For comic Izzard, 'Joe Egg' is no yolk
He plays a desperate dad on stage, but Eddie Izzard's own parenting plan is completely noncommittal.
"I'll get kids at some point," he says with a grin. "I'll just go to the kid shop."
It's this droll delivery that won the world's best-known transvestite comedian two Emmys for his 1998 standup show "Dressed to Kill." A world tour of his new comedy act is planned for later this year, but tomorrow he opens on Broadway in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," Peter Nichols' play about a weary couple caring for a handicapped child.
"We've had to unmake and remake the play," says Izzard, who, with Victoria Hamilton, won raves in last year's London production. "We've got three new actors so we're rediscovering bits, re-finding bits.
"In some ways, it is harder. And the rehearsal room [doesn't help]. The heater is endlessly clanging away and the strip lights make you a bit crazy. It's just making our heads go, 'pung!' "
Challenges are nothing new to Izzard, however. Movie director Todd Haynes, who cast him in the 1998 glam-rock drama "Velvet Goldmine," recalls watching Izzard play it straight.
"When he came in to audition, he was utterly serious," says Haynes. "I was trying to crack jokes to loosen up the room, but there is nothing worse than trying to be funny around someone who is so funny, and it doesn't work. He was a professional trying to be regarded as an actor."
Izzard's early screen efforts, including the spies-in-drag comedy "All the Queen's Men," failed to achieve critical or box office success. But he attracted attention in 2001's "The Cat's Meow," cast by director Peter Bogdanovich as a narcissistic Charlie Chaplin.
As he confesses in his standup routine, Izzard aspires to be an "action transvestite."
"I want to be doing action movies when I am like 80 or 90," he says. "Not completely gum-chewing, early Schwarzenegger, 'Let's shoot 'em!' type stuff, but more like 'The Matrix.' I was completely out of shape in my 20s, so I am just trying to get back into it. When I am 80 or 90, I will be peaking."
At 41, he's off to an early start. Later this year, he will appear in "Muraya," an adventure Western that takes place in 1870.
"We did a lot of horseback riding, and Eddie had to do some difficult stunts on his horse," says co-star Michael Madsen, who just pulled Izzard aboard his producing and acting vehicle "Red Light Runners," due next year.
"He was at a full gallop while holding on to a pack mule that had a bunch of old dishes and plates and canteens on it that were falling all over the ground. He did a good job."
Madsen adds: "Eddie looks pretty cute when he's all dressed up in drag."
Though he appears in men's clothes in "Joe Egg," Izzard often wears women's clothing and makeup on stage and in daily life. He says his comfort in wearing makeup and women's clothes is a biological imperative, not a lifestyle choice.
"I knew what I was since I was 4," says Izzard. "I do believe that it's built in. I don't believe in 'choosing' to be transgendered.
"The weird one I get is that people say, 'Surely you are gay,' " says Izzard. "I say it would be an honor to be gay. I would love to be gay. I'd love to be bisexual. Then I could wear all of the clothes and sleep with anyone. But try as I might, I don't seem to think it works. I believe it is totally genetic. I am a straight transvestite."
But don't expect to see Izzard at the front of any picket lines for the cause.
"I haven't marched down streets and waved flags and banners because I don't know quite what that does," says Izzard, who instead is an advocate for the European Union. "I don't want to be a one-issue person. I don't want to be marginalized. Just existing is politics enough, I feel."