Leslie Jordan's Surprising Will & Grace Origin Story Revealed: He Was an 11th Hour Replacement for Joan Collins!

Will & Grace fans have Joan Collins to thank for the gift that was Beverley Leslie.

In the wake of Leslie Jordan‘s sudden death this week, former Will & Grace exec producer Jeff Greenstein is revealing the surprising story behind the creation of the late actor’s signature, Emmy-winning role.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Leslie Jordan, obviously, reflecting upon his brilliance, marveling that I got to spend a few years in the company of such an extraordinary comedic talent — and realized that some of y’all may not know the story of how Beverley Leslie came to be,” Greenstein shared on Instagram late Tuesday. “We’d done an episode late in Season 2… featuring Joan Collins as Helena Barnes, a rival member of Karen’s social circle. Joan was a total delight, and we immediately began contriving ways to have her back on the show.”

Cut to Season 3, “We cooked up a story in which Helena tries to steal Karen’s beloved Rosario away from her,”  explained Greenstein, whose credits also include Friends and Desperate Housewives. “The episode climaxed with a high-stakes game of billiards, with the winner getting to ‘keep’ the housekeeper. Now, Helena had been abrasive before, but in writing this episode we pushed her much, much further. And when Joan read the finished script, she passed. Emphatically.”

Instead of tossing out what was “a promising storyline,” Greenstein and Co. “decided to simply develop another rival for Karen,” the EP shared. “And I believe it was [series co-creator] Max Mutchnick who started talking about ‘Beverley Leslie,’ a deeply closeted gay man living off an unseen sugar-mama wife named Crystal. We took the Collins script, did a simple search-and-replace of ‘Helena’ with ‘Beverley,’ polished up a line or two, and casting director Tracy Lilienfield proceeded to work her magic. And from the moment Leslie Jordan stepped on our stage, we knew we’d found gold. Not only was Leslie a comedic genius, and his repartee with Megan Mullally delicious, but his Southernness added a flavor to the show which was irresistible. Any time he wandered into an episode, he brought us a touch of Tennessee Williams.”

Mullally was among the many actors this week paying tribute to Leslie, who died Monday in a car accident after suffering an undisclosed medical emergency.

“My heart is breaking,” Mullally shared on Instagram late Monday. “I really can’t believe it. Leslie Jordan was, hands down, one of the greats. People use that expression a lot, and I’m not sure it’s always applicable. There aren’t that many people who are truly great at anything. But Leslie was flawlessly funny, a virtuoso of comedy. His timing, his delivery, all apparently effortless. You can’t get any better than that.”