Eddie for anything
14jul03 | The Advertiser | Thanks Francesca

EDDIE Izzard is a man of contradictions. A transvestite who once wanted to be a footballer. An aspiring young actor who only turned to comedy because he couldn't get roles. And now a serious dramatic actor who doesn't want to give up his successful standup career.

When he steps on stage in Sexie to spout his award-winning brand of "carefully crafted rubbish" in Australia this month, Izzard will put on the same make-up, stockings and high heels he wears around the house. But when he steps on to the Hollywood movie lot, the star of Cats Meow, Shadow of the Vampire and Mystery Men prefers to dress down, like a "bloke".

"I want to keep them both going at the same time. I want to drive them in different directions, really," Izzard says of his dual careers. "It's a bit weird – I never wanted to do standup in the first place. "Once I did it, I never saw it as a way of getting through to something else and then dumping it." The different looks are more difficult to explain.

"I'm always a transvestite," Izzard says.

"The main reason that I am wearing make-up and heels in a standup show is because I can't wear those clothes in The Death of Joe Egg, in a western I did last year called Blueberry, in Cat's Meow or Mystery Men.

"When you are playing those characters, I feel a bit of a problem coming to work with heels and then taking them off and being this other character. It's a bit of a jump in my head.

"So standup is the only time I've got the freedom to wear what the hell I want."

Izzard says he is happy to shift into "blokey mode" on film sets.

"I am a 'straight' transvestite and therefore there's a big part of boy going on in me, so I can play those roles," he says.

"I enjoy playing blokey roles. I did a western – big beard, German cowboy, leaping around on horses, that was great. That satisfied the whole action-boy part of me."

Born in South Yemen and raised in Ireland, Wales and England, Izzard says he decided he wanted to act at age seven but couldn't get any parts in school plays.

"By the time I got to my teenage years, I discovered Monty Python, so I thought I'd do that," he says.

"Python write their own parts, they can choose if they're in it, they can control it.

"I did sketch comedy from 1981 to '83, when I was at college."

Izzard dropped out of university but carried on performing sketch comedy until 1985, when he took up street performing.

"Street performing taught me a lot about working a real audience on the street – who don't really want to watch you  but it didn't lead anywhere," he says.

Desperate to stay in entertainment, he did a series of standup workshops in 1988.

"The street-performing experience, dealing with audiences, and the sketch comedy experience playing characters all folded into standup," Izzard says. "It worked and took off."

There is very little description of what Sexie is about, "because I don't know where I'm going".

"You have to come up with a name for it," Izzard says. "It could be called Elbow, but it's called Sexie. I just hope that everyone sexy will come to the gig."

Izzard says the boy-like character he often portrays in standup is locked in at the age of six, when his mother died and he was sent to boarding school. That, he says, is when his childhood ended.

"Absolutely – right there," he says.

"That child got locked in there and an adult head got shoved on top. So you've got an arrested development and a speeded-up development happening at the same time.

"That's what the comedy is, I think, from – an adult head on child mentality."

Oddly, Izzard says he never became the class clown – often a coping mechanism.

"I loved football. I lived for football. It really takes your mind off something if you really enjoy doing something," he says.

Izzard realised he was a transvestite at the age of four. "I heard of another kid who had been dressing up in a dress. The other boys thought this was funny and laughed at him," he says. "I probably joined in the laughing, but thought: 'no, that sounds kind of good'."

He says his cross-dressing was sporadic until he went to college: "University had a whole wardrobe department." Choosing to publicly reveal that he was a transvestite when his comedy career was already on the rise was potentially "a huge negative" which he had to work hard to turn into a positive marketing tool.

"I was potentially throwing my career out the window. My standup had been taking off, I'd got Perrier nominations," he says. "I thought I could lose my career in doing this but I had to do it."

He recently completed the British television drama 40, a three-part series about five characters turning 40.

However, Izzard, now 41, is experiencing no such midlife crisis.

"When you already came out as a transvestite when you are 23," he says, "there's nothing much else to reassess."

* Sexie will be at Thebarton Theatre on Saturday. Book at VenueTix.

Izzard on film

The Secret Agent – 1996. Played Vladimir, a Russian spy-master.

The Avengers – 1998. Henchman to villain Sean Connery in the flop adaptation of the '60s spy series.

Velvet Goldmine – 1998. As Jerry Devine, manager of Bowie-like rock star Brian Slade in the 1970s' glam era.

Mystery Men – 1999. Based on the comic about seven lame superheroes, Izzard was again henchman to Geoffrey Rush's evil Casanova Frankenstein.

Shadow of the Vampire – 2001. Matinee idol Gustav Von Wangerheim in this account of the 1922 vampire film Nosferatu.

Cats Meow – 2001. As comedy icon Charlie Chaplin in Peter Bogdanovich's film about 1920s Hollywood.

Circus – 2001. A corrupt bookie opposite John Hannah in this dark British underworld thriller.

All the Queen's Men – 2001. Izzard finally frocked up in a World War II comedic drama about British agents who infiltrate a female-run factory.

Blueberry – 2002. French western with Izzard as a bearded German cowboy who turns out to be a baron.

40 – 2003. TV drama as Ralph Outen, the coke-snorting enfant terrible of the advertising industry.

... and on stage

Lenny – 1999. As American comedian Lenny Bruce in Julian Barry's play at London's Queen's Theatre.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg – 2001-2. Izzard starred in Peter Nichol's bittersweet comedy on London's West End. He reprised the role on Broadway this year, earning a Tony nomination for best actor.