Oct 15 2004
The rise and rise of funnyman Eddie Izzard
By Rick Fulton

EDDIE IZZARD'S initiation into the new Hollywood Rat Pack was playing poker in Rome with Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas, Elliott Gould and Don Cheadle.

Michael Douglas was there because his wife Catherine Zeta Jones is in the movie and Jennifer Aniston, Brad's wife, was also part of the group of actors making crime caper movie Ocean's Twelve.

But one person who refused to play poker was George Clooney.

Eddie explained: 'George doesn't play; he says he has a bad mojo that makes you unlucky. So he was leaning on people, giving them this bad mojo, then he did it to me - and I won a huge hand.

'So it was great - playing poker in Rome on a rooftop watching the sun go down. I came second in my first game.'

For most of us just being in a room with so many famous faces would leave us gibbering wrecks in a corner, Eddie refuses to get tongue-tied as he tries to crack Hollywood as an actor.

He added: 'You try not to get star-struck. Brad and Jennifer had already come to my show in LA a couple of years before, so I'd met them and hung out with them.

'If you start going 'Oh, my God '... I mean, your ego is going to be stroked anyway. You just try not to go a bit silly and you just hang out and get on with people.'

Eddie plays a character called Phil Turrentine in the movie, which is out on February 4 in the UK.

He said: 'Unfortunately, it's just a cameo role. It's great to be in it, and it was fun to do and I'll try to do every opening I can. I did two scenes, of a film that has about 400.

'In one scene I'm talking to Catherine Zeta-Jones on the phone. I'm an expert on holograms, and the second scene is with everyone, talking to George and Brad.

'They seemed pleased with what I did, but I'm a battler - I'll just keep battling my way up.'

While he's not a fully paid-up member of the Rat Pack, he's gunning for the next time Eddie said: ' I said to Jerry Weintraub, the film's producer, that there has to be an Ocean's Thirteen - and I have to be in it! So we'll see how it plays out. I'd love to come back. But I always wanted to be in a big, stupid crazy movie, so to get a couple of weeks on that was just great.'

Ocean's Twelve is a sequel to Ocean's Eleven, the 2001 remake of the 1960 film starring the original Rat Pack Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford.

The sequel once again stars George, Brad, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould and Don Cheadle from Ocean's Eleven, but also Catherine Zeta Jones, Robbie Coltrane and, of course, Eddie.

Although Eddie has been in the film version of The Avengers with Sean Connery, Velvet Goldmine with Ewan McGregor and is well known as a comedian, he's happy not to have anything like the cult status of his Ocean's Twelve co-stars.

He said: 'I never did a television series in Britain and Jack Nicholson said 'always be No.2'.

'I like that idea of hanging back, because you're always trying to go forward. It's not that I would get those roles and would get that fame anyway, but I like the idea of being able to buy a packet of crisps in shops; being able to switch on and switch off.'

Eddie is perhaps best known for being a transvestite, but while he may look like Victoria Wood for his stand-up shows he is forging an ever upward career as an actor, dividing his time between stand-up and acting.

Eddie, who was born in Yemen while his parents were on business there, made his first stage appearance in London's West End in 1993 with his one--man comedy show Live at the Ambassadors.

The show earned him an Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement and garnered him his first British Comedy Award for Top Stand-Up Comedian. His stand-up Unrepeatable in 1994 continued to make him a cult star, but he also made his West End debut in David Mamet's The Cryptogram.

HIS big screen debut came in 1996 in Secret Agent with Bob Hoskins and Robin Williams.

Further one-man shows Definite Article and Glorious were well received and yet another stand-up show Dress To Kill was aired on America's HBO and earned Eddie two Emmy Awards in 2000.

He's quietly built up a decent movie CV, too, starring in Shadow Of The Vampire with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe and playing Charlie Chaplin in The Cat's Meow.

Today he releases a new film, Five Children And It, a movie adaptation of the famous children's book by E. Nesbit.

Eddie is the voice of It, an ancient, ugly and irritable sand fairy who grants children a wish a day. The film also stars Kenneth Branagh, Zo` Wanamaker and Norman Wisdom. Ever the joker when asked what he'd wish for if he had a wish from It, Eddie laughed: 'Well, I want unlimited wishes. I've already worked that out.

' I think if I had one wish, it would be able to speak every language. It would be really good to go through African tribes and be able to talk to everyone.'

Eddie's voice for It is bizarre, with the comedian claiming it's somewhere between French and Italian.

But he explained: 'I wanted my voice to have this European thing, which came into my head when I was reading it.

'My answer to people of America not being able to understand a European accent was 'Hasta La Vista, baby. I'll be back'. That guy had an Austrian accent and everyone found that very groovy, so it just shows middle America can swing with anything.'

Eddie admitted he's starting to get very picky with his choice of movies - especially after how much The Avengers bombed.

He said: 'I was offered a lead role in a romantic comedy, which I do want to do. But now that I've proved I can hold a character ... I didn't like the script.

'It was half a million they offered me, but I said 'no'. I'm happy to turn that down and keep to good roles.'