Stand up comic Eddie Izzard acts up with MICHAEL BODEY | Daily Telegraph Australia | 09.18.02
Could there have been a more fantastic story than the one whispered in 1924? Media mogul William Randolph Hearst mistakenly shot, and killed, Hollywood producer Thomas Ince instead of the man he suspected was having an affair with his mistress, young starlet Marion Davies: Charlie Chaplin.
Now, one of Hollywood's great stories has become, obviously, a Hollywood film: The Cat's Meow.
The "meow" is apparently the whisper told most often. And this whisper has been told many times in the 80 years since, says Eddie Izzard. He plays Chaplin in the film. He admits he loves the story.
"I read about it in [Kenneth Anger's book] Hollywood Babylon years ago, so it's very weird to then go and do it with [director] Peter Bogdanovich, who's also huge on the history of Hollywood."
Izzard, better known as England's favourite stand-up comedian, and a recent Australian visitor, consolidates his burgeoning acting reputation in The Cat's Meow.
He seems the obvious choice to play the "off-screen" Chaplin, who enjoys the luxuries and lasciviousness of a weekend away on Hearst's yacht.
Izzard realised, after seeing his films in a cinema, that Chaplin was far funnier than he believed him to be.
"When the film came out [1992's Chaplin] I thought: 'Oh, I'd like to do that. Oh, it's coming out and they've cast it. Not only have they cast it, they've filmed it, edited it, put the music on and it's coming out!'
"I wasn't in any position then to be able to have a go and put myself up for it anyway and then this came around. It suddenly occurred to me that this was nothing to do with anything we've seen on the screen; it was just Charlie Chaplin on a boat trying to get laid."
Izzard fits the character beautifully, leering and crawling all over Davies, played with great spirit by Spider-Man's Kirsten Dunst.
Izzard says: "They were having an affair. There was no doubt in my mind, and what we've shot in the film is probably true. I think that's what went down."
Nevertheless, The Cat's Meow remains a piece of drama, albeit one given some licence as all the protagonists are now dead.
But Bogdanovich is no slouch on cinematic history. The director of The Last Picture Show and What's Up, Doc? has carved his own niche as an essayist, critic and historian of some repute. He's unlikely to have got this story wrong.
Izzard feels fortunate he fell under Bogdanovich's gaze.
"When you're trying to bash your way in [to film], you don't have a huge amount of choice," he says. "All you can do is say no.
"I've just been trying to work with good directors. It's great -- I just love film, love it to death.
"That's what I wanted to do when I was seven: do dramatic acting rather than comedy. I mean, I love comedy and I'll do it forever but it can narrow you down.
"But if you're successful in film comedies, the studios and audiences will not let you move, they'll resist you moving out of that framework. Look at Mike Myers: he did Studio 54 then did three Austin Powers films."
So Izzard has tried to steer clear of replicating his surreal stage style on film "and just do dramatic work and build up believability that way".
The stage still beckons though. Izzard has a Broadway run of the play Joe Egg scheduled and is "90 per cent definite" he will return here in winter next year.
"Coming down there was quite magical, so it'll be great to come back," he says.
And he'll bring his new-found Hollywood attitude with him.
"I've got a big security entourage now," he laughs. "I travel with 400 people."
The Cat's Meow opens in Sydney Thursday.