He was the first to confirm the return of Will & Grace but, with the news series now premiered, Leslie Jordan has no idea if he’ll be back as Beverley Leslie, Karen Walker’s antagonist extraordinaire. “I honestly don’t know what’s happening,” he insists. “They haven’t called me yet, but I’ve heard they want to bring recurring characters back and I’d love to return.”
With season nine super-sized from the planned ten episodes to 16, and a tenth season already ordered before the first new episode has even gone out in the US, Leslie puts on his best Southern drawl to declare: “So they better trot me out at some point.”
They had indeed. Dubbed a “frosted Mini Wheat” by Megan Mullally’s Karen,
Beverley’s bitch-offs with the busty boozehound are the stuff of comedy gold. When fans aren’t quoting the legendary “I thought I smelled gin and regret” line to him, they’re good-naturedly instructing “Get back up in your tree!”
The sitcom’s return, he feels, couldn’t be more timely given how LGBT+ rights in the US are under attack. “We’ve lost so much ground,” he sighs. “We’ve got to gain it back. And it’s such a wonderful show that I’d love to get the call.”
OK, so Beverley died in the season eight finale in 2006, when strong winds blew him off a balcony, but Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick have already said they’re pretending the events of that finale never happened. Not that the man who broke the news of its resurrection on a radio show last Christmas is twiddling his thumbs.
When we speak, the Los Angeles-based thesp is heading to Massachusetts to play Truman Capote, and he recently completed filming on Sky’s new comedy drama Living the Dream. It’s a six-parter about a British couple (Lesley Sharp and Philip Glenister) who move to the US seeking a new life and end up living in a Florida trailer park with Leslie as an impoverished Southern gentleman named Aiden.
His sexuality isn’t specified. “He was not written gay at all,” says Leslie, adding that Aiden even develops a big crush on Lesley Sharp’s Jen. “But come on, you put me in there and there’s a hint. I open my mouth and 50 yards of purple chiffon come out!” As we chat, Leslie is in LA wishing he was in London. “I love the weather there,” he coos, making ‘love’ sound like ‘lurve’. “In Hollywood, California it’s 72 fucking degrees every single day.” It was even hotter when they filmed Living the Dream in Savannah. “We were absolutely miserable. I grew up in mugginess but I’ve never been around that kind of muggy. And the bugs! My God! Those gnats would dive into our eyes and our ears.”
He fell in love with co-star Lesley Sharp just as he did with Megan Mullally. His verbal volleys with the latter on Will & Grace were so hilarious it’s a wonder they ever completed a take. There was, he reveals, a lot of corpsing during rehearsals. “But they wouldn’t allow that when the cameras were rolling. We shot in front of a live audience and the quandary was getting everything done and keeping them interested. But shoot nights were a blast. We had a DJ to crank the audience up and we kept giving them sugar.”
Unsure if he’ll be returning for the reboot, Leslie definitely isn’t in American Horror Story: Cult. But, having been in both AHS: Coven and Roanoke, he’d sign up for another one in a heartbeat. Guided by the genius Ryan Murphy, the show offers him a chance to flex his serious acting chops, though comedy is his bread and butter and he’s fine with that. He recalls graduating from theatre school in Tennessee and being told, ‘Mr Jordan, you are capable of genuine artistry but you are the laziest actor and you’re probably going to go to Hollywood and be on sitcoms.’ He laughs loud enough to rattle not just the earpiece on our phone but also everything on my desk. “Guilty! You can kiss my rich ass!”
But when he got on the Coven set in 2013 he thought, ‘Yes, I have been very lazy’ and realised he’d have to up his game.
“But I did it and I’m so proud of my work on that show. On the last season I did, there was a séance, and in the room was me, Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr, Academy Award winner Angela Bassett, Academy Award winner Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson, who has won just about every other award in the world.” The owner of a Primetime Emmy for Will & Grace, he adds: “I was thinking, ‘There’s a lot of golden hardware in this room and here I am at the same table.’”
Truman Capote in the play Warhol Capote is another dream role. It’s about a series of freewheeling conversations between the celebrated pop artist and the equally celebrated writer. “All Andy Warhol does is grunt while I ramble,” Leslie deadpans. “But it’s a great part and I’m putting all my eggs into this basket. In Hollywood I’m usually the funny guy who comes in with a zinger and no one considers me for anything beyond that, except Ryan Murphy.”
He doesn’t know Ryan well, but admires how meticulous he is. When he was doing Coven he mentioned to someone on the set that he was thinking of wearing his glasses in a scene. They went, ‘That’s a Ryan question,’ disappeared, came back two minutes later and said, ‘Ryan loves your blue eyes so put the glasses on at the top of the scene but take them off immediately.’
Leslie also admires how Ryan has done more than his bit for diversity on television. “He uses gay actors whether they’re playing gay or not, just as an African-American would want to use good African-American actors or a Latin director would want to use his tribe. Ryan uses Cheyenne Jackson a lot and Cheyenne never usually plays gay on Ryan’s shows because he’s just so butch.”
We’re not sure how butch Silver Foxes will be, or if indeed the proposed sitcom about four men in a gay Golden Girls scenario will make it to the screen any time soon, but Leslie is hopeful. He’s done a reading of the pilot and says it’s now in search of a channel. “It’s got a lot of heart. It’s not just, ‘Let’s have a bunch of old queens up there.’”
Not that Leslie thinks that, 19 years since Will & Grace first hit the airwaves, audiences would have a problem with it. “Straight men used to come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you on TV.’ I’d tell them, ‘I’m on Will & Grace,’ and they would immediately go, ‘Oh yeah, my girlfriend watches that.’ They never said they watched it themselves. Then eight years later hardhat workers on the street would holler, ‘Hey, I love you on that show!’ I think it turned the tide, I really do. When we look back on the history of gay people on television we’ll see that’s when the tide turned.”
Here’s hoping Leslie Jordan gets to be part of the next chapter.
Living the Dream starts on Sky 1 in October, @thelesliejordan