At 4 foot 11 inches tall, Leslie Jordan is one of the shortest actors in Hollywood—but thanks in part to his Southern charm, he has a big presence in any production in which he finds himself.
Jordan will be performing his one man play Unwrapped: Southern Holiday Stories as the first ticketed show at the brand-new Copa Room in Palm Springs, from Thursday, Dec. 19, through Saturday, Dec. 21.
Born in 1955 in Memphis, Tenn., Jordan’s mother was 19 years old when he was born. His father, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, was killed in a plane crash when Jordan was only 11. He grew up in a deeply religious, conservative atmosphere, and he told his story of growing up as a tiny boy while being “the gayest man I know” in his autobiography, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, which also became a one-man show.
While Jordan has had a successful career in Hollywood by any measure, he said during a recent interview that acting wasn’t his original career of choice.
“I had been around horses, and I wanted to be a jockey,” said Jordan. “I never became a jockey, and I was an exercise-rider. I went back to school; I got a degree (in theater), and thought while I was at the University of Tennessee, ‘You know, I gotta go somewhere,’ so I decided either L.A. or New York. I thought, ‘…I’ll start with a tan, so I’ll go out to L.A.’”
He came West to start an acting career in 1982.
“When I look back on it, I didn’t have doubts. I was so naïve about the whole thing,” he said. “I got off a bus near Hollywood and Vine. I had $1,200 sewn into my underpants by my mother because we didn’t even have ATMs back then, and I just sort of thought, ‘Here I am!’”
Jordan found work doing commercials and made his TV-show debut on an episode of The Fall Guy in 1986. In 1990, he starred in the campy comedy Ski Patrol with then-up-and-coming comedian George Lopez, as well as Martin Mull and Ray Walston. He has earned numerous roles in TV and film productions within a wide variety of genres—including a couple of horror films. He’s probably best known for his roles as Beverley Leslie on Will and Grace, and as Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram in Sordid Lives. More recently, he was on American Horror Story.
When asked how he chooses his roles, he said choice doesn’t come into play much.
“Honey, if they offer it to me, I do it,” he said. “I have to. There’s no plan, and there’s no, ‘Oh, am I attracted to this project?’ At my level, if it’s offered to me, I have to do it. I ain’t no Tom Cruise—but I’m a whole lot of fun. Sometimes I think I’m the biggest whore in Hollywood: 100 bucks a day and a square meal, and you’ve got me! Pay me the money, and I’ll be like an aging show pony.”
Jordan has also found success as a playwright. His first play, Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued my Life Thus Far, found success both off-Broadway and in Los Angeles.
“They call me a playwright, and I kinda think … I don’t write anything for anyone other than myself,” he said. “I (once) had a casting director who told my people, ‘Leslie is a very funny guy who comes in with the singers, and that’s going to be his career. He’s going to have a long and very storied career, but we don’t think at this point that he could carry a show.’ I thought, ‘You know what? He doesn’t think I can keep people enthralled for an hour or whatever; I’ll write my own play.’”
In a sense, Jordan said he wasn’t prepared for the success ofHysterical Blindness.
“I don’t think I was quite ready for that. The critics were pretty mean and hurt my feelings,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m not a playwright! I just write things for me.’ They approached it as if it was a theater piece. I didn’t write anything again for 10 years. But that’s what attracted me. … I wanted to showcase myself for better TV and film roles.”
As for how Unwrapped came to be the Copa Room’s debut show: Dave Morgan, a local public-relations/events producer, suggested the show to Jordan after hearing his hilarious Christmas stories from his childhood.
“I told (Dave Morgan), ‘I don’t have a Christmas show!’ He said, ‘Yes, you do. I know a lot of your stories. I’ve heard them all over the years about how your daddy bought you a bride doll one Christmas, and that funny story about when you got a pony another Christmas.’ So we put together an amazing little Christmas show that’s just me telling stories about Christmas in the South, growing up with Christmas, and what Christmas was like. We’re going to keep it short, sweet—and I’m not going to ramble.”
Jordan doesn’t have any kids, and his identical twin sisters never married or had any kids. Therefore, Christmas these days is pretty quiet for him and his family members, he said.
“We’re a little family unit, with my mom, my sisters and me,” he said. “I take them everywhere I go. I took them to Barcelona one year, to Casablanca, and other various gay cruises—but there are no kids. Christmas is very quiet. Sometimes, we don’t even take off our pajamas, and we just lay around.”
Leslie Jordan performs Unwrapped: Southern Holiday Stories at 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 19-21, at the Copa Room Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road. According to the Copa website, tickets are sold out. For more information, call 760-866-0021, or visit www.coparoomps.com.