Still dressed to kill

Actor-comic Eddie Izzard talks about cross-dressing against the Nazis with Matt LeBlanc in their new film, All The Queens Men
by Austin Bun
| thanks Teri and Magic1

Good luck trying to pigeonhole Eddie Izzard, the 40-year old British comedian, actor, and transvestite icon. Known as much for his plum-red lipstick and painted nails as his surreal stand-up routines, Izzard has played a horny Charlie Chaplin (The Cat's Meow) and a disco-mad henchman (Mystery Men) and now stars as a bisexual crossdressing officer in the World War II comedy All The Queen's Men with Matt LeBlanc, opening October 25th.

The film roles are recent compared with Izzard's brilliantly unclassifiable comedy. Americans who haven't caught his act would be well advised to check out Dress to Kill, his Emmy award-winning HBO stand-up show, available November 26th on DVD from Anti/Epitaph. Izzard doesn't do jokes, exactly. Rather, he's a storyteller with a gift for finding the absurd and exaggerating from there.

In person, the wily Izzard defies expectations. Just when you expect him in a little eyeliner and rouge, he shows up in "bloke mode" - jeans, flip-flops, red denim shirt, and makeup-defying beard. Izzard talked with The Advocate about his old life in comedy and his new life in movies as "action transvestite".

In All the Queen's Men you and Matt play British army officers impersonating women to infiltrate a factory that makes the Egnima code machine. Did you teach him anything?
Only how to walk like a woman. I just said, "Think ocean liner - like you're cutting through the sea like that." The more you weigh, the less you rock, and you're not going to get a hugely girly walk.

As a film, it's not that campy. It's as much a war movie as a comedy.
Yeah, we wanted to unvamp it. It's supposed to be Some Like It Hot crossed with The Guns of Navarone. These days I'm trying not to do wide-mouth frog comedy, like, "Oh, no! Not the monkey with a gun!" I've only just started to get the hang of the techniques of film - which are vastly different from stand-up. With movies you do a take that is 75% crap and 25% which really nails it, and the director and editor pull out the good bits and you look genius. You have to live in little bursts.

You were recently in Mexico filming a Western. Did you stop the transvestite thing during that?
Not stopped, because it's my sexuality - it's built in. But I wasn't throwing on a dress or makeup at that moment. So I was action-transvestite. I'm finding there is a distinct part of me that is a boy that I wasn't really appreciating before. Now that my transvestite side is not repressed, I can enjoy getting on a horse and galloping around.

You've done stand-up for years and even won two Emmys for your HBO show. But now with a film career, will you keep doing it?
Absolutely. I took a year off from stand-up, but I'm going to tour again next year - England, Germany, France. I learned French so I could perform in Paris. I don't feel comfortable yet in German, but I'm learning. It's necessary for the future of the world for me to do this - if Europe can't pull off coming together, then the world is screwed.

Were you afraid that after coming out as a transvestite you'd lose your career?
When I came out I wasn't doing stand-up. I wasn't even doing street performing. Then when my stand-up started taking off, I thought, I'd better announce being TV so that I can control it. I told a journalist I was friendly with. I was 29. I hadn't told my dad; he was the only person I hadn't told. As soon as I told him, I started talking about it onstage.

It hasn't affected you professionally?
In Britain critics say, "We haven't seen you in a dress for some time, so what is this?" In America I've seen it written that I wasn’t getting anywhere as a stand-up until I started wearing a dress. Well, fuck that. I was. I just want to make sure that my creative work is so good that people don't say, "He's just a professional transvestite."

You're a heterosexual transvestite - what was it like to come out?
I got caught stealing makeup when I was 15. At 21, I had bits and pieces. I told my ex-girlfriend, and I said, "I'm going to tell everyone." It was obviously a stupid line. I wasn't going to tell everyone. But the line went through my head: Tell everyone, tell everyone. When I was 23, I was in Islington [a London borough], and there was a transsexual help group there - the only one in the whole country. It was down the road a half a mile. And I thought, Well, this is karma. So I went down there, and that helped me to come out. My whole big thing when I came out was that I had to go to the dentist, the doctor, the bank in makeup, and break conventions. But if you're a straight transvestite, it's confusing. Why am I not bisexual? It seemed so much more logical. I've tried fantasizing about men, like Johnny Depp - God, that guy looks amazing - but I still don't want to sleep with him. So I'm a male lesbian.

Have you ever wanted to switch genders?
Yeah. But I think I'd look like a bloke who had a sex change. So I may as well stay who I am.

Bunn also writes for The New York Times Magazine.