July 31st - Aug 6th 2006
NICE GUY EDDIE
With a CV bursting with film appearances, an award-winning stand-up career, involvement in politics and – of course – the whole transvestite thing, Eddie Izzard is many people. As he tells Leigh Singer, he used to want to emulate Steve McQueen but now wants to follow Gandhi.
There appears to be several Eddie Izzards in the room during our fascinating chat; all of them eminently charming and garrulous but operating - and succeeding - in a variety of different worlds.
There’s the award-winning, international stand-up comedian who’s performed entire routines to Parisian crowds in French and still plans to attempt gigs in German and Russian. There’s the increasingly in-demand dramatic actor, now established on stage (Lenny, Joe Egg) and screen (Ocean’s Twelve, The Cat’s Meow). There’s the roving, unofficial European Union advocate who recently paid his own way to shadow (and podcast) Tony Blair at a European Council meeting in Brussels. And of course, despite looking dapper in a bespoke midnight blue suit and neatly trimmed goatee today, there’s the man famous for his transvestism, selling out shows in lip-gloss and high heels.
One version that isn’t especially visible however, is the star out shamelessly plugging the nominal reason for this get-together, high-concept Hollywood comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend. A wildly uneven, occasionally downright sexist vehicle for Uma Thurman as a spurned superhero getting even with former flame Luke Wilson, it’s as if Izzard, now 44, knows his supporting role as super-rich villain Professor Bedlam is no classic. Instead his cursory mentions of the film focus on the opportunity to work with Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman and cross over further into the American mainstream.
“I like playing on this global playing field,” he enthuses. “I like to export whatever it is I can do from Britain around the world. I’m all into ambition…because Gandhi was ambitious.”
As with much of Izzard’s recent work, the line is both funny and deadly serious - and few people can get away with making such naked drive and determination look so amiable. It doesn’t disguise the contradictions (this EU-enthusiast is currently based out of L.A) but it does dress them up and make them sparkle.
Take the tailored suit. Izzard, who’s described his sexuality as “straight transvestite or male lesbian”, explains he’s currently in “boy mode”. So is this a instinctive thing that allows him to switch between trousers and skirts when the mood strikes? “That’s the way it should be but in fact I actually choose it quite deliberately now,” he admits. “I’ve been pushing drama and doing that, I’m not going to get roles or studio executives going, ‘Hey, that guy with the make-up, let’s put him in this.’”
It’s pragmatic and no doubt effective, yet Izzard has had evidence of achieving similar results on his own terms. “I got cast as Charlie Chaplin in The Cat’s Meow and I met [director] Peter Bogdanovich wearing a dress and make-up,” he remembers. “I don’t know quite why. I just turned up and he said, ‘I think you could play Chaplin’ and my brain was saying, ‘I can’t see how you can see this, but don’t say no…’”
Looking at his recent resume one could easily think Izzard hasn’t said no to many things, his acting career alone taking in edgy indie fare like Romance and Cigarettes and Blueberry, voicing kids flicks like 5 Children and It and The Wild and a new U.S TV pilot Low Life, starring as an Irish-American travelling con artist.
“I suppose on paper it looks kind of wide but I don’t feel it’s that,” he considers. “All the projects I set up before were of a comedy background but I’ve been pushing for drama ever since I got a dramatic agent in 1993.” Indeed he’s been quoted saying that forced to choose between his blissfully skewed stand-up and acting, he’d opt for the latter.
“As a kid,” he clarifies, “I wanted to be a dramatic actor – age 10, Steve McQueen, could I be that please? Then there was transvestism, deal with that, then not getting roles at school - if you’re going to play the lead in a school play, you need to be able to say, ‘I love you’. I could only say the comedy version – ‘I love you…like beans on toast’… and I just didn’t believe myself doing it straight.”
“I went to university, did stand-up and 10 years later it starts ramping up. Some people would do the circuit and say, ‘I’m just trying to get my Equity card’. We hated those people but as people can see, I’m still doing stand-up. A number of people have gone into sitcoms and they won’t even touch it. But I’m going to do it till I die.”
If ambition is a defining Izzard characteristic, so too is the optimism that abounds whatever subject is under discussion. Mention of his recent Blair / Brussels excursion leads to an in-depth analysis of “subsidiarity - the idea of logical governance: decisions should be made at the levels that seem appropriate”. Unlike many people who delve deeper into politics, disillusionment doesn’t seem to enter the Izzard vocabulary.
“I am never illusioned [sic],” he smiles matter-of-factly. “I never trust anyone completely, I’m never surprised by anything, I don’t know, I’m surprised by people’s ‘surprisedness’. Maybe because my mum died when I was six.” In fact he’s surprisingly candid about how her death influenced his future career far more profoundly than simply naming his production company, Ella Communications, after her.
“I did a play before she died and wasn’t that bothered about it, I seem to remember,” he recalls. “And then a year after I saw a play – I think the guy was getting laughs and applause and I thought, ooh I want to do that, and that’s stayed consistent ever since. They are a surrogate affection machine, you know. My mother disappeared so that was a sort of swap.”
Meantime, there’s little sign of having to swap - or drop - drama for comedy or vice versa. His quiet confidence sky high (of the notoriously fickle U.S TV pilot lottery, he insists on Low Life’s appeal “when, not if, it comes out”), Eddie Izzard continues to strut his own unique path through the entertainment industry. With or without high heels.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend is out August 4th.