Leslie Jordan asks me to call him back in five minutes because a person’s come to install mama’s brand new curtains. That is as much of a break for me as it’s for him since, if you’ve ever spoken to Jordan, you know that anything more than a ten minute dialogue is best done with an intermission. Gives you time to breathe. Consult the Lord. Have a shot while he gives his new customers the dimension for mama’s drapes because Jordan has tales . As soon as we reconnectI could hear birds chirping as he tells me, in his signature drawl, which he’s looking out over his mother’s house in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rocking to the front porch swing. I imagine that there is no better venue to take in a tall tale or two out of a man not quite five foot.
As most interviews imply, Jordan is promoting a job —Company’s Comin’ is his debut gospel album, featuring the likes of Dolly Parton and Eddie Vedder and Tanya Tucker. When I ask him if he’s angling for a Grammy, he erupts into excitement like he has never considered this once in his life. “Oh, my God. Oh!” he screams. “A Grammy? I don’t know,” the”o” sound in know stretching out like a slip and slide.
But what our conversation ultimately melts into is a chat about God. God and the South and being gay. As two Tennesseans, we talk about how people have actually told us we’re ignorant for dabbling in matters of faith and the divine. So why would a 66-year-old veteran actor, who’s found a new audience through social media fame during a pandemic, want to record a gospel album and talk about God (all while mama’s curtains are being put up)?
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Well, why wouldn’t he? After all, he’s good friends with Eddie Vedder despite never really listening to Pearl Jam. And he toured with Tammy Faye Bakker in the later years of her life, so he knows God, or some version of him. And Dolly and him have talked about how Jesus felt about homosexuals, so his bases are pretty much covered!
A lot of people know Jordan from his viral Instagram-pandemic fame–he has nearly 6 million followers after all. Others know him from roles in Will & Grace or The Help or Sordid Lives, but this era of his career is for people to know Leslie Jordan: a 66-year-old, sober, gay Christian (or something like it) man who just wants you to be comfortable if you’re going to come over for a visit.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To jump into things, did you ever imagine a year ago that you would have been making your Opry debut this spring?
No, that was not on my list of things. In 1982, I stepped off a bus in California and I had a whole list. I wanted to be on television and I wanted to get my SAG card and I wanted to work as an actor. That was my main goal.
And singing? My friend Travis Howard and I did not envision anything like this. We just loved getting together on Sunday and singing hymns. We put them on the Instagram and called it hymn singing. Let’s do some hymn singing. And all of a sudden we start getting [attention]. I even had to call my friend, Mike Lotus, who’s the executive producer on this. I said,”How did this occur? I can not remember.” I never think about how it happened, but a lot of things are like that in my life. Things seem to work in my favor. I don’t know if it’s a past life or if it’s a, I don’t know what it is, but it’s been so much fun getting to make first of all.
The lineup of people that have joined this is crazy. I mean, that song with Eddie Vedder? C’mon.
Isn’t that pretty? And that is one of only two that were not real hymns. Danny Myrick wrote that keeping in mind the feel of the album. But that is not an old hymn, but when we sent it to Eddie, he just made it his own. And as my mother used to say,”Well, you’re only singing it to the Lord. Sing out, just sing loud.” So that’s the way I was taught. And thank goodness I have a musical ear because there’s a lot of people that sing for the Lord that are just… We had one old girl, I remember in my class, in my church choir, that the choir teacher would tell”Why not just mouth it” But anyway, I guess everybody does their best.
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Did you have a connection to Eddie Vedder beforehand?
I had met Eddie through his wife. His wife came to see me. They live in Seattle and I used to have a comedy show that I traveled with, and we were doing a night in Seattle and she came and brought all her girlfriends. Eddie was supposed to come that night, but he was stuck in the studio. And so I had a connection through her over the years.
Then I was in Hawaii visiting my friend, Mike Lotus, that I mentioned. He said,”The Vedders wish to have dinner .” I said,”Oh Lord, I can not, no, I can not move.” I didn’t want to go. “I’ll run out of things to say!” But it was just a lovely dinner. We had their eldest daughter who’s about 15; she was with us and we just yammered away. You know, I was never even a Pearl Jam fan. I remember”girl, girl,” remember that one? Something about daughter? Anyway, there was only a couple of songs that I knew of his. But I’m a huge Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder fan now, at 66 years of age.
But that night, I looked at my watch and we sat there three hours, so we certainly didn’t run out of things to say. But he’s as real, as real, as real gets. That’s what I love, when you meet somebody that’s that famous, but you just feel like… That’s how Dolly was, like you’re just sitting with your best friend.
Oh, I can’t even imagine.
I tell you what was cute… I get a lot of people who see me on TV and they’ll say,”Can I get your autograph?” And I said,”And you need his also.” Because sitting right next to me was Eddie Vedder. I said,”That’s the autograph you desire.” They didn’t even notice him, but that’s the power of television. I’ve done 30, 40 years on television, so I’ve got quite the recognizable face.
Seeing you throughout the years playing these very distinctive, flamboyant characters has been fun, but–to get personal–it’s been such a pleasure to see you being yourself over the past year. And this album, as a gay Tennessee kid who grew up Southern Baptist? It’s very special.
And you knew these songs.
I have the hardest time up here explaining to people how all those things can be in one package.
You are preaching to the choir. I know exactly what you’re trying to say. I would rather be known… let’s say you had a kid that you thought was going to be gay. I’d like a parent to be able to say [they’re gay] as if the kid was going to be left-handed. Not with pride. Certainly not with shame–just, it is. It’s not what we do and it’s not how we act, it’s just what we are. And I think we’re moving in that direction. I still think we got a lot of work to do, but gosh, if you only knew.
When I was a kid, I thought that I was maybe the only one. What a horrible thing to lay on a kid. And I think that it makes us a better people. Hang on. Can you hang on with me one second.
Getting new curtains at my mother’s house. Hey sweetheart, I’m going to be finished here in a minute or two, can you call me back in five minutes?
Five minutes later…
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I feel like this is a big question to hop right back into, but what was it like growing up in the church for you?
When I’m trying to be dramatic, I’ll say,”Well, I walked away from the church.” I never walked off. Everything we did, everything, was surrounding the church. Sunday morning, Sunday evenings. Plus it was a great youth. And I believe that the problem started when I realized I was gay. I just had nothing to do with the church . So what’s intriguing to me would be always to be 66 years old and have zero ax to grind. I am not quite sure how. I wish I had some great stories of how I learned approval just over the years. I really don’t know.
I’ve heard more about who I am and what I am, and I’m perfectly comfortable with it. I lost my dad when I was 11. He had been killed in a plane crash. Therefore, if I had had a daddy, it might’ve been different. I have an uncle, however I really don’t remember asking questions. I just knew queer was awful. I didn’t want to be queer, but I didn’t have an option in it. Inform you when the actual work started was when I got sober, when I had been 42 years old. Since there was a great deal of–22 years there–drinking and drugging and carrying on all over Hollywood. All of a sudden, you are queen of everything. All the pubs and everything. And you realize there was a lot of inner homophobia which I coped with. This was sort of this job started on the inner homophobia.
I think there’s some type of divine reason that I got sober when I did, since I had to perform the job. I don’t know where I’d be, if I did not. I know I’d still be drinking, probably, and carrying on and having fun, whatever. But I think at some point, I heard early in sobriety that if you put pencil to paper, then it slows your mind to the speed of a pencil and
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