Today, he's in bloke-mode: jeans, shirt, blue jacket, stubbly beard and moustache. This is the Eddie Izzard who thought seriously about joining the army or becoming a civil engineer, who likes mobile phones and gadgets and who, according to a female friend, flicks irritatingly through the channels when you're trying to watch television. It's the Crystal Palace-supporting Eddie Izzard, who loves military history and skis and plays football and rides and flies planes and is pretty much Jeremy Clarkson Lite.
Only the beautifully tapered, evidently manicured fingernails betray that he might ever be otherwise. The makeup-and-heels, bustiers and leggings side of him seems miles away, as extreme a statement as his blokeishness, but entirely different. You have to wonder what thread holds the vamp and the football supporter together.
His comedy works like this too, finding connections between apparently random ideas, stringing them together with a logic all his own. In his standup routine, dust talks, elephants arrive on pogo sticks, dogs measure blood pressure and cats flick rubber bands. The laughter lies in the absurd spaces between, in his ability to make what he calls 'sideways connections,' which he attributes directly to his dyslexia.
He writes nothing down. (When I marvel at this, he says a little pityingly: 'It's the oral tradition. Human beings have been doing it for thousands of years.') And he has a liberating irreverence about literature. He doesn't need to speak in elegant sentences, because elegant sentences have never impinged on him. He's free to mumble and hesitate, to drawl and drift and make words up.
All of this has finally got him to a point in his career where he is on the verge of fulfilling the ambition he's had since the age of seven. 'I wanted to act before I wanted to do standup, before I wanted to do comedy: it's been a big curvy route to get into films.' He has completed a cameo role in Ocean's Twelve , which will be released in the US in November; he's the voice of the Sand Genie in Five Children and It , with Kenneth Branagh, widely predicted to be a hit later this year. And he plays a sexy Charlie Chaplin in Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow, which was critically admired in the US yet never received distribution here, but comes out on DVD tomorrow.
Izzard plays Chaplin as cool, witty and highly sexed, devilment seeping out of him. Perhaps it's this knowing aspect of him that women identify when they say they find him attractive, as they frequently do. In New York (he's now bigger in America than here) women throw their underwear on stage, as if he were Tom Jones, rather than a short stocky bloke in eyeshadow and heels. He assumes that they must be responding to 'the openness: having said I'm a TV and standing my ground'. Perhaps, too, there is a sense of protean sexual possibility. 'Yeah, women are more open maybe ... Women are always saying, "I'm not a lesbian, but ... "'
The potential for surprise could presumably wear off, though; I wonder if his girlfriends have ever said, 'OK, enough with the lipstick now'? (He has had relationships in the past, about which he won't talk, but is currently unattached). 'Yeah,' he says, 'it can be a bit tricky. You can get into a thing of, "Who is supposed to be girly here?"'
So does he worry that it might seem a bit selfish, doing the glamour as well as the aeroplane-flying part? He is mildly put out by the question. 'I feel I was restricted from it. I never had a girly teenage period, so I'm always playing catchup.'
At the end of the month, he's off to Los Angeles for more auditions, which perhaps accounts for why he's in 'a blokey phase' at present. 'There are transvestite parts, but they're all small cameo, weirdo, probably dies 20 minutes in. It used to be gay and lesbian people would kill themselves. Now they can survive, but transgender people are still hanging themselves 20 minutes in. Or murdering people. In Silence of the Lambs the guy has a little bit of makeup on. You think, what's that doing there? Just have him keeping people in pits.'
In theory, the focus on films means he's easing up on standup. A boxed set of his DVDs also comes out tomorrow, which feels like something of a greatest-hits moment. In practice, though, he isn't easing up very much at all. It's true that the next big tour won't be until the end of 2006, but he's just finished four weeks at the Soho Theatre; the morning that I met him he was flying out later to do some gigs in Sweden. If he were forced to choose between film and comedy, he says, he'd choose film. But he doesn't have to choose, because, being Eddie Izzard, he's capable of moving seamlessly from one thing to another.
'They're different: the bottom line of comedy is to be funny and the bottom line of acting is to be truthful and if you don't realise that, you can trip up. But the standup is too much fun to give up. It's a creative thing that I can do whenever I want: if I keep my standard high, people seem to keep wanting to see it, so it would be crazy to let that slip. And if you let it slip, it will go. You won't be fast enough. It's like being an athlete of the mind. You have to train.'
Eddie Izzard was born in 1962 in Yemen, where his father, Harold John Izzard, worked for BP (eventually, he rose to become chief auditor) and his mother, Dorothy Ella, was a midwife. When Eddie was six, she died of bowel cancer; today, Eddie's production company is called Ella Communications. He and his eight-year-old brother were sent to boarding school where, he has said, he cried up to the age of 11. After that, he shut down emotionally for the whole of his teens. He claims he knew he was interested in women's clothes, that at some level his sexuality was different, from the age of four.
He was, though, good at boy-things, the cadet force and football. After deciding against the army and civil engineering, he went to Sheffield University to study maths and financial accounting, although he actually spent all his time performing. 'I was putting on shows at college, taking them to Edinburgh, and my brother would say, "Hmm, not very good, is it?" I'd say, "You're not supposed to say that." What about, "Lots of energy"?
'Not very good' however, remained the general verdict for a long time. He dropped out of university to concentrate on comedy, but it was 10 years before he got a Perrier award nomination in 1991. His doggedness in the face of all the evidence is impressive. 'Cleverly, I did work out that if I got a degree it would be more difficult to stick at it. I'm 89-90 per cent certain that I wouldn't have fallen back on it because I've wanted to do this from the age of seven. But it would have been much more - it was accounting for God's sake, you can get a job with that no matter what the economy's doing. So I burnt my bridges with a flamethrower.'
He started out performing sketches, 'and that didn't get anywhere, so I tried street performing and I was awful at it. It came to the point I was performing in Covent Garden with a partner and I thought, everyone doesn't like this, I don't like doing it, we're getting no money, so ... I'll just carry on doing it.'
In the end, this extended apprenticeship was very useful, because his standup is a hybrid of sketch comedy (doing both sides of a conversation) and the narrative voice he developed for street performing, speeding up and slowing down, with little jolts of emphasis. For someone who was a complete failure for a decade, he remained extraordinarily strategic about his career. He turned down children's television on the grounds that it was a dead end and later rejected all television offers with an eye to saving himself for straight acting.
At Sheffield, he had twice gone to the GP asking for psychiatric appointments to talk about his transvestism. None was ever made. 'I had to analyse my own brain. I closed the curtains and tried to think beyond the wall I'd built up - and this analysis, I began to realise, could be used about anything.'
He came out to friends when he was 23, and to his father and the press when he was 29, as his career was just beginning to take off. His latest assessment of his 'gift', is that 'I'm all boy, plus extra girl - not even half and half. I've worked out: I'm all boy, mentally, plus girl-stuff.'
He's not feminine in the sense that some gay men are, of being nurturing or intuitive, or liking interior design. But his transvestism can't be simply about clothes, because that seems too superficial, scarcely worth the stress of coming out, of being pointed at and talked about on the New York subway, or of getting into fights. (He was beaten up in Cambridge a few years ago and took his assailants to court. Their defence, charmingly, was that he'd started it - 'like a bloke puts on makeup and heels and goes out looking for a fight').
I have no doubt that his need for women's clothing and eye shadow is deeply felt, 'definitely internal,' as he says. In all the time we're talking, he becomes most engaged when I ask if he has any tips for young people thinking of coming out. 'I would say get to a major city. Go find some clubs that will support you, meet some people, and do come out. Don't not come out. For God's sake, don't not come out.'
All the same, I find the whole thing hard to understand, given the absence of other symptoms of womanliness and his apparent ability to be perfectly happy appearing as a man.
'I think, having tried to express everything girly when I first came out, I've gone all the way back to reclaiming being able to play football, the boy stuff that I like. I sort of compartmentalise my life, in a way.'
So does he wake up in the morning and think: 'I feel like a girl today'?
'I'd like to be able to wake up and think, "What clothes shall I wear?" but I've actually compartmentalised it.' So does he feel divided in two? 'Some women don't like makeup and great dresses and some women do, and some men do, and I'm one.'
I'm not sure we're going to get to the bottom of this without months of conversation, probably a lot of it about his relationship with his penis. There are numerous things about it that are puzzling. For instance: is dressing up for him anything like it is for drag queens, a mask and performance? (Try to imagine having a serious conversation with a drag queen: it can't be done; under all those sequins, drag queens are in flight from the self. Izzard has always maintained, though, that his transvestism wasn't triggered by his mother's death; he was conscious of it before.)
I ask him whether he can foresee a time when he'll have to get out of the bustiers into cashmere and scarves, and he mumbles something about not having got there yet. But I'm not sure he ever will. As a man, Eddie Izzard is ageing sexily and will go on doing so. As a woman, his persona is Emma Peel/Lara Croft/biker girl: it's all about fun and flash and difficult to see how it might accommodate maturity. Maybe that's why, as his PR confides to me, he seems to be dressing as a woman less often these days.
Whatever, you have to admire his courage and determination. In coming out he faced opprobrium, ridicule and the possible collapse of his career. As he says: 'It's not a hobby, it's serious and people are going to have problems with it.' But the more you talk to him, the more of a piece with his personality this courage seems, because everything about him is so phenomenally driven. Not content with having done gigs in French, he now wants to do them in German, and later, in Spanish, Italian and Arabic. All he needs for the German show, he says, is three clear months. He's already identified the club he'll play; he just needs one of those deep immersion courses for business people and he'll be off.
He sees this as putting his money where his mouth is: a fervent believer in the European ideal, he has what he calls 'radical centrist' politics, inclusive except when it comes to 'extremists of any kind, extremists of any religion' - which leads him to wondering what extremist Buddhists would be like: 'Really calm.'
What is most staggering about Eddie Izzard in the end is his lack of fear. Perhaps it's having had the very worst thing happen to him right at the outset, at the age of six. Perhaps it's having had to face down the terror of coming out as a transvestite. But failure doesn't bother him - 'you regroup and have another go' - and he doesn't think about, for example, not hitting the right note when he's experimenting on stage. (He reckons he does about five minutes of improvisation in every show; he's workshopping stuff all the time, even on a major tour, which will be quite different at the beginning than at the end.)
When he went to New York initially, about three people came to see him and they didn't think he was funny. So he stayed until they did. 'I don't think I'm naturally brilliant at anything,' he says. 'But I can get reasonably good at things if I work at them. I couldn't do comedy, and then I did four Wembleys. With the dramatic work, I know if I keep pushing and pushing, I'll get it.'
For this reason alone he seems likely to have a great career in movies. And I'm glad, because it's impossible not to warm to him, to find him appealing in all sorts of contradictory and apparently clashing ways. Understanding him is another matter entirely.
Izzard's Surreal Trip Down Memory Lane is out on DVD now, The Cats Meow tomorrow