On Thursday, PhilaMOCA is screening Del Shores’ Southern Baptist Sissies, the coming-of-age tale about four gay choir boys growing up in a church in the South. The film stars Leslie Jordan, the adorable, country-bumpkin dynamo who’s stolen scenes — and our gay hearts — in everything from Sordid Lives and Will & Grace to, most recently, American Horror Story: Coven (AHS), where he held his own alongside the likes of Jessica Lange and Francis Conroy.
In Southern Baptist Sissies, Jordan plays a sad old queen bogged down by booze and too many memories — a stark contrast to his typical role as comedic relief. Here I chat with him about what it was like playing this darker role, how the film parallels his experience growing up gay in Chattanooga, Tenn., and then, of course, we get side tracked talking about boys, backstage secrets of all the fabulous divas he’s worked with, and whether or not he’ll return for the fourth season of AHS.
G Philly: Hi Leslie! This is Josh from G Philly.
Leslie Jordan: I just went on a cruise and met about five people from Philly. They were all real cute. You’ve got a lot of cute boys in Philly.
GP: Were they gay boys?
LJ: Uh-huh. It was a gay cruise to the Caribbean. It was just a homo hoedown.
GP: Where are you now?
LJ: I’m im Los Angeles. I’ve lived here for 30 years. I’m looking out my window right now at the Hollywood sign.
GP: Wow. In all that time, you never lost your Southern accent.
LJ: I sure haven’t. I tried early in my career, but then I gave up and that’s when I started working. [Laughs]
GP: Being from the South, you must have been able to relate to the characters in Southern Baptist Sissies. Did you have a hard time growing up in church in the South.
LJ: I did, but it was more internal. I really wanted to be a really good Christian, like some of the boys in the movie. I was baptized 14 times. Every time the preacher would say, “Come forward, sinners!,” I’d say “Oooh, I was out in the woods with that boy, I better go forward. ” My mother thought I was being dramatic. She’d say, “Leslie, you’re already saved,” and I’d say, “Well, I don’t think it took.” [Laughs]
GP: So you were meeting boys when you were that young?
LJ: Yes! Oh, honey, right out of the gate. I was messing around with boys in the woods and everywhere. I was in the Chattanooga Boys Choir, and we went on a bus trip to Montreal, Canada, in 1967. That’s the first time I remember — messing around in the back of the bus with some of the older boys. I was the choir slut!
GP: [Laughs] Do you still like older men?
LJ: No! No! Lord God, honey. I like ’em real, real young. You know at my age you’ve got to dip in your pocket if you’re gonna get a young one. I like straight boys, too. I’ve got a boy who lives with me. I dragged him out of Swinging Richards in Atlanta, when he was 26. Now he’s 34.
GP: So that’s your boyfriend?
LJ: Well, whatever. I don’t know what you call it. My platonic … partner. I don’t know. He’s just around. I can’t get rid of him. He’s the most beautiful man you ever laid your eyes on, though.
GP: We’re so used to you playing the comedy relief, but in Southern Baptist Sissies your character, Peanut, is so dark. Was that hard to play?
LJ: When I used to drink — I hadn’t had a drink in 17 years — that was kind of my story. I’d sit down there at Hunter’s on Santa Monica Boulevard with a drink in one hand and a credit card in the other. That’s where all the hustlers used to hang out. I’d sit there and talk and pick those boys up. All those stories in Southern Baptist Sissies are all true. The character of Peanut was based on me and my shenanigans back when I drank. A lot of the quotes — that was all me, stuff I’d come up with in the bars. It was a real collaboration with Del [Shores.] Same way with Brother Boy in Sordid Lives. We’ve always worked like that.
GP: Did you go to the Oscars?
LJ: God no. That’s a panic attack waiting to happen. All my life I wanted to be on the red carpet, and when I got nominated for that Emmy [for Will & Grace], I was so nervous I had to shit three times in the limousine on the way over. They’d have to pull the car over at the Chevron station. It’s just too much pressure.
GP: I have to ask about some of your fabulous diva co-stars. Tell me a secret about Jessica Lange.
LJ: You’re not going to get any secrets from her. She’s a movie star. She’s been breathing that rarefied air for so many years. She’s kind of shy; she just doesn’t give it away. She’s very pleasant, you know, “Hello. Good Morning,” but it’s all work with her. I learned so much about her just by working with her. I got to meet Kathy Bates.
GP: What was she like?
LJ: She has a Southern accent thicker than you or me. I thought she was putting it on; I wondered if she was making fun of me. Somebody said, no, honey, she’s from Memphis.
GP: What about Francis Conroy?
LJ: Francis is another one that’s all work. It’s all about the work. I had the most fun with Gabourey Sidibe. She said to me, “Are you gay?” I said, “Are you black?! Of course I’m gay!” She laughed, said she loved gay boys.
GP: Will you be on the next season of American Horror Story?
LJ: I don’t know. I’m afraid to even get my hopes up. I bumped into Jamie Brewer, and she said Angela [Bassett] had already signed on for another one. But we’ll see. She said you don’t usually hear till about May. They don’t go into production till July.
GP: What was it like working with Delta Burke on Sordid Lives?
LJ: Oh, I love Delta Burke. Delta’s exactly like you think she would be — except a little nuttier.
GP: And then there’s Megan Mullally on Will & Grace. I bet you guys had a lot of fun.
LJ: She’s just my favorite actress ever. She’s like me; she doesn’t want to do a lot of preparation. We’d just get in front of that camera and it was just like verbal ping-pong. She’s the only one of the four of them that I’ve kept up with.
GP: What’s next for you?
LJ: I got a part in a sitcom called Benidorm. I swear it’s funnier than Absolutely Fabulous. It airs in England, but it shoots in Spain. So I’ll be there for two or three weeks.
GP: That’ll be nice: good food, nice siestas …
LJ: … uncut Latin boys. Love that!
GP: [Laughs] It seems like you’re working a lot. Is Leslie Jordan as happy as he seems?
LJ: Yes, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. In my line of work, you’re always thinking about what’s next, but then you reach your fifties and you realize that you’ve just got to live for today. It happened after I won that Emmy. I just relaxed and decided to let it all come to me as it did, and I’ve never worked more or been happier in my life.
GP: It’s a shame you’re not coming to Philly for the screening. Have you ever been here?
LJ: I have. I loved it. I’ll tell you a funny story about Philly: The first time I went there I wanted to get a cheeseteak. So I walked [to South Philly] and stood between Pat’s and Geno’s — Will & Grace was on the air at the time. There were all those butch South Philly boys, and one of them was chopping that meat and he looked over and said, “Hey, you’re from TV, aren’t you? What’s that show you play on?” I said, “Will & Grace.” And they all looked at each other and said, “We don’t watch that one.” [Laughs] It was a bunch of straight boys — my type!
Southern Baptist Sissies screens Thursday, March 13th at PhilaMOCA. More information here.