TALKING SURREAL BOLLOCKS

A CONVERSATION WITH EDDIE IZZARD
INTERVIEW BY MEREK COOPER (thanks Spoot)


Eddie Izzard is a strange one. No, he really is. Principally a stand-up comedian, Eddie rose to fame in his native Britain with an act consisting of endearingly amateurish streams of consciousness which seemed to have been made up on the spot. Eddie, himself, describes his act as ďtalking surreal bollocks with added bollocks on top.Ē The way Eddie effortlessly skips around from topic to topic with no logical connections in-between will make you feel that you could get up on stage and do this too. But donít be fooled: Izzardís ambling and befuddled demeanor hides a sharp, if slightly off-kilter, wit which is truly unique to him. He only has two voice impressions, James Mason and Sean Connery, and he gives these voices to almost every character, real or fictional, that should happen to drop into his wildly erratic focus. Any other comedian would be crucified for this, but in IzzardWorld this strict vocal dichotomy just plain fits. He also has a penchant for performing in French and, despite being nowhere near fluent, this didnít stop him embarking on an all-French language tour of France which went down like a lead balloon tied to the wedding tackle of a rather large African elephant. If this is not strange enough, Eddie also came out as an ďAction TransvestiteĒ at the beginning of his career in the early nineties. Weird? No. He just likes to wear womenís clothes whenever he feels like it, and that includes makeup too. Itís not that heís gay or even awaiting a sex change, itís just his way of expressing the more feminine aspects of his heterosexual sexuality. Got that? Good.

Recent years have seen Izzard branch out and step away from his stand-up roots. Even though heís here in North America to promote Epitaphís DVD release of his 1998 stand up show Dress to Kill, heís eager to talk about his burgeoning film career. Heís played disposable henchman (Mystery Men and The Avengers), a transvestite soldier (All the Queenís Men), a film producer (Shadow of the Vampire) and most recently Charlie Chaplin (The Cat's Meow). I caught up with him on the phone from New York, where he was in the middle of a two-week promotional marathon.

DiSCORDER: Hi, how are you?
Eddie Izzard: Good, thank you. Iím out here in New York, promoting this DVD thatís coming out.

How do people respond to you in North America. Do they tend to concentrate on the fact that you sometimes wear womenís clothes?
Yeah, itís still early days here, so they will do that thing of going on and on about it. Maybe a third or a half of the interview might be on that because itís kind of odd and interesting to the interviewer. And then they move on to my work which, thankfully, they seem to like. They gave Dress to Kill two Emmys which is very bizarre, and itís been played on HBO for a year now. It keeps coming back up, so itís all going great. The next tour Iím gonna be play 15,000 seaters all over America.

You famously did some gigs totally in French. Will you be touring Europe again and trying again with the foreign language comedy?

Well, if you look on the Dress to Kill DVD itís got the French show on there, so it shows you where Iím up to in regards to learning French. Hopefully, Iíll be touring France again next year.

Iíve heard youíre learning German too, so you can perform a German language show. Is this true?
Yeah, Iím gonna do German as well.

I remember seeing a documentary of you doing the French show and it was almost painful to watch. Hasnít this experience scared you off?

No, thatís the whole thing, you start off and itís scary and so you go back in, Robert the Bruce-like, to try and try again and then slowly you get better. I'm always crap when I start. But it was also that I had cameras there. I set it up wrong. And there were a number of things going on that I wasnít happy with for the first ever one. But I just thought, ďfuck it, IĎll do it,Ē and I was crap. But you know if you start crap you canít get any worse.

Youíve been putting stand up on the back burner recently and doing more dramatic acting roles?

Yeah, because Iíve been pushing to do dramatic work forÖ well thatís what I wanted to do in the first place. AndÖ errÖ you know this Catís Meow film with Peter Bogdanovich.

Which I saw last night. A great performance by you.

Oh great. Thank you very much. I was really pleased with what I did because my early stuff was not so good because it takes me time to learn technique. Iíve got a slow learning curve, but once I get the hang of it I go, ďahh, this is what I was supposed to doĒ and I pick it up eventually.

Yeah, Iíve been watching some of youíre early stuff, Mystery Men for instance, and your performance as Charlie Chaplin in The Cat's Meow is a great improvement on that. Not that I want to slag you off or anything.

Well, absolutely do. Itís better to have the truth be told because, yíknow, in Mystery Men maybe there was one scene that I kinda liked, and some of Circus. Shadow of the Vampire people seemed to like even though I wasnít really happy with what I did.

In Shadow of the Vampire, I was totally happy with what you did, I just thought the film itself didnít work.

Oh right, I liked the film. But they did change it in the editing and made it into a different film. They obviously had some problems tinkering around trying to get it to work. Itís quite an unusual film and I do just disappear from the story. People said ďYeah, where did you go?Ē I just went to the loo. When to the loo and never came back. I actually wrote a letter. Thereís actually a letter to try and explain where Iíve gone. But they never used it.

In The Cat's Meow, you play Charlie Chaplin. Did you study lots of his old footage?

No, not really, because Iíd already studied him in í89. Actually, when it was the hundredth anniversary of his birth, Iíd read all about him because I couldnít work out why people laughed at him and I didnít find him funny. I eventually found that if you watch him in a cinemaóthatís what the films are designed for, so thatís what I did. I saw City Lights, and found that funny. I saw some of his earlier shorts and I found them funny. And I read his biography and I found it fascinating.

I always thought of his a having a bad reputation for inseminating young girls but in this film he was kind of the hero.

Itís interesting, because in one way you could look at him as the hero. But other people have written and said: ďOh no, he was very ruthless in his trying to get kids into bed. A one track mind.Ē

It didnít seem to come across like that, I thought you made him quite a sympathetic character.

Well Iím not judging. I just realized that all the stuff in his films had nothing to do with this film. It was just two days he spent on a boat trying to get laid. And errÖ I think heíd just learned to how to flirt, in actual fact. Because I think that was his problem; thatís why he kept getting off with 16 year-oldsóbecause he didnít know how to talk to women. He didnít know how to talk them into bed.

I read in interviews that like Chaplin you finally learned to flirt rather late in life.

Yeah, I was always bad at flirting. I lost the ability to flirt when I was a teenager. I was better at flirting when I was youngówell, actually, I didnít even think about flirting; I just used to play kiss chase with girls. And when I left school I lost all that and only got it back in my twenties.