A Sexie Kind
of Girlie Tomboy
The West | by Melissa Kent | July 19, 2003
It's hard to say
whether Eddie Izzard is better looking as a man or woman. In "blokey"
mode he's surprisingly handsome in a rugged kind of way, with a jaw squarer
than Superman's, tousled hair and nicely shaped eyebrows.
But then, as Britain's most famous transvestite, he also makes a damned fine woman with a penchant for $1500 Prada heels, fishnets, blood red nail polish and matching lipstick.
Izzard, 41, is what you might call a complicated contradiction. He's a straight cross-dresser, a male lesbian, a girlie tomboy. One day he's a bearded bloke in jeans, the next he is effortlessly transformed into a sexy vamp in glamorous, glorious get-up.
Aside from the small issue of sex and gender, there are some elements to Izzard which need no clarification. For one thing, he is regarded as one of Britain's hottest comics, a surrealist master lauded by John Cleese as the funniest man in England.
Yet he can also lay claim to the mantle of serious actor after well-received roles in films including The Cat's Meow, Velvet Goldmine, All the Queen's Men and the yet to be released Blueberry. Recently, he was nominated for a Tony award for his performance in the gritty Broadway drama A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.
In Britain, as he puts it, he is "B plus/A minus-list celebrity" - not quite your Posh and Becks, but with enough star power to be constant tabloid fodder, snag regular guest spots on television chat shows and attract arena-sized audiences for his stand-up shows.
In Australia, where he arrives next week with his stand-up tour Sexie, Izzard edges more into the cult figure category.
"Yes, I'm absolute cult," Izzard decides, speaking on the mobile phone from his hotel in Devon, England, where he has just finished a warm-up gig for Sexie.
"But hopefully by the end of this tour I can be at the top of the cult list or at least a cult/minor celeb crossover."
Sexie is Izzard's first serious return to stand-up after putting it on the back burner for four years while he pursued acting. To convince directors and casting agents he could play straight male roles, Izzard downplayed his frock-wearing alter ego and these days usually gets about in jeans and a T-shirt.
"I try to keep it controlled by keeping my profile lower," he said. "I always wanted to be an actor first and foremost and as soon as you get really established in comedy, to go and do drama is really difficult.
"So I've been trying to hold back my comedy and push drama at almost equal speeds. Otherwise you can be like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams or Steve Martin who had real problems getting accepted dramatically."
Izzard was born in 1961 in Yemen, where his father worked for BP. His childhood was thrown into chaos at the age of six, when his mother died shortly after the family returned to England. Izzard and his brother were then shipped off to a series of boarding schools, where he was an underachiever due to his struggle with dyslexia.
He knew he was a transvestite at four and tried on his first dress in a high school play but waited until he was 23 before coming out gradually, finally confessing to his father at 29 after a soccer game.
When his stand-up career took off in his late 20s, Izzard decided it would be unwise to keep his cross-dressing preference a secret from the public and risked a backlash by performing in drag.
"Well I thought I better tell everyone, otherwise I was going to have this secret for the rest of my life and I didn't want that," he says.
"I really could have lost my career, it's not like people followed after me saying 'Yes I'm a transvestite! I'm a transvestite!' in a Spartacus kind of way. So obviously it was not seen as a great career move, even though some people now say that it has helped my career, which is ridiculous.
"I noticed in America one spurious article said 'I notice he didn't get anywhere until he started talking about being a transvestite'. Which is a bit of a turnaround because when I came out it was 'will I keep my career?'"
Tonight, he is in female mode - "just a skirt and heels" complete the outfit. The tour is sponsored by Mac make-up and Izzard is excited at the prospect of a lipstick named in his honour, hopefully in a luminous shade of cranberry.
He puts his ability to maintain simultaneous careers as an outlandish frocked-up comedian and a serious actor down to being what he calls an action transvestite, a "kind of girlie tomboy".
"I do love cars, motorbikes and I'm good with machines," he says. "I'm Lara Croft but Lara Croft stole Marlon Brando's motorbike, and now I'm stealing it from Lara.
"If you're transgender, there's not a lot of positive role modelling so as a comedian I realised that if you get a buzz word like action transvestite or executive transvestite it just places a bit more positive energy on it."
His stream-of-consciousness, surreal rambling style of stand-up, however, has little do to with the fact he is a transvestite.
"I'm a child of Python, I talk a lot of surreal bollocks and I happen to be a transvestite," he says.
"It's got nothing to do with the comedy but people who haven't seen it think it's got everything to do with the comedy and that's the key thing. Separating career and sexuality is what the gay and lesbian community has done and that's what the transgender community has to do.
"I'm a straight transvestite which people find a bit curious. But I was never confused, I knew absolutely I was a wannabe lesbian, a female tomboy, a male lesbian. That's it, I just like breasts. On me and on women."