Fans of Will
& Grace know Leslie Jordan as Beverley Leslie,
the hopelessly homophobic closet case who periodically
sashays into their favorite sitcom while toting a
wicked Tennessee drawl (typically aimed at nemesis
Karen Walker, played by Megan Mullally). But Jordan's
distinct Southern accent has given voice to
delightfully dysfunctional gay characters for years.
In Sordid Lives (1996), Los Angeles playwright
Del Shores's white trash comedy that went on to
become a 2001 cult film costarring Delta Burke and
Olivia Newton-John, Jordan played the cross-dressing
Brother Boy, who suffers from "a bad case of
homosexualism with a touch of transvestism" and lives
most of his life thinking he's Tammy Wynette.
And in Southern Baptist Sissies (2000)
Shores's exploration into the lives of four
churchgoing queers, Jordan camped it up as the always
inebriated barfly Peanut.
Now through the
end of the year, all six of Shores's Southern-fried
confections (produced between 1984 and 2000) are being
reheated for A Season of Shores at Los
Angeles's Zephyr Theatre, which is celebrating
its 50th anniversary. "It's the same age as
me," says Jordan, who recently spoke with
Advocate.com about the identity crisis brought on by
reprising his Brother Boy and Peanut personas at the same
time. (Makes his moment in the live Will &
Grace episode that aired on January 12 look like
mere extra work.)
So how are you keeping your roles straight--no pun
intended--right now?I feel like Sybil...I don't quite know who
I'm supposed to be every day. I'm
performing in Southern Baptist Sissies. I'm
doing all the tech rehearsals for Sordid Lives.
I just did my one-man show, Like a Dog on
Linoleum, in Palm Springs to sold-out audiences. And
then I did that live Will & Grace episode. So I
don't know who I'm supposed to be.
Are performances of Sordid Lives and Southern
Baptist Sissies overlapping? Saturday afternoon is a Sordid matinee,
but I told Del, "Honey, I'm not going to
do a matinee. I don't mean to be a diva, but to get
in drag like that, and then jump out of drag, and then
do an evening performance of
Sissies...that's just insane."
How do you separate Peanut from Brother Boy?It's weird; it has something to do with those
high heels. Last night, while the techs were adjusting
the lights, I thought, I'm not going to put on
my heels, but I couldn't do Brother Boy without the
high heels on. So here I am completely out of drag
with these fluffy high-heel bedroom slippers on.
Brother Boy has a much different vocal pattern [than
Peanut], and there's a kind of innocence to him that
I can fall into real easy by just kinda battin'
Southern Baptist Sissies character, is so jaded.
He's been sittin' on that bar stool.
He's closer to me--I'm a recovering
alcoholic. I used to tell my friend Del Shores all my
stories. I really did sit on a bar stool at
Hunter's down on Santa Monica Boulevard, and
there's all those boys just 30 days out of prison.
And there I'd be with a drink and a checkbook.
People would say, "You oughta go up to Numbers;
they have better rent boys." I'd said,
"No, honey, I like those bargain-basement boys.
I'm not going to spend $200!" I would tell Del
all these stories. Then he called to tell me
he'd written this play, and we did a
read-through. I was so angry with him. I said, "You
have told every one of my stories...I'm sober
now, I don't want to go back and relive all
that mess." He said, "I think it'll be
very healing," and I said, "I think
that's my business." But he was exactly right.
It's been so healing. I kind of live out my
"drunkelogue" every week. Peanut is easy
to tap into.
What is it like returning to these roles after all these years?I had several concerns when Del said "Do you want
to do it?" I'd been touring with Like
a Dog on Linoleum, where I have a big cut of the
box office and I can make a couple grand a night, and I
said, "So what does this pay, dear?" And
he said, "$23 per performance." I said,
"Gosh, honey, I don't know if I can go
out there for $23." But my biggest concern,
especially with Sordid Lives having had the success
it had as a movie, was that it would be camp, like
Rocky Horror Picture Show. What if people
show up dressed like the characters and holler things
out or something? [Ed.: This happens regularly at
midnight screenings of the film in Palm Springs.] So
we've been real careful, especially with
Sissies, to remain true to the gist of the play.
the first time I've ever performed Brother Boy
onstage sober. We were in that play on the corner of
Hollywood and Cahuenga [10 years ago], and I used to
get bored because my character had these huge
breaks...so I'd go down to the Spotlight [gay bar]
and have a drink. It's really interesting to be
completely sober and present. I think [audiences] are
going to see a sterling Brother Boy...very alert!
Does Brother Boy still think he's Tammy Wynette?Yes, we're keeping it exactly the same. A lot of
the young stagehands didn't know who Tammy
Wynette was. There was a reference we worried about
that didn't make it into the film. At one point in
Sordid Lives the Noleta Nethercott
character, which was played by Delta Burke in the
movie and will be played by Patrika Darbo--big soap
opera actress [formerly of Days of Our
Lives]--in the play. She says, "You just
better be glad I'm not Latin and don't have a
knife." It was a reference to Lorena Bobbitt.
That had just happened when the play first came out.
Latinas have such funny tempers, so it may work anyway.
Are audiences different now than they were when you first
performed it? The boys that we hired [for Southern Baptist
Sissies] this time are younger, and I think it
works better. There used to be this really emotional
scene where a light would come up on a drag queen and
she'd do this really moving number that, in
rehearsal, we thought was just gorgeous. And it would
get huge laughs. It was really uncomfortable. Del kept
saying, "There shouldn't be laughter."
So we had the drag queen turn her back to the
audience. And I noticed, in this particular run,
audiences are so into that particular moment that they
don't laugh at all...not one single chuckle.
I've also noticed that Del has a little money
now...so the production values are much bigger. And the
advance buzz is great; every single performance is
sold to the gills. That makes it very exciting!
Have you added any new layers to either of the characters?I used to want to cry onstage every night. Oh,
I'd sit and listen to every sad song I could
think of. What was my favorite song to listen to?
There was a song called "Melissa" by the
Allman Brothers. I'd just sit there and bawl!
It was just
exhausting. It's the different between American
actors and British actors. British actors can just do
it with technique and make you feel the same thing.
But American actors are like Dustin Hoffman, drilling
a hole in his tooth to feel the pain for Marathon
Man. His face was all swollen, and Laurence
Olivier said, "My dear boy, why don't
you just try acting?" Now, at my age, I'm
relying more on technique. And I haven't heard
one complaint. Look, if I'm going to go out
there six nights a week, I don't want to be an
emotional wreck. I'm 50 years old...it's
a job. I do and I give and everyone's pleased. And I
go home and I'm not exhausted. I'm realizing
more and more that there are ways you can bring the
tears on, or at least the semblance of tears. Nine
times out of 10 we were a bit masturbatory before, when
actually it's a much more interesting choice
not to cry. You might get a little verklempt,
and then you adjust, and that's even more endearing
and touching to an audience than you sitting there
How is the Del Shores stage different from the Will
& Grace stage?The thing that I love about Will & Grace is
that there's a clear-cut reason for my
character to be there. I come in with the zinger. My
character seldom has much to do with moving the story ahead.
I know exactly what my job is there. It's just
a party, basically. I'm just having a ball.
Like Brother Boy and Peanut, Beverley Leslie definitely
has some major issues about his sexuality. Have
you ever yearned to play a well-adjusted gay person?[Laughs] I don't see that on the radar. I
would love to, though. But I love that [Will &
Grace] really tapped into something: that Southern
closeted homosexual with a wife. We have this
wonderful cowboy bar episode coming up on March 3. My
[character's] wife has died now, and I'm
kind of a free man. So my "business associate"
Benji and I go to this cowboy bar. And they had me in these
female stretch Wranglers tucked into white boots, a
glittery cowgirl shirt, and this big ten-gallon hat.
And one of the characters says, "What are you
doin' here?" And I say, "I'm
just here having a drink with my business
associate." And Will goes, "You're
still trying to push him off as your business
associate in the middle of a gay bar." [Cackles
Will & Grace's Brokeback
Mountain moment! So how do your Del fans
differ from your W&G fans?When I get recognized somewhere, it's almost
always 50-50 between Will & Grace and
Sordid Lives. I was thinking, as I watched
the [Southern Baptist Sissies] audience the other
day, Del's fan base is very Palm
Springs--it's gay gentlemen of a certain age.
We've got to start getting these younger guys in!
What amazes me with Will & Grace fans is
how young they are and how straight they are. The guys
always come up and go, "You are so funny on that
show. My girlfriend watches that show."
[Laughs] They never say they watch it. But what
a wonderful thing to be part of a TV show that has done so
much to combat homophobia, just with laughter.
What do you hope audiences will get out of these new revivals?Well, I hope to get jobs out of it! People say,
"Oh, you do theater!" And I say,
"Honey, I do theater to get better TV and film
roles." But no, I think that Southern
Baptist Sissies is a really important piece
right now, especially with our current government. I read in
the paper where in Kansas City somebody hollered out
to Bush, "Have you seen Brokeback
Mountain?" And he said, "Well, I'd
love to talk about ranching." So there's
still work to be done. And Sordid Lives is
Del's coming-out story, which still has resonance.
Those scenes with the son and the mother are verbatim.
He called me the night he had the conversation. He
said, "I told my mom." And I said,
"What did she say?" It was really quiet,
then he goes, "She asked if I was the man or the
woman." And that was one of the scenes in Sordid Lives.
Any "sordid" stories from the return engagement?Well, I do have one: I have to shave myself for my
Brother Boy role because I'm hairy as a
monkey--it's the gay cardinal sin! So I went
out to Palm Springs this weekend and hired several
young men to shave me...just to shave me! So
I'm slick and I'm ready and I hope people come
All six of Del Shores's plays are playing through
the end of 2006 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456
Melrose Ave. Please consult with the box office,
(800) 595-4849), or www.seasonofshores.com for a