Leslie Jordan: Little Man, Big Buffet
If you stomached the films Eating Out and Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, make room for another helping of horny high jinks. Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat, the tasty third in the full-frontal-friendly romantic comedy series, is now playing at select theaters. Serving up wit, warmth, and wisdom alongside the usual wild young things, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet author Leslie Jordan plays Harry, a kindly older confidant who runs the Larry Craig LGBT Center. Best known as Brother Boy in Sordid Lives and for his Emmy-winning recurring role as Karen Walker’s diminutive nemesis Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace, the busy character actor retraces his journey from park bushes to the big screen and — if Karen has any say — Broadway.
Advocate.com: Were you a fan of the other Eating Out films before signing on to Eating Out 3?
Leslie Jordan: I hadn’t seen them. I work so much, so I just don’t go to a lot of movies or watch a lot of TV. When I went to meet the director, Glenn Gaylord, I hadn’t even read the script for Eating Out 3. I told him, “When I do read a script, it’s always, ‘bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, my line, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit,’ anyway.” Once I read the script, I liked it, but I still haven’t seen the other ones.
You didn’t feel like you should catch up?
No, I’m not one of these actors that prepares and plans. I’m like Megan Mullally, who’s my favorite actor I’ve ever worked with — “Honey, you just show up and do it. It’s like verbal ping-pong: Pass the lines back and forth and see what happens.”
Eating Out 3 might be the raciest one in the threesome. Do you think queer indie films need gratuitous sex and full-frontal nudity to succeed?
It does sell tickets. The minute I heard you got to see Jason Segal’s dick, I bought a ticket to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. My gripe has always been that you’ll have a gay indie with a great message, but once you add nudity you end up just preaching to the choir. All the gay people are going to see it because of the nudity, but you’re not going to reach a wider audience with a bunch of boys sucking each other off. Brokeback Mountain had the perfect wide appeal. Yes, it had a little spit and butt-fucking, which was hot, but that didn’t overshadow the love story. I didn’t know there was nudity until I read an interview with some of the boys in one of the gay rags this week. I guess I’m just as guilty because I can’t wait to see their wieners.
Would you do nudity for a role?
I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but it would have to be a comedy. At one time, when I was younger, I exercised regularly and had a 27-inch waist. Right now, oh my God, sometimes I just get out of the shower, stand in front of the mirror, and say, “What happened?”
According to the press release, six of the male leads in Eating Out 3 — Daniel Skelton, Chris Salvatore, Michael Walker, John C. Stallings, Maximiliano Torandell, and Rick D’Agostino — are openly gay. How important is that?
When my friend Del Shores was taking his show called Southern Baptist Sissies on the road, he hired three straight guys and one gay guy for the four gay characters. I kept saying, “Why don’t you hire gay men to play gay men?” He said, “Leslie, you could get in a lot of trouble for asking if they’re gay or straight. They come in and I hire the best actor for the part.” In a perfect world we’d want gay people to play gay people, but I think that’s a good rule of thumb: Whoever gives the best audition should get the part. My problem is getting anybody to hire me for anything other than queens. I don’t mind playing gay because there’s a whole plethora of gay roles out there, but if I get asked to play one more Southern hairdresser, I’m going to scream.
Do you think these actors risk putting their careers in jeopardy by coming out?
Only if they allow it to. Their path is going to be their path, but a tide has turned. I really think we’re going to reach a point where it’s not going to matter if you’re gay or straight because people are eventually going to get bored with the whole idea of “is he or isn’t he?”
What do you think of actors — Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie and your costar Sean Hayes on Will & Grace spring to mind — who make fortunes playing gay roles yet remain coy about their own sexuality? Do actors have a responsibility to disclose their sexuality?
Without naming names, there are actors that drive me crazy for that reason. We’re in the throes of the greatest civil rights movement since the 1960s, so we could really use their help. The only thing fame gets you is a platform — except maybe a good table at a restaurant — so it’s irresponsible if someone is gay and not using their fame to further the cause. That would be like a black actor in the ’60s refusing to do anything for the black cause.
In Eating Out 3, your character Harry imparts some sage wisdom on young Casey, who first sees Harry as a lecherous troll but ultimately sees him as someone trying to use his knowledge and experience to help younger gays have an easier life than he did. Do younger gays seek your advice?
Not at all. But you know, I was at this restaurant near my house the other day and there were two gay boys sitting side by side, holding hands, giggling, obviously in love. I couldn’t help it: I walked up to the table and said, “I could weep. I hope you boys realize what some of us older people went through so that you could be able to sit side by side like that. It’s just beautiful.” They were kind of like, “OK, uh-huh, run along, old man.”
What do you make of that lack of respect for gay elders and their activism?
It reminds me of that scene in Milk where Harvey Milk’s trying to enlist Emile Hirsch’s party-boy character on his way to the clubs. I had no interest in gay activism at that age. Please, I was doing drugs, going to bars, and hitting the bushes at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. The 1970s was a buffet and I partook. The worse thing that happened was you got a little case of the clap and went to the free clinic. I knew all the doctors by their first names. But we didn’t know what was coming. I buried an entire phone directory in the 1980s, so yes, I do have wisdom to impart. Whether or not the younger generation is looking for it, I don’t know. You look at the bareback videos and think, Well, they’re not listening at all.
Did you have an older gay role model when you were in your 20s?
No, because I don’t think they had advice to give. They couldn’t very well say, “Back in my day…” because there weren’t out gay people in their day. Mine is really the first generation that can look back and impart some wisdom. I remember when I was 21, 22, there was an older gay man’s piano bar in Atlanta called Armory. My friends and I didn’t really hook, but if you didn’t have any money, you could go to the Armory, chat with these old men, and get them to take care of you. When they thought they were going to get something, we’d crawl out the window of the bar. So I didn’t listen to anyone older than me. I felt pity for older gay men. I remember saying to a friend, “There’s nothing sadder than an old queen.”
Your character says he prefers “sex with men who have the maturity of an experienced lover” because sex with a 20-something would be “like teaching calculus to a preschooler.” Do you belong to that same school of thought?
No, honey, I’m the worst. All my boyfriends are in their 20s. I’m not going to apologize for it, but I love young, pretty, butch, gay-for-pay-type boys. That’s just how I like ’em. And I’ve got a few dollars now, so… I’m taking a break from pets because I had to put my Jack Russell terrier and my beautiful lab to sleep, so now I have these beautiful boys that my friends call my poodles. They go with me everywhere.
Was Eating Out 3 the first time you worked with Eating Out regular Mink Stole?
I believe it was the first time we worked together. She’s intrinsically funny. We sat there and yammered forever because I’m just fascinated with that whole Baltimore scene and the early John Waters era. Every year I go to Provincetown, where he has a house, and wherever I go people are like, “Oh, John Waters was just here!” So our paths have almost crossed a hundred million times, but I’ve never gotten to meet him. I love his line — I used it in my book with his permission — about when he was a kid: “My mother always said, ‘Stop making a spectacle of yourself,' something that I have obviously made a career out of."
Whatever happened with 12 Miles of Bad Road, the HBO series you were working on with Lily Tomlin?
It was brilliant, but HBO decided it was too broad, so it got canned. If you take the words of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and put them in the mouths of Lily Tomlin and Leslie Jordan, what did you expect — a John-fucking-Adams miniseries? Of course it’s going to be broad!
Before I let you go, I promised some friends I’d tell you that they have a house out in Fire Island Pines that they’ve christened The Beverley Leslie, complete with “Beverley Leslie” welcome mats, embossed napkins, and stationery.
No way! I love it. Well, Megan Mullally called me months ago and told me she wanted to do Karen: The Musical on Broadway featuring Beverley Leslie. Apparently it’s in development and she’s got a great writer for the book and a great lyricist working on it, so pretty soon you and your friends will have to come in from Fire Island to see me in Karen: The Musical.
But wasn’t Beverley Leslie sucked out of a very high window in the Will & Grace finale?
We decided that maybe he landed on an awning of Bloomingdale’s that slipped him onto a bus that took him off somewhere. You know, here I’ve won an Emmy, written a book, blah, blah, blah, and I’ve never been on the cover of The Advocate. So when Beverley Leslie comes to Broadway, you better put me on the cover.