Sometimes even Leslie Jones doesn’t want to be Leslie Jones. That’s why her new comedy series, “Our Flag Means Death,” checks all of the boxes.
“I was in as soon as they said, ‘Black pirate,’” Leslie Jones recalled about the offer to play Spanish Jackie in the HBO Max series “Our Flag Means Death.”
Even better, Jones — a three-time Emmy nominee during her five audacious years on “Saturday Night Live” and a provocative live-tweeter on everything from Zoom backgrounds to the Olympics — was being asked to leave behind what she called her “crazy, out-there personality.”
“We are so happy that Leslie Jones is here, but we don’t want Leslie Jones right now,” the comedy’s creator, David Jenkins, told her, giving Jones the freedom to embrace her inner rogue.
“Our Flag Means Death” sends up the historical partnership between Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), an aristocrat turned pirate, and the legendary Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). The marauders first encounter each other in the Republic of Pirates, where Spanish Jackie, in a Prince-style get-up, is a fearsome bar owner with 19 husbands — and out for revenge for the death of the 20th, her favorite.
“She came up hard, and she’s probably had to fight so many men and prove that she is the captain of her ship and the boss of her life,” Jones said. “I’m not saying Leslie don’t have a little of that in her, but Spanish Jackie embodies being a badass.”
Jones will soon be transforming into another not-so-Jones character — Mrs. Claus — for an as-yet untitled Christmas movie expected in 2023.
“Now, if Santa knows when you’ve been naughty and nice, you definitely know Mrs. Claus knows that, right?” Jones said while discussing her cultural appetite in a recent video call from Los Angeles. “If anything, she’s doing most of the work.”
Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. Los Angeles Lifestyle I always was in L.A. before I went to New York to do “S.N.L.” But I don’t think I appreciated L.A. until I moved back, because New York is hardcore. If you stay there longer than two years, you’re going to get sinus infections. It’s terrible. I never thought of New York as a place to actually live, but people do. They love it, you know? L.A. is just more personal space, just the sunshine out here. I love how relaxed it is, because the last seven years have been hectic. It’s like a nice breath of fresh air.
2. Vinyl Records My dad was a D.J. forever, and he used to collect albums. I think he had up to 2,000 albums and when he passed, I had to sell the collection because I had nowhere to keep it. I was broke at the time. So now I’m collecting a lot of albums back. I got my little private record player in my office. Then I got one for the house that I could play over the speaker. It’s been so fun to have people send me albums because when you see them again, you go, “Oh my God, I thought it was a dream.”
3. The Olympics The Olympics were a very important thing [when I was growing up]. I remember us getting school time off. I remember people taking days off of work to support the Games and the athletes. I always loved it, especially the gymnastics and the figure skating. What it’s come to now is great and how beautiful it is. I’ve always thought that this is the one time that all countries put down whatever it is that they have against each other and just compete in the Games. It’s almost a moment of world peace to me. Of course, it’s not now, with the timing and everything. But I always loved it because you had a team to cheer for. It was like, “Yeah, our country! Yeah, U.S.A.!”
4. Mental health accountability in sports This is what people need to understand: It’s not enough just to be physically fit for these Games. You have to be mentally fit for these Games. One doesn’t work without the other. And the pressure that is put on these athletes has to be enormous. The way that they attacked Simone Biles, I was ashamed of our country because, first of all, most of the people that complained were sitting on their fat asses on the couch. You’ll never do a cartwheel and you have the nerve to talk about someone and tell them that they let the country down? We have to start taking accountability that they are not actually superheroes. They do make it look like they’re superheroes, but they are humans.
5. Live Tweeting It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time, because I’m going be honest with you — I didn’t actually think people were going to catch on to it. The first time I live-tweeted might have been “Breaking Bad.” It had already been off the air for about five years, but it was so good that I was like, “I’ve got to tell people about this.” So it really did start off as fun. Now it is a job. The politics [commentary] started during Covid and sitting on the couch watching TV, and I don’t think people were paying attention to their backgrounds. I was like, “Does she know she’s in front of — what the [expletive] is that?” I’m always trying to find a way to make people laugh when things are bad. It’s relief. That is what a comic’s job is. We’re jesters.
6. “Euphoria” Oh my God, it’s just such a great show. It also proved to me I was a [expletive] nerd if that’s really what’s going on in high school. And I thank my parents because this is the worst version of “Charlie Brown” I have ever seen. What in the absolute hell is going on in that town?
7. “Bel-Air,” the “Fresh Prince” reboot I got to go to the premiere of “Bel-Air,” and it is sensational the way they did that. TV in the ’80s and ’90s used to be kind of goofy. But behind some of these goofy shows were great plots. So they took the goofiness out of it and made it an actual dramatic story. I told Will Smith, “This is chef’s kiss.” The Fresh Prince on the basketball court wasn’t just some goofy scene of the ball hitting the dude’s head. People got shot. It was like, “Whoa, so that’s why your mama got so scared to send you to L.A.”
8. Stand-up I’ve been a comedian since 1987. All those years of hustling, hustling, hustling to be famous. And then when you become famous, the one thing that you’re so good at is not something that you can just go do anymore, because you’re known as a different person. For a long time, people didn’t even know I was a stand-up — they just thought I came on “S.N.L.” And I was like, “Are you kidding me? That used to pay all my bills.” Doing stand-up in its purest form is still something I love, but it’s not something I always get to do now because it’s hard to go into the clubs. I’m not going in as Leslie the comic, “Hey, can I get a spot?” I’m going in as Leslie Jones, “She’s about to bump everybody off the list.”
9. Brown Bag Lady Charity in Los Angeles Everybody should know about Jacqueline Norvell. She literally started out on a bicycle with a basket full of lunches that she would give to homeless people. And now it’s turned into a big thing where she goes out every day. Sunday, she does a whole meal. She brings barbers down. She brings beauticians down. She gets some coats. She’s doing this by herself. I mean, everybody thinks that they can solve homelessness. You are not going to solve it. You just really have to be kind and do what you can. She’s taking that to the next level.
10. Bryan Buckley, the director of her Super Bowl commercial Usually those commercials are kind of tedious or annoying. People will be asking you for stuff that you just go, “You’re not going to use that.” He was the first guy that I was like, “Oh, this guy knows what he is doing.” He asked specifically for what he wanted, and it’s just like, “Bam!” I think he’s known to be one of the best Super Bowl commercial directors. I was like, “I hope the commercial turns out OK, because it was so easy to do.” Usually when it’s really, really hard and stuff happens, the project turns out beautifully. I was scared that it was so easy.