PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Eddie Izzard

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Eddie Izzard Eddie Izzard, the British comedian, is perched to become known for his crossover into dramatic acting, moreso than his cross-dressing.
Eddie Izzard in full blokey mode as Brian in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.
Eddie Izzard in full blokey mode as Brian in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

After wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier cut-off dress with leather pants and heels in "Dress To Kill," the self-proclaimed "executive transvestite" (and sometime "action transvestite") looks to make waves now as an actor, making his Broadway debut in the Peter Nichols' drama A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. With London stagings of Lenny and the world premiere of David Mamet's The Cryptogram to his credit (neither of which are among such many fictitious credits as Henry IX, Good God Give Me Gravy and Sod Off mentioned in his bio in the Playbill), Izzard has also enjoyed movie turns in "Velvet Goldmine," "Shadow of the Vampire" and portraying Charlie Chaplin in "The Cat's Meow." Immediately recognizing his distinct voice, Izzard launched into the interview with Playbill On-Line's Ernio Hernandez as if performing a stand-up routine — which he will do later in the year with his new international tour of Sexie.

Playbill On-Line: How could I mistake that voice?
Eddie Izzard: I played a character once when I was in college. I was wearing such a weird costume that when somebody recognized me, they said "I didn't recognize you, I recognized your voice." And I thought "God, how do you do that?" Means that I can never do the witness protection program.

PBOL: Especially not in America with that accent...
EI: Everyone has an accent. There's an interest, like the Americans with the royal family, which surprises the hell out of us because we thought you had a revolutionary war about that, to get rid of us. Then say "Ooh, please come back and talk!"

PBOL: How and why did you become involved with A Day in the Death of Joe Egg back in London?
EI: Clive Owen was coming out of it. It was sort of right time, right place and, I came from comedy, but had a dramatic acting agent at a separate agency for years. I was pushing to just do dramatic pieces. Of course, I'm not top of the who's casting list; they don't say "Hey, there's that transvestite comedian guy, he can play Hamlet and those things." So, you really have to smash your way in and audition your ass off and all that. But, this being a crossover piece, it has got the comedy in it and got the drama as well; a black comedy. And it was a sort of now thing and the run wasn't too long. Like on Broadway, normally you do six months or even longer: eight years. Sign on to the show for eight years! No, that's a lie. [Laughs.] It was weird also because a lot of comedians just start to become comedians, a lot of stand-ups start from stand-ups. But I started as a sketch comedian, like Monty Python, and so I did that kind of thing. I was very much like Michael Palin, much like his core of characters, and I did that for about four or five years and didn't get anywhere with that. Then I was street performing after that and then I did stand-up. So, in this show, you have some talking to the audience, which is not really stand-up, more of like a monologue and then, there are complete sketches where I'm playing two doctors and a vicar as a scene on stage and that's just where I needed to be.

PBOL: A common stereotype or cliché is that stand-up comedians live miserable lives, and there is a certain irony in that. Is that the sense with you, that there is this really dramatic side to you?
EI: Not really. I mean, I wanted to be an actor in the first place; when I was seven I wanted to be an actor. I know there is this [cliché]. it's true there's a lot of comedians who seem to be unhappy with themselves, or have a depression or whatever, or fighting from a darker place. I'm quite happy with people. I come from a twisted surreal place, but I don't do huge amounts of "God! I hate these guys!" I tend to hate the extremists, but there's a lot of those people that are on stage, "Fine, you wanna wear a hat, you wear a hat! I'm not gonna do a piece on you, fucking hatwearers. God we should kill them with sticks!" I don't quite go there. But I knew there was a lot of stuff inside me that I wanted to pull out and the reason I didn't do comedy shows in America or in Britain — I've done my stand-up, but that's it — because I wanted to do drama and I do feel that you get baggage. Someone like, say, Robin Williams, doing his comedy roles beforehand, just blew them out of the water by playing these very dark roles, like "One Hour Photo," which I was also up for. PBOL: Williams has been successful in both realms, comedy and drama.
EI: That's what I feel is the bridge for comedians. My tip for any comedian trying to get into dramas is to play psychos. I feel that the audience seems to think "Hey, no that's that funny guy, he's just got this funny stuff." But, like you say, that there's this big [cliché] that they could be very dark. So the flipside is if you play a psychotic character. They don't have to be murderers, but just dark, somewhat twisted, someone might say that's probably their real life and so there's a believability to that. But if you go straight from [stand-up comedy] to romantic lead, it better be a romantic comedy. Otherwise, it'll be difficult for that baggage to not get in the way.

PBOL: Speaking of crossover roles, you played a fellow stand-up comedian in the Lenny Bruce bio show Lenny in London.
EI: It was very rough to do and quite hard on me. You're out there ripping yourself apart and dying on a toilet every night. But it's also very interesting because it was the first time a stand-up was playing Lenny. Dustin Hoffman and the other actors who had done it for Broadway, they were actors who hadn't done stand-up. And I was learning to do his stand-up. It was kind of weird because I found that you can't quite, if you try doing exactly Lenny's style, it doesn't sit. I had to find a way my style met his style. And he had certain earlier bits of stand-up that were more surreal where my area was, but it was kind of amazing to be in there doing it night after night. I'd really push the edge and I was just ad-libbing — I could ad-lib in Lenny's style, I could ad-lib in sort of half his style, half my style. Also, learning to do his style, the style that we know now today, because initially he was a very broad style, a Catskills kind of comedian, and he learned that in strip clubs when he was playing just to the band. And we had live musicians, really great jazz musicians on stage with us, so I was trying to make those guys laugh which is what Lenny used to do.

PBOL: You had a nude scene in the show. Did you have any qualms about that?
EI: No, because my thing has been to push it. If I'm going to come in and I haven't done dramas before, I haven't learned the basic rules, then I'd better just be brave and push the edge. I don't go "Well, I don't do topless." I get stark bullocks naked at the drop of a hat. So, I had to train [physically] like a mother fucker. And you can quote me on that.

PBOL: Is there any role you would love to play?
EI: Well, I'm headed towards playing Richard III at some point and Iago I suppose. I should do Shakespeare because I hated him in school. "God! He used to come around my house." [Laughs.] It was taught in a very odd way in school, so I was against it, but when Polanski, Roman Polanski — who is now an Oscar winner — so the Oscar winner Roman Polanski got me into Shakespeare by his [1971 film version of] "Macbeth" which is a great action thriller and I got caught up in the story and the whole book of it. Then I went and bought Macbeth after that and I thought "So, you can read this stuff." But I also want to play in action movies, because... well, I'm an action transvestite. And I have done, I did a Western and God damn it, I was riding around on that horse like a mother fucker.

PBOL: And I can quote you on that.
EI: [Laughs.] Quotes all over the place! Yeah, but I like the fact that you call it cursing in America because it sounds like you're all in a Western film. We call it swearing. But in America, it's cursing, it's a bit like you go to the bathroom. We actually have baths in the bathroom and you don't "go to the bathroom." That's disgusting in our place. And if we say toilet, apparently that's disgusting, you say "Toilet! Bllarrgh!" It's like saying a "Poo-room." I don't know.

PBOL: Well, swearing suggests you are taking an oath, as in court.
EI: Oh, really, that's what it sounds like. Very true. Well, cursing to us sounds like old witches do that. So we're swearing like in court and you're cursing like witches like in Salem when they hung everyone.

PBOL: What are your artistic motivations as far as facial hair is concerned?
EI: Well, I have used facial hair as a thing because it is like male makeup anyway. I thought about the whole thing of wearing makeup on tour, because I don't need to, you know—I'm a transvestite. I can wear whatever I want whenever I want to. Sort of like women. If a woman is not wearing pants and wears a skirt, the whole world doesn't go "Hey, you got this thing saying you want to wear pants and you're not wearing pants! We're gonna chase you and chase you." It's like women have the freedom to wear whatever, so I do too. But I've fallen into this thing of, well, basically, if I'm trying to play blokey roles or guy roles, if you come out and say you're gay or lesbian or transgendered, it's a little problem for casting directors and producers. But I am an action transvestite, so there's a big slice of boy going on in me and I'm not camp. So it's quite easy for me to play these bloke roles, because that's a big slice of my personality. And you have to turn up to those auditions wearing no makeup. And if I'm playing those characters or if I've got a big beard, I don't sort of wear any makeup either because I want to stay in that role. So, the only time I get a chance to wear whatever I want is in stand-up. So, it's not specific because people think it's a character or something I have to do in stand-up, to wear makeup. But when I toured in America last time, I went down the east coast with a beard and the west coast with makeup. So that just shows you. I can put the hair up, the hair down! It's a bit like the Fantastic Four, you know with the Human Torch. He goes "Flame on!" and I can go "Beard on! Lipstick on!" or "Beard off!"

PBOL: I find it interesting that there's this fascination with your transvestism.
EI: Yes, "Transvestite comedian." I know when I've got enough time and press when the adjective transvestite, or whatever that excess word is before my name, isn't used. It is curious. We need to get more people out in the public eye, you know, bankers, but you've got to start it off. Like pants-wearing for women started off with Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn in the film industry. Ao it's the beauty of the creative people that starts the trends off.

PBOL: Well, what will you be wearing when you tape your spot on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien"?
EI: I'm going to be in blokey mode. Trousers, a hat, bag of soup.

PBOL: You'll be wearing a bag of soup? Well, I'll hold you to that.
EI: I might not be. No, I can never be pinned down.

Victoria Hamilton and Eddie Izzard in a scene from <i>A Day in the Death of Joe Egg</i>.
Victoria Hamilton and Eddie Izzard in a scene from A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. (Photo by Joan Marcus)