Leslie Jordan: Openly Gay Actor Shares His Life Story
There is no fear in what you are. It’s actor Leslie Jordan’s message in his new book My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. The Emmy winning actor for his role on Will & Grace is openly gay, a recovered substance abuser, and doing all he can to share his message there is no shame and that God loves everyone. Now that gay marriage is legal in California, Jordan says he will get married if he finds the right person, but he would also love to spend time with Rosie O’Donnell who has also put a positive message forward for the gay community.
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Chris Yandek: With all you’ve been through, was writing My Trip Down The Pink Carpet a kind of therapy for you reflecting back about who you are?
Leslie Jordan: “It was an amazing journey. The original pitch was just supposed to be funny stories of being an openly gay actor from 1982. I stepped off a bus from Tennessee in downtown Hollywood. I had $1200 sewn into my underpants. I had a suitcase and I had dreams. That’s all I had. From 1982 to 2006, that’s what they wanted. A journey of being a gay actor, but it turned into this amazing inward journey. More finding whether Hollywood changed or not, I changed within. I had a lot of internal homophobia I think. I also got sober during that time so it’s a lot of stories about that. I was 42-years-old when I got sober. Had you asked me are you openly gay? Are you proud? I would say, honey, I’ve ridden down the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard on gay pride floats half naked. I started drinking and using drugs when I was 14. I think that’s when I started finally realizing that I was gay. I suppressed a lot of shame and fear and guilt and whatever it is that we deal with when we first come out.
All of a sudden I am 42-years-old, you took away my medicine, I was riddled in internal homophobia. You count these last ten years, which the book is really about as sort of my coming out period. I can say I am 53-years-old. I am in my prime. I am closer to my authentic self than I have ever been. I am comfortable in my skin with who I am and what I am. It’s wildly funny, the book because along the way I worked with George Clooney before he got famous. I worked with Billy Bob Thorton before he got famous. Luke Perry lived across the street from me. I have had sort of these angst ridden unrequited crushes on all my leading men. They knew nothing about it as I pined away for them. So anyway, it’s a funny kind of romp, My Trip Down The Pink Carpet.”
CY: You’re very honest in admitting that you have had battles with substance abuse in your past. Do you still have struggles?
LJ: “Not really. It’s funny, I had to go last night – I am in Boston right now in this sort of huge low land tricked out tour bus and I am doing 30 cities. Last night they wanted to trout me out. I am like an aging show pony, kind of trout me out. I don’t even know where I am half the time. The ticket sales in Boston were a little slow even though it’s Gay Pride weekend and I think a lot of other people have things to choose to do. They said, would I mind doing some bars to let people know about the show? You would think as a recovering alcoholic that I’d have so much compassion for someone drunk in a bar because I was drunk in a bar for 33 years. I was drunk in a bar. They were so drunk last night. It’s the kickoff for gay pride and they were just woo. I think when people drink like that they sort of cross the line and they kind of want to get in your face and hug on you and kiss on you. I finally looked at my producer and said you’ve gotta get me out of here. I am a recovering alcoholic. I can’t be around all this. No. I don’t have any really personal struggles. The whole recovery thing is not so much about stopping the abuse of the drugs or stopping the drinking. It’s learning to live in your skin one day at a time. Happy I think being the operative word without any drugs and alcohol. I have done that for ten years now.”
CY: Rosie O’Donnell said earlier this week on her blog in a response to a question about you that “I love him.” Have you ever met Rosie and had a chance to share stories?
LJ: “She said she loved me?”
CY: Yeah. She said “I love him” in response to one of her blog questions.
LJ: “I have never met Rosie. When I won my Emmy she was there. They gave out my Emmy the week before the big Emmys. My Emmy was given out at the Creative Arts Emmys. Rosie was there because they had done a documentary on her big…”
CY: Gay cruise.
LJ: “Yeah. Big boat thing. She was in the front row and the first person I saw when I went up there and I had not really planned a speech, but I remember I was so moved it just came out – I am so honored that it’s Will & Grace that I won for because I felt there were two ways to combat homophobia. One was with humor, which I learned from dodge ball in junior high to keep from getting smeared. Smear the queer they would holler. Try to hit with me that ball. I learned to be funny, but also putting a face on it. So when I won my Emmy, I gave this speech that I think Will & Grace did a lot for the gay community and I looked down and Rosie gave me the thumbs up. It was so sweet but we’ve never met like face to face.”
CY: Would you love to meet her and spend some time with her?
LJ: “I would love to meet her.”
CY: I will definitely put that through the news circles. So is George Clooney the sexiest man you’ve ever worked with?
LJ: “It would be a toss up between George or Mark Harmon. I don’t know what it was about Mark Harmon. To me – oh, no…no…no, the biggest crush I ever had was Matt Lauer. He was on Will & Grace and I’ve never had this happen before. I am pretty good talking to anybody. I was like a shy Japanese girl behind my hand fan. Every time he came around all I could do was giggle. I think maybe he thought I was autistic or something. I couldn’t even look at him. He just did it for me. I am gonna be on The Today Show next Friday. I am not gonna meet him. I am gonna be on the Kathy Lee Gifford segment. I would say Matt Lauer hands down.”
CY: What do you think your story will mean to the gay community?
LJ: “Here is what I hope happens. I wrote it. I thought, I am not even on the D-list with Kathy Griffin. Who am I to sit down and write a memoir?”
CY: Well, you both won an Emmy.
LJ: “Yeah. Anyway, I have been involved with an organization called The Trevor Project over the years doing fundraising and stuff. The Trevor Project is a national suicidal hotline for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender kids if they’re considering suicide they can call in. When they plugged in ten years ago they got almost 15,000 calls, which they were just overwhelmed from kids all over the country that were thinking about suicide. And you know where the majority of the calls came from? The Bible Belt, which is my story.”
CY: Not surprising.
LJ: “I grew up. I came out of the Baptist Church. I’ve been baptized 14 times. It never could take. I wrote that for that young man, that young woman struggling if there is a God who loves queers. My journey has led me to this God that loves me unconditionally. Looks down with fatherly pride with his handy work and he rejoices that I am who I am, what I am. I had to write my mother a letter because there is a lot of salacious parts in the book. It’s filthy. Just filthy.”
CY: Finally, would you ever consider getting married now that marriage is legalized in California?
LJ: “I think if I met the right person. I am just afraid I’ll end up with some hustler, fall in love with the rent boy, take me for all I am worth. No. I think I am gonna find somebody, someday I think.”
CY: Thanks so much for your time Leslie and hopefully Rosie O’Donnell gets in touch with you.
LJ: “I hope so. Love Rosie.”
You can find information about Leslie Jordan, his new book My Trip Down The Pink Carpet, and tour dates at www.thelesliejordan.com