Leslie Jordan: Little Man, Big Buffet
BY Brandon Voss
October 17 2009 5:25 PM ET
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.
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