straight, darlin'. He may let you blow him if you dig in your pocket book.'
But the question is, is that how I want to be remembered? Is that the way I want the story to end with one of these... I am addicted to these crime programs, and you wouldn't believe how many queens end up dead from picking up the wrong boy. My friend Del Shores says to me, 'I think the reason why you go for straight men is because you have shame. You don't think you're deserving of a decent partner.' And I say, 'No. That ain't it. I would admit it if I didn't feel deserving. This is insanity, but I am crazy about straight boys.'
Anyway, I come to the conclusion at the end of the show that of course I've had an affair: I've had a 30-year affair, through sickness and health, til death do us part, and that is a love affair with a camera.
EDGE: Do you have slides of the photos of you and the boys?
Leslie Jordan: At first we wanted slides. But I said, no, because that would involve cues. And I'm not ready for that yet. I won't want to control the show. So I had the pictures blown up to movie poster size. We were worried they wouldn't be seen, but we tried it out in Palm Springs last night and it played perfectly. Me with every beautiful straight men I've gone out with... on foam core. Some of them have been disastrous. I've been shot with a crossbow; I'd bring them into world and then would get tired of them. My behavior hasn't been the best. I'd get tired of them and they'd get angry.
EDGE: Was this before or after you became sober ?
Leslie Jordan: Well, I'm sober, but I am still not behaving in a sober manner. This is an addiction. This is my final amends. It is really funny, because I give this impassioned speech about how I was going to change my ways; then I say: 'And then Reilly came along.' The cutest one of them all. But I was the perfect gentleman with Reilly. I am proud of myself. He's a young man who worked in Ogunquit. He started working in a gay bar at 18 years old - straight as a board, loves women. But he's learned. He's now 21. Honey, he can cut you off at the pass. You start your shit, like I say to him, 'Why don't I fly you out to California and make you a star?' And he'd say, 'Yeah. Right.' But he was out in California visiting his old girlfriend and he called me and said, 'You told me you know this photographer...' And I said, 'Honey, I told you a lot of things.' But I honored everything I told Reilly. I took him to my photographer friend Jim who did a wonderful portfolio of Reilly. And that how the show ends. There is progress, not perfection.
I don't want to be remembered as the old queen that licked his lips at anything under 30. I want to be remembered for my curiosity, my generosity, my kindness. It is so hard now that I'm 60 and I look back at an old man hitting on me when I was young and how that disgusted me. Then I think to myself, What's so different about me? Here I am hitting on these young boys. It's an interesting concept. We'll see. The queens might just stare and me and wonder, 'Why are you regurgitating your life in front of us?'
EDGE: Do you ever meet people on social media?
Leslie Jordan: No. My friend showed me Grindr a few years ago and I was more fascinated with the technology. Like we were in this restaurant and he said, 'You know there are three men in this restaurant wanting sex?' And I said, 'How does it know?' I never got into any of that. I found Facebook about a year and half ago and I started writing. I have 43,000 followers. But my management calls me nearly every single day to tell me to take that post down. You're telling too much. And I say, 'I've made a career out of that. I always over share.'
The cool part about social media is that I can say, I'm in Ptown next week and sell out the Crown and Anchor. It's amazing. I haven't played to a small crowd since I started on social media. I don't ever use it to find boys. My friends tell me there are sites where young boys are looking for sugar daddies; but I'm not interested. We like the little chase. I heard a song 'Infatuation Junkie,' and thought, 'That's me. I love to be infatuated.'
EDGE: But happens if the straight boy strays with another boy. Do you lose interest?
Leslie Jordan: I do. I'll take it one step further. Back in my day, I use to love dirty bookstores with glory holes. That is my thing. I am much too well known now. I certainly don't want to end up on TMZ with a big cock in my mouth. I use to go to a dirty book store and would peek through the hole and even if they were drop dead gorgeous, if they were looking at gay porn, I wasn't interested. People don't get why I only wanted to date straight men. I love being a gay man with a straight man. It's a challenge, but I don't know. That's what this show's is about. I surrender. I give up. Sexuality is so complicated. We are in this new phase with this gender confusion (and la, la, la and on and on). I give up. I throw my hands up. I know it doesn't give me happiness. It creates turmoil, and I don't want that at my age. I don't want any drama. I've gotten pretty good at letting the drama of my day-to-day life, which is a lot of venues, travel, airports, hotels. I've somehow figured out to let the drama of that swirl around me and not affect me; so I need to give up on these boys. I love what my sponsor - I call him my spiritual advisor - says, 'No. Hot. Ouch.' How many times do we repeat the same behavior before we realize, 'No. Hot. Ouch?'
Remembering the boys
EDGE: In researching the show, did seeing the photos act as visual cues to bring back stories about the boys?
Leslie Jordan: Every picture. I'd look and say, 'That's Big Dave. He was a stripper at Swinging Richards in Atlanta.' I never laid eyes on him. I threw myself a birthday party at the House of Blues - a private dinner in the Foundation Room. I wanted to arrive with a big, beautiful boy on my arm; and I called a friend to see if he knew one. He did. Six-foot-six, size 14 shoes. The most gorgeous hunk of a man. I flew him out and had him come to my show before the party. I looked at him and said, 'Shut up.' I took him to a friend that was doing a coffee table book on blue-eyed men because of his piercing blue eyes. And then there's Jeremy. And then there's Brandon. And then there's the one that told me that if I left him he would like to hang me from the ceiling then cut me down and chop me into little pieces and take me out to the desert and piss on my grave. That didn't end very well.
EDGE: And you said one of them shot you with a cross-bow?
Leslie Jordan: I have a whole chapter in my book about that. He was this red-headed cowboy. It was really early. I was in my 20s. He was the roughest of all trade I went out with. I lived with him for four years. I sent him to rehab and got him off crystal meth, then he took to alcohol. He was drunk on New Year's Day and I got mad; and he came out with a cross-bow. I didn't know where he got it or what it was. And it just grazed me, as my mother said. He went to prison for attempted murder. And then I'd go visit him. He tried to murder me. What I've learned from recovery is that we look back and we laugh. That was then. This is now. And we're so blessed to be standing here.
EDGE: What do you like about Provincetown?
Leslie Jordan: Ptown is a mecca. My dream, believe it or not, is to spend a winter there. My friends think I'm nuts. It's too bleak. I love bleak. I'm a gregarious recluse. I think I would love it. The best time I had in Ptown was one year I rented this house and brought my mother, her sisters, my twin sister to stay there - there were like these old ladies and me in this house. It was just heaven. I just look back on it and remember things like my mother saying, 'I'm going to have lobster three times today. I am going to have a lobster omelet. Then for lunch I am going to the Lobster Pot and get a lobster roll; then for dinner I'm going to have a whole lobster.' And I'd say, 'Go girl. You're such a rebel!'
EDGE: Do younger guys hit on you?
Leslie Jordan: Oh, God. I get hit on constantly. I think I would make a good daddy type - I am silver-headed. I have a dear friend who is one of the most handsome men I know. He started this website called 'Broke Straight Boys.' Once a year they rent a house in Denver and do this reality show that only airs in Canada called 'How Far Will a Straight Boy Go?' And he's always begging me to host it, but my management says 'No.'
About 'American Horror Story'
EDGE: How do you handle hecklers?
Leslie Jordan: I'm worried about that in Ptown. They are not hecklers because they want to be mean to me. They want to be part of the show, the drunker they get. I asked Jackie Beat, this wonderful drag queen, and she said I only need to tell them: 'Shut the Fuck Up or Get the Fuck Out.' When I have lost my temper - one time in Florida - this queen would not let up. He was so drunk and kept interrupting. So I stopped the show and told his friends to take him out. But it took me a long time to get the audience back. I try to say something funny. I borrowed a line from Bette Midler that she took from Sophie Tucker, which is: 'Shut your hole, honey. Mine's making money.' You learn.
EDGE: Was it fun working on 'American Horror Story'?
Leslie Jordan: It was. And yesterday I was offered the new one, called 'Freak Show.' I was over the moon, but then realized I was booked in London for a month and it was the exact same dates. I had to turn it down, and I wept. I can imagine. He's such a wonderful writer. I am the kind of actor that needs to be told what to do, and then I make it organic. It was Ryan Murphy (the show's co-creator and executive producer) who came up with the idea of making my character Quentin Crispish. He was so specific. And I work better like that. I need parameters. Jessica Lange is a brilliant actress and she's a smart chick, but that Frances Conroy who impressed me. She is a workhorse. And she will drive you absolutely bananas with her questions. She delivers. I put up with it when they deliver.
When I was in college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga - this little school where I learned the craft of acting. I had this amazing teacher there who mentored me and said, 'You are capable of genuine artistry. You are that good. But you are the laziest actor.' I thought of that when I got on the set with Frances and Jessica and said, 'You know what? You got to go to work.' And thank god I knew how; When I watch myself on that show - I usually don't like watching myself - I see little nuances and think, 'You're good. You're a good actor.' And I don't get to do that much anymore. I don't think it's over. It's going to happen, even bigger than this. But when you are working with this calibre of actor, you got to step up to the plate. When I worked Megan Mullally, it was like verbal ping pong. We both knew we had wonderful comic instincts and just went back and forth. But with this, I had to work. And so much of it had to do with Mr. Murphy, but I never laid eyes on him. He was in in LA making 'The Normal Heart.' He was involved in everything - what I liked best that it was acting and I don't get to do that much anymore.
June 30 & July 1, 2014. Leslie Jordan in Say Cheese! My Love Affair With the Camera at Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, Massachusetts, 8:00pm. For more information visit the Crown and Anchor website.
Other upcoming dates include: July 24, 2014. Leslie Jordan at Rrazz Room!The Rrazz Room in New Hope, Pennsylvania, 8:00pm. July 29 and 30, Leslie Jordan 'Show Pony' at Club Cafe, Club Cafe Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. August 8, 2014. Leslie Jordan 'Show Pony' at Club Ripples!
Club Ripples in Long Beach, California, 9:00pm in PDT.
For more on Leslie Jordan, visit his Facebook page.