Drag King

Here's Hollywood's new transvestite star. Cross-dressing British comic Eddie Izzard explains how he got to playCharlie Chaplin -- and give that passionate kiss to Kirsten Dunst -- in ''The Cat's Meow'' by Adam Duerson

Entertainment Weekly | May 3, 2002 | thanks Teri

When old-school director Peter Bogdanovich (''The Last Picture Show'') cast the role of Charlie Chaplin in his recently released Hollywood yarn ''The Cat's Meow,'' he made an unconventional choice: British comic Eddie Izzard, who is best known for hyperkinetic stand-up comedy routines -- which he performs in women's makeup and clothing.

But playing Chaplin is just one of many big leaps this year for Izzard, 40, who has finished filming his next movie ''All the Queen's Men,'' opposite ''Friends'' star Matthew LeBlanc. This winter, the transvestite comedian brings his West End play ''A Day in the Death of Joe Egg'' to Broadway. And -- after winning two Emmys in 2000 for a stand-up show that aired on HBO -- he recently finished taping his latest one-man show, ''Circle,'' which he plans to sell to TV. EW.com caught up with the enigmatic star to discuss cross-dressing, lipstick colors, and his kiss with Kirsten Dunst in ''The Cat's Meow.''

Peter Bogdonovich cast you in ''The Cat's Meow'' after seeing your stage show. What makes your performances so unusual?

I'm an action transvestite. Essentially, I'm a comic, but I happen to be a transvestite, which confuses the issue totally. Everyone looks at the makeup and they stop on that. But if they watch the stand-up, they realize I don't do transvestite, transgender comedy. The transvestite thing is just a curiosity. I could be wearing an elephant suit.

How did you come up with your performance as Chaplin in ''Cat's Meow''?

People don't know what he was like at this point in his life so I felt I could use some broad strokes. I have these theories. I think he had an inability to chat with and get relationships going with women. I wanted Chaplin to be sexy and flirty in this because I think this is where he learned how to flirt -- with Marion Davies [the movie star character he has an affair with in the movie]. I also changed the way Chaplin was speaking. I thought I'd just use my accent and not do it too posh.

Could you help being influenced by Robert Downey, Jr.'s Oscar-nominated Chaplin?

He's playing Chaplin from very early days to the end of his life and I'm just doing two days. I felt like I didn't need to go anywhere Robert Downey had gone. I didn't need to get into his motivation. This is a guy who wanted to get laid. That was my motivation.

Which could explain why you end up in a steamy scene with Kirsten Dunst, who plays Davies. How was the kiss?

It was very good. Wherever I wanted to take it with Kirsten, she'd be bouncing ideas back. She's wildly more experienced than I am in filmmaking -- she's been doing it since she was 3. I found it very easy, and once she got where she wanted to go with it, she seemed to pull it off very easily and very effortlessly. She's quite a natural.

Chaplin isn't the first real person you've portrayed. You did Lenny Bruce on stage, played [German actor] Gustav von Wangenheim in ''Shadow of the Vampire,'' and your shows are checkered with bits of Sean Connery and James Mason. Do you consider yourself an impressionist?

No, I'm an awful impressionist. My Sean Connery and James Mason impressions tend to wander around and not sound right. I played Chaplin by sort of bringing him to me and meeting him halfway. I don't look like Chaplin or Lenny Bruce. I take my lead from Anthony Hopkins playing Nixon in that it doesn't matter whether you actually look like them -- that's an impersonator. I go for the essence. In the end I'll actually fictionalize the person.

Your one-man shows have a feeling of spontaneity. How much of each performance is happening for the first time when we see it?

Any piece that's in a show was once improvised, whether it be a few months ago, a few days ago, or it might have come about that night. For the next show, I will literally get the video for the last one, sit down and watch it, and then write down everything I said because I've forgotten it. Then I'll go out and do that at the beginning of the tour. Essentially, I'll do the previous show. But any ideas that come to my head that day, I'll add onto it and then the next day the same. I'll just start dumping out the old stuff and building up a new show.

In between your stage performances you filmed another movie, ''All the Queen's Men,'' with Matt LeBlanc.

It's a somewhat quirky drama. It's your everyday story of four soldiers parachuting into Nazi Germany in 1944 dressed as women trying to get an Enigma machine out of the Enigma machine factory. It's ''Some Like it Hot'' meets ''The Guns of Navarone.''

Your name seems to come up every year as the Academy struggles to spice up the Oscar show. Have you ever been asked to host?

I've never been approached, but people were saying I should do it. It's not really my gig. I feel it works on profile. Whoopi Goldberg's a very large profile. Billy Crystal -- very large profile. When Gary Shandling did the Emmys, he was very relaxed. He didn't have to come in and say, ''I'm this guy, and this is where my comedy's coming from.'' But I go on ''The Tonight Show'' and people don't know who I am. So I have to spend a certain amount of time signaling to them where my comedy comes from. I'm still in a cult phase.

All the girls around the office want to know if you have a favorite lipstick or nail color.

I tend to use MAC lip colors -- they stay on quite a long time. There was a dark-red MAC lipstick. Quite a dark, plummy-red lip and nail color that I was wearing. I try to do it myself, but if I'm on tour I tend to hire someone to do it for me because I've gotten lazy.

You're out of costume and makeup now -- does that confuse people?

If I wore the makeup all the time, then directors would assume, ''You just play transvestite roles, right?'' No. I will play anything. I have to move it about a bit so I don't get pigeonholed. If more transvestites come out over the years -- and hopefully they will -- I'll gradually become more and more boring and one of a number of transvestites. Then it will be less in your face. That would be the best thing.