His marching days are over, but Emmy Award winner Leslie Jordan is proud for bringing LGBT+ life into US living rooms, and helping bust prejudice with hit TV sitcom, Will & Grace.
When he joined the programme, which premiered in 1998, and was one of the first mainstream shows with leading gay characters, straight men would approach him in public and tell him their girlfriends or wives were fans.
“(But) by the end of the run, construction workers out on the street were hollering, ‘I love you on that show,'” Jordan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via a video call from Savannah, in the southern US state of Georgia.
“We’ve made some progress.”
Speaking before the British publication of his new book, “How Y’all Doing? Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived”, Jordan said the long-running sitcom’s characters “were the first gay people in many people’s living rooms”.
“I’m proud of that,” he said. He played the closeted Beverley Leslie, frequent sparring partner of Karen Walker, performed by double Emmy Award-winning Megan Mullally.
“You don’t think as things are happening that, ‘Oh, I’m a gay icon’, but then you look back and you think: ‘Wow! You know what I’ve done – I’ve done my share,'” Jordan said.
While remaining an advocate for LGBT+ rights, the 65-year-old said:
“Honey, I leave the marching to the kids.”
But Jordan remains relevant, and his book charts his unexpected, new-found following on Instagram.
“Fame is something I’ve always wanted,” Jordan said, but social media was a mystery when he first signed up.
“A friend called and said: ‘You’ve gone viral’ and I said, ‘I’m fine, I don’t have COVID. And he said, ‘No, you’re internet viral.'”
FAME AT A PRICE
Will & Grace, which ran for an initial eight series, and was rebooted almost 20 years later, brought both fame and awards, including a Primetime Emmy for Jordan.
But now the actor, who also appears in the long-running FX television series, American Horror Story, has become known to a whole new generation of fans, through his quirky and unscripted Instagram posts, filmed as COVID-19 ravaged the United States.
“Silly stories about my family, baton twirling with a back scratcher, doing yoga stretches up on the kitchen counter, cutting my own hair to old hippie rock music….” Jordan recalls in his new book.
The scenes of ordinary life in extraordinary times touched a nerve, with Jordan amassing close to 6 million Insta followers.
But they came at a price.
“I’m the kind of guy that likes to go to Starbucks and sit and read for newspapers. You know, I used to sit for hours in Starbucks. Can’t do it (now),” he said with a shrug.
A collection of stories inspired by his Instagram posts, “How Y’all Doing” builds on his earlier autobiography – only this one gets his mother’s seal of approval.
“Finally, one she can tell her girlfriends in Sunday school, ‘You’ve got to read my son’s book,'” Jordan says laughing.
“Because she wouldn’t have said that about the last one. She was just horrified.”
Horrified because the road to fame came with pitfalls, and his first book details both drug abuse and sex addiction.
Looking back, Jordan says while he may not have achieved his dream of becoming the ‘gay Hugh Hefner’, referring to the founder of Playboy magazine, he did get to duet with one of his heroes, singer Dolly Parton, on a recent album of hymn covers.
“You know exactly what she’s like; you don’t have to meet her. She is what she is,” Jordan said.
“She’s like creme brulée – you just want to eat her with a spoon.”
-Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh – Thomson Reuters Foundation