Leslie Jordan: “I can’t go near a gay club now I’m famous – it’s a nightmare!”

The country king of camp comedy gives Nick Levine his view on Dolly Parton, Instagram fame and, er, Danny DeVito's penis

Actor Leslie Jordan has been working in Hollywood for 40 years, but thanks to his hilarious lockdown content, he’s more in demand than ever. Given that a typical post might include the time he was ridden by Lady Gaga on the American Horror Story set, it’s no wonder that he now has 5.7 million Instagram followers.

Happily, Insta-fame seems to be opening new doors for the Emmy-winning Will & Grace guest star (he appeared in 17 episodes as Beverley Leslie, a conniving rival for Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker). He’s just dropped a gospel album featuring Dolly Parton and Pearl Jam‘s Eddie Vedder; he has a supporting role opposite Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday; and he’s about to publish a book of essays, How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived.

When I call him, he’s in Palm Springs for a very important live performance. “Mrs. Obama is having a girls-only weekend at the beautiful house she stays in out here, and I’m going over to provide the entertainment at a private comedy show,” Jordan says. “You know, it doesn’t get any better than that.” He’s right – but before his Uber arrives, he gives us his take on life, fame and some of his A-list friends.

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On Dolly Parton

“I’m very good friends with Steve Summers, who travels with her and designs her clothes. It just so happened that when we were in Nashville recording, the phone rang and he said: ‘Listen, we can bring Dolly over if you wanna meet her?’ And I just about fell on the floor. Everybody says to me, ‘Well, what was she like?’ And I just say, ‘Honey, you know what Miss Dolly Parton is like.’ But, she’s actually prettier and striking because she’s so tiny. She’s smart as a whip, but also very accessible and present and genuine. I always ask myself now when I have a quandary: ‘Well, what would Dolly do?””

On Instagram fame

“People think I’m an overnight success, but I’ve been doing this for 40 years now. In the past I’ve had certain levels of fame – especially with Will & Grace – but it’s nothing compared to how it’s been lately. I used to love sitting in Starbucks with my tea and four different newspapers, but I can’t do that now. People come by and ask for a picture, and I’m so gracious that I’m not gonna say no. Everywhere I go now, it’s like a tiny little public appearance, but it’s what I’ve wanted my entire life. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I remember thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to walk into a gay club and have everyone know who you are?’ Well, I couldn’t go near a gay club now – it would be a nightmare!”

Leslie Jordan
Alongside Megan Mullally in ‘Will & Grace’. CREDIT: Alamy

On Danny DeVito

“I heard something once about a casting call for a ‘Leslie Jordan/Danny DeVito type’. I guess because we’re both short. But I just said: ‘The only other thing we have in common is a penis.’ We’re nothing like each other.”

On The United States vs. Billie Holiday

“Originally [director] Lee Daniels wanted a bit of comedic relief – I mean, have you seen the wig I’m wearing? But the minute we began the scene, we realised there’s just nothing to laugh about there. So even though I had that wig on, we had to play it perfectly straight. I sat across from Andra Day and I remember saying to Lee: ‘She’s gonna win awards for this.'” I know she’s mainly known for her music, but she really pulled out the stops.”

On Megan Mullally’s long-mooted Will & Grace musical

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“I would be on board in a minute, but I don’t think it can happen because we don’t own the characters. NBC owns the characters and they don’t want us messing with the [Will & Grace brand] – it’s a huge brand for them. And Broadway is a tough nut to crack. A musical is years in the planning with out-of-town trials and all of that.”

American Horror Story
In Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series ‘American Horror Story’. CREDIT: Alamy

On Ryan Murphy

“He’s always been so brave and outside the box. I can always count on him to write some totally crazy character for me. You know, he’s very loyal to his actors. Look at American Horror Story and all the amazing characters Sarah Paulson has gotten to play over the years. I think people look forward to that – like, ‘What is she gonna do this year?’ He really has his finger on the pulse. People in the gay community have known about Provincetown for years, but now Ryan Murphy is gonna have a series [of American Horror Story] there. Oh my gosh, that’s just thrilling to me. I was wondering why he didn’t cast me in it actually, but then I remembered I’m in [US sitcom] Call Me Kat at the moment, so he can’t.”

On enjoying the quiet life

“When I first moved to Hollywood, Hugh Hefner was living in the Playboy mansion with seven blonde playmates. I thought, ‘That’s what I want, but with seven blonde boys.’ I figured we’d sit around all day having brunch because that was the hot new thing then. But the other day I realised that if I was living in the Hollywood Hills with seven giggly boys, I’d jump off the Hollywood sign. My life really is very quiet: I’ve made it that way because I like it. At my age, you can’t be in the club showing your ass – it’s like, ‘Honey, get off the dance floor, you’re 65 now!'”

Leslie Jordan’s new gospel album ‘Company’s Comin’ is out now via Platoon

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