Desperate for Affection
interview:John Millar | OK Magazine 02.09.01 | thanks Teri!
At the age of six, Eddie Izzard's life was turned upside down. He sought solace on the stage...
Eddie Izzard has come a long way since he had to trick his way into the cast of the school play. Now the 38-year-old award winning stand-up comic is a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. He wowed America when his show Dress to Kill earned him two Emmys and now his career as a movie actor is blossoming into something quite exciting.
Eddie, who has appeared in movies such as Velvet Goldmine, The Avengers and Mystery Men, is to play silent comedy legend Charlie Chaplin in The Cat's Meow. On top of that, he has teamed up with Friends favorite Matt LeBlanc for All the Queen's Men, a World War Two comedy in which he teaches commandos to dress as women so they can steal Nazi war secrets.
Right now he can be see alongside John Malcovich, Willem Dafoe and Braveheart's Catherine McCormack in Shadow of the Vampire, a movie about the making of creepy horror classic Nosferatu. 'I play Gustav von Wagenheim, a very bad actor, and I played him as a very bad actor who thinks he's God's gift to acting,' he says.
Filming for Shadow Of The Vampire was done in Luxembourg, because the Duchy has some castles that were perfect for the Gothic look. But that location caused problems for Eddie, because at the time he was also shooting the quirky gangster drama Circus in Brighton. 'I was flying back and forward from Luxembourg to Brighton. It was a bit strange,' he says.
Doubling up on film work like that only emphasises how much Eddie is in demand. Yet, smiling, he recalls how when he was a schoolboy in Eastbourne he was absolutely desperate to be cast in a role - any role - in whatever production his school was staging.
'As a child, I thought I was boring - I still do - and wanted to be interesting. So I grew up wanting to be an actor,' he says. 'I was seven when I knew that I wanted to act. I was going up for all these parts at school and doing really weird things to try and get them. Like when the school choir was doing Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I wanted to be in that, so I just hung around and lifted things until I got into it. I thought if I helped them out I'd get a part and I actually managed to get a speaking line.'
Warming to the topic of his ambitious schooldays, Eddie then recalls how he upstaged some fellow pupils during a performance of Beauty And The Beast. 'One Christmas I auditioned, but I didn't get the part I wanted. I got cast as one of the kids who, when Beauty is heading off to visit the Beast, say'Beauty don't go'. I would say it really quickly before these dozy kids got the chance to speak, so I'd grab the line for myself. That's when I learned the art of upstaging.'
Eddie was hooked on acting from such an early age as a result of the tragic death of his mother from cancer when he was only six years old. 'I think it was to do with my mother dying and having some desperation for affection from the audience,' he says softly. 'It is quite a healthy way of dealing with it in the end. Losing a parent is awful, of course, but people lost entire families in concentration camps.'
The other event to shape his childhood was his discovery, aged four, that he liked wearing women's clothes. 'This boy was wearing his sister's dress and I was up for that, but I didn't have a sister. I realised then that I shouldn't mention this out loud at this point.' he says. He is also quick to define exactly how he sees himself, and what he definately isn't. 'It's not drag queen, it's not gay, it's male tomboy,' he says, by way of explanation. These days he simply calls himself 'a bloke in a dress' and insists being a transvestite is no big deal. 'Eighty per cent of people don't give a monkey's, ten per cent are positive and the other ten per cent negative.'
Once described by John Cleese as 'the funniest man in England', Eddie says that his gift for comedy is a family trait. 'My family all have a good sense of humour,' he says. 'I first got laughs in a school revue when I was 12 years old. I thought: "Wow, I should do this!"'
Following a successful stand-up career, Eddie decided to try straight acting. 'Woody Harrelson, who went from Cheers to straight dramas, was the example I looked to. Others who did the same included Steve Martin, Billy Connolly and Robbie Coltrane,' he says.
As his career has developed, Eddie Izzard has not been scared by challenges. He stripped off on stage for his acclaimed portrayal of the American stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce. Then he peeled off for the cameras for Circus, when he had to walk naked into the sea on Brighton beach.
'It's a case of getting thinner and thinner and not worrying about it,' he simply shrugs.