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with Jonathan Ross (from the BBC website | thanks Spoot)

The Eddie Izzard Interview

Eddie Izzard has swapped frocks for fingerprints in his role as a forensic scientist in new movie The Criminal. Here 'action transvestite' Eddie talks to Jonathan Ross about nipples, big knickers and the European film industry.


ROSS: Eddie, can I ask you not to sing during the interview, but to listen to the questions and preferably respond. We're here on the set of your movie.


EI: There are a number of people on the movie, but I think it's really 'my story.' I say this about every film I've been in!


ROSS:Tell me about 'The Criminal.'


EI: I felt it was a thriller and then Julian (Simpson), the director mentioned film noir, but now it's slightly different. It's new wave film noir - film gris, perhaps. He'd describe it better, but the main character is having a bad day, basically.


ROSS: It's quite unusual to see you looking so dreary, you're normally quite a glamorous chap.


EI: Yeah, well I play someone who's a forensic scientist, so one has to look somewhat dreary, because forensics isn't that big or fast. It's not like, 'Hey let's get in our cars and drive to our next forensic sight! Where's my E-type Jag, I've got a forensic job to do!'


ROSS: You're more like Quincy...


EI: No - he's pathology, which is dead people. I'm forensic, I'm saying I think this guy's dead.


ROSS: As always I'm humbled by your knowledge.


EI: Well, I was going round saying I was a pathologist. And Julian said no, you're a forensic scientist, so those three months of background research as a pathologist were wasted. I was living on a farm in Abyssinia, dissecting things.


ROSS: One thinks making movies is glamorous, but here we are in Bethnal Green - no disrespect - but it's not the most glamourous spot in London, and it's freezing cold.


EI: Not the most glamorous, but then it has this kind of gritty realism that we do so well in Europe. And it's got that Long Good Friday kind of touch to it, man.


ROSS: How do you combat the chill?


EI: You just wear big knickers. And stand by a big heater and say 'can we get a heater somewhere,' and then eventually heaters come. And we've got one at the moment, it's very red. You should film it because it's an enormously red heater. You know how heaters glow quite hot, this one just like . . .


ROSS: I'm gonna ask you again because I want you to tell me about your thermals. How do you combat the cold, Eddie?


EI: I do it by wearing thermals.


ROSS: Tell me about the cast. I know you've got one or two people from Lock, Stock And Two Shooting Barrels


EI: Yes, except that's a different film. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was a big hit, but two shooting barrels was a different film that didn't quite make the grade.


ROSS: I was there on the set. That was the working title.


EI: Yes. They were working through it. Steven Macintosh is the main character who was in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which was also shot here, as well as Velvet Goldmine and just about everything. And Bernard Hill's in it. We were just looking at nipples in a magazine.


ROSS: So it's not all drugs...


EI: No, it's not all drugs, there's a lot more nipples involved in it.


ROSS: You've been in a lot of films, The Secret Agent, The Avengers, and more.


EI: The Mystery Men which has just finished in LA, which was also shot in places where it was freezing. It was downtown LA, with big flyovers.


ROSS: So when directors think of a cold set, they think of you


EI: Actually there's a French actor in this film called Ivan, who had a great line which I think I'm going to steal. He said, 'I am a lover, I am not a killer.' He plays the killer. 'I'm a lover, I'm not a killer' and I think I need to go to casting agents and say 'I'm a lover, I can really only do those roles.' 


ROSS: Let's talk about your acting.


EI: When I was seven I said 'I'm going to be an actor'. And then I'd break into the film studios at 15. I'm a film nut. I know everything about films. Ask me something.


ROSS: Who directed Harold Lloyd's first feature?


EI: Oh, I don't know.


ROSS: Nor do I, that's why I need this information. You could have said anything.


EI: Jeff Bridges. Lloyd's Dad, long breeches.


ROSS: Tell me about The Secret Agent.


EI: Secret Agent, Russian Diplomat who spoke French as well, and my first scene ever, with Bob Hoskins, opening day, six page sequence, a huge sequence, with a Russian actor and everything, so very scary. What am I analysing?


ROSS: Was it a good performance?


EI: I thought it was fine, I had one good look where I would go to the mirror and I'd turn round like that, and I'd think - that's a film look, and I thought I've got to do a lot more of those. Because you've got to be. You can't big this out. You've gotta just exist. Steve McQueen used to take out dialogue scenes and just put in scenes where he was staring across with his blue eyes across a cafe.


ROSS: You're a big Steve McQueen fan, aren't you?


EI: Yeah, because I'm an action transvestite.


ROSS: I haven't seen Velvet Goldmine, what's your opinion of it?


EI: Well I loved it, it's not totally successful, it's (director) Todd Haynes' problem, Todd drives it where he wants, but he knew exactly what he wanted to do. It was a shooting script when we got it and not a big mainstream Die Hard-type movie, but it's a beautiful film and I really enjoyed doing the role. And people seemed to be quite pleased with what I've done. People said very positive things back to me.


ROSS: But to your face it's very hard to be honest...


EI: Well no, I've tried to check that because I've found the thing is, if people really hated you but get on with you so don't want to say it to your face, they just say I didn't see it. And no one can really check that.


ROSS: I really didn't see it.


EI: I know, but that's the easy way to deal with it. But the thing I'm trying to say is not that I was actually that great, but I think I was fine, I held the dramatic role together, but I think people were expecting me to be a gaggy kind of guy, and they were kind of surprised by that so they gave me extra points. I would have liked to have more layers and be able to push more.


ROSS: Was the movie what Todd hoped it would be?


EI: Yeah. He said he wanted something that would stick around and confuse people and create different waves. Obviously it confused them: people loved it, people hated it.


ROSS: The Avengers got some terrible reviews but I find it curiously satisfying.


EI: Yeah, it's not as bad as everyone made out. It was lined up to be shot down. Warners really wanted to land it and so thought, 'Oh we're not sure what the reaction's going to be, we don't think it's going to be what we want it to be, so we won't show it to anyone.' And it just pissed all the reviewers off and all the critics were people who would have loved the Emma Peel, the Diana Rigg, Patrick McNee, specifically that chemistry of those pairings, because they love that.

It was very true to the offbeat perspective that the series had. The really strange idea of giant teddy bears fighting on top of scaffolding.

I was Orange Teddybear.


ROSS: I thought Teddy Orange was the best of the teddies.


EI: Well I really did a lot of teddy research. I... You just did your gag over my gag!


ROSS: I heard Ralph (Fiennnes) and Uma (Thurman) did not get on at all.


EI: I didn't get a whiff of that. You can never quite tell what's going down, but I didn't see that. I think there's always a certain amount of edge on set. I didn't get on with anyone, but no one cared. I was specifically going there to not get on with people, to create a stir.


ROSS: The Criminal is almost finished. Is it going to be a big commercial success?


EI: I hope so. I think it's in the British thriller type thing. It isn't a huge budget, and I'm not Brad Pitt and neither are you. So we're not coming in at that level, but it's one of those ones where people are gonna go, 'Oh!' And it'll have legs, and run away.


ROSS: Do you feel in the shadow of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels?


EI: No, we're in the slipstream, baby. Not the shadow, and in the slipstream you actually go faster with a film in front of you, and you can get right up behind it and overtake.

Like migrating geese. They fly in formation and the draught from the ones in front keeps the ones behind going. London films and British actors used to be a novelty.


ROSS: Do you see a big change there?


EI: Yeah, I think there is. What happens is that Europe needs to have a European film industry. We should have people with the balls to do it. We should be able to do it here in Europe. We don't need the sunshine of LA, we've got the sunshine of South of Europe, and what we do need is pan-European television stations, so that one person can go on and just do an interview to the whole of Europe and then we'll say 'Hey, that film's out tomorrow, let's go and see it in Europe.' We've got 500 million people here. Even though there's a war going on and the whole of Eastern Europe has gone crazy, apart from that, I think it's something that's got to happen tomorrow. Five hundred million is a fair bunch of people - it's more than America's got.


ROSS: I think you're a very good actor


EI: I don't think I have any specific talent for anything, except for I'm completely open to letting in anything. I really want to learn. I will just go up to it. And film I've been after, since I was a wee kid watching The Prisoner.


ROSS: When a film script comes via your agent what do you look for?


EI: I read the script and I thought 'Yes.' My agent also reads my scripts. She's sort of got into my head and picks out the ones she thinks I like. I'm a very slow reader, and I just can't get through tons of scripts. This one just appealed to me as my character's a bit of a shithead. As much of a shithead as I wanted to be and I like playing shitheads. And Julian's the director, first time director and he's a kid. He's a baby! But he's got it all going on.


ROSS: I saw him briefly downstairs. He's what - 12, 13?


EI: Thirteen. I think it's the way of the future.


ROSS: He's having a nap right now.


EI: He's having an Orangina.

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