An Actor's Life
(From The Sunday Herald| June 27, 2004)

Moving from stand-up to serious film roles isn't always easy ... but Eddie Izzard is on the way.
Alistair Harkness reports

EDDIE Izzard has hurt his hand. When we meet in the upstairs bar of the Glasgow Film Theatre ahead of a special screening of his new film, The Cat's Meow, the 42-year-old comedian-turned-actor is fiddling with a bandage, rewrapping it around his injured fist. Since he will soon be jetting off to shoot a "rather small but centrally important" role as a bomb expert in heist-caper Ocean's Twelve (opposite George Clooney and Brad Pitt), I'm curious to find out if he's been indulging in some lunatic form of Method-style preparation. Sadly the truth is much more mundane. "it's because England lost the football against France and I hit a wall," he says . "I was very angry."

Anger is actually something I was expecting. As a famously committed Europhile (he's done his stand-up show in French, is working on a German translation and hopes to do it in Italian and Spanish ), Izzard can'nt have been too thrilled with the recent European election results. He passionately articulates his thoughts on the issue before launching into a surreal riff ("Let's split off? Well, why don't we go back to Mercia and Wessex? Wessex was great. Mercia. Mercia! That's great, let's go back to groats. Barter system? That was nice: a pig for a donkey...") that wouldn'nt seem out of place in his manic stand-up performances.

But if his rapturously received comedy act has been his main platform for expressing his pro-European stance, his increasingly prominent film career also seems to reflect his affinities. Ocean's Twelve, for instance, is set primarily in Europe and in the last few years he's played a German silent film star and a transvestite soldier in wartime Berlin. Next month we'sll get to see him play a cowboy in the strange new French-made "Baguetti" Western, Blueberry.

However, he hasn't, he says, had that much choice when it comes to films roles. "Certain things swing your way so it's really what you say no to." Still, he is serious about wanting to be classed as an actor rather than a comedian. Indeed, this is the main reason he decided to tone down his much-publicised transvestism when not touring. (He's dressed casually, sporting a neat goatee beard.)

"It's somewhat schizophrenic when you think about it," offers Izzard. "It's kind of like, if I'm wearing a beard I'm going to be serious, if I've got make-up on I'm going to talk crap. I am planning to meet them together again, but I had to prove myself in the dramatic area."

The Cat's Meow is certainly helping him do that. Set in 1924 and directed by The Last Picture Show's Peter Bogdanovich, it's a juicy little period piece based on a juicier piece of Hollywood gossip surrounding the mysterious death of a film producer on a yacht cruise hosted by newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Izzard plays Charlie Chaplin, one of Hearst's guests, but also the man who was having an affair with Hearst's mistress, actress Marion Davies (played by Kirsten Dunst).

Izzard takes a modest view of his casting but he does a lot with the role. He plays Chaplin as a man suffering from low sexual self-esteem who finally makes a true connection with a woman he likes. "Some people say, "Well he went out with everyone and was a lothario". I actually felt that he couldn't talk to women, yet with Marion Davies he finally got off the ground."

It's something Izzard could identify with. When he came out as a transvestite at 23 he remained celibate for three years because he was so bad at talking to women. "Flirting with women and chatting to women, I found it agony . Then I thought, actually, I'm missing out on a lot of fun here so I'd better start jumping into bed with people. So I just started talking to people. "

Confidence is not something he lacks these days. He happily admits to "being a mouthy git" on film sets and doesn't get phased fielding phone calls from Hollywood A-listers either. He flashes a wry smile as he recounts how Jerry Weintraub, producer of Ocean's Eleven called him out of the blue to offer him the part in Ocean's Twelve.

"He left a message: 'It's Jerry Weintraub. You wanna be in Ocean's Twelve, phone this number.' I phoned the number and he said: 'Talk to George.' [He launches into a bad impersonation of George Clooney]. "Hey Eddie. I'm in Amsterdam. These coffee bars are great. Come here, we'll hang out, do some stuff, it'll be great.'"

For all this, he still feels he has a way to go with his career. "I've got to keep pushing, because I'm ready for When Harry Met Sally. If I can do an edgy romantic comedy in the next five years..."

Wait, he has a five-year plan? "I have a five-year plan. I'm doing a play on Broadway in 2006, films otherwise and a tour...then a space rocket to Mars."

The Cat's Meow is screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre now

27 June 2004