Smashing Images

When Eddie Izzard went to the movie theater recently, he was approached by a teenage girl, much excited to meet him. "Oh my God," she said, "you're George Carlin!"

"No, no, I'm not," protested Izzard.

"Yes you are," the girl continued, with conviction. "Can I have your autograph?" "Look," Izzard said. "I can't be George Carlin. I'm English, he's American."

Finally, the actor-comedian escaped into the theater. After the movie, the girl was waiting for him outside.

"You're Eddie Izzard," she said. "I'm sorry I got the names mixed up. Can I have your autograph?"

Wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and black leather jacket, Izzard is amused as he sits outside Chateau Marmont on a recent afternoon, recounting his anecdote about fame by proxy.

He is in town to promote "The Cat's Meow," a Peter Bogdanovich movie about the death of director Thomas Ince aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht, the Oneida, in 1924.

Izzard plays Charlie Chaplin, who was aboard the yacht at the time.

When Izzard saw his first Chaplin film on TV, he was not amused. "I thought it was turgid and unfunny," he says. But after seeing Chaplin on the big screen, he says, he understood his comedy.

It was only that TV was the wrong medium.

Izzard is thoughtful on every medium, having tried several in the course of his life.

Born in Yemen to British parents, he studied accounting at a university in Britain before going into street performance, in his estimation the toughest scene. "You have to shout over the noises ... but it became the center of my confidence," he says.

The streets led to the stage--stand-up comedy, with which he made his name and earned two Emmys in 2000 for his HBO show, "Dress to Kill."

But Izzard's real passion is dramatic acting. After his roles in "Shadow of the Vampire" and "The Cat's Meow," Izzard says he is "just getting up to speed. I'm fascinated by structure," he says. "It's not part of stand-up. There's no character development in stand-up--only a flow of consciousness."

In stand-up, "you play to the laughs," he says. In dramatic acting, "You play to the silence."

Making the transition between stand-up and acting is not always easy. Izzard cites Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Jim Carrey as examples of people who have to overcome the audience expectation that they would do "the crazy stuff."

"You have to smash those previous images," Izzard says. And, he adds, with a grin, "persuade people to give you the parts."