Comedian, actor and famous transvestite EDDIE IZZARD turned 40 last year. He celebrated by making three films, a TV series and with a theatrical triumph. All hail the return of the lzzard king. WOrds: Paul Dale
ook over there. That‘s liddic lzzard and the
filth director Alex (‘ox posing for photographs
in hired kilts. How quirky and original. Now look. that‘s Ralph Fiennes in a pair of Birkenstocks chatting to lzzard in the downstairs foyer of the Swallow Hotel. Wonder what they are talking about'.’ This is. like. so showbiz. Well actttally. it's about as showbiz as the lidinburgh Film Festival gets.
I have heard tales of Sean Penn scouring the city‘s schemes with his personal driver in order to procure the finest cocaine. btrt they were crazy. different times: stale junkets and press conferences is what we want. linsurprisingly. that is exactly what I am getting on this unusually warm August day. I‘m sitting waiting to interview lzzard. The local press has got itself into a bit of frenzy — flash flash — and ten. fifteen minutes pass before I am eventually led through to an ornate yet blandly dull banqtteting suite.
I had been looking forward to meeting lzzard. I‘d long considered him one of the great stand-up talents in this country and almost certainly the only one capable of reaching out to an international audience (passable French. rudimentary German and a gift for mimicry are clearly an asset here). I was looking forward to it so tntrch I brought him a present. a Serge (iainsbotlrg Cl) which he accepted with grudging nonchalance. He was more interested in the
copy of The List I handed him: ‘1 know The List. its such an unusual name: The List. From a performance point of view. performers always want to take their reviews from the festivals around the world and when people see the name The List. they think: list of what’.’ It should just be called The Bollocks!"
I laugh lightly while making the point that I wanted to talk mostly about his film work. I try to give him a look that says: 'We have no time for digressions.‘ I notice how bloodshot his eyes are. lzzard's schedule has been a punishing one. Four movies. theatre work. a TV series and an autumn 2003 comedy totrr — it is unsurprising that what sits before me is a little frazzled and a bit tetchy. This is the last interview of his day and I’m sure he would rather be somewhere else.
He is in town to promote something of a cinematic oddity. Rerengers 'Ii'ugedv is the new film from the remarkable Alex (‘ox (Repo Man. Sid and Nunev). It is a futuristic rendition of Thomas Middleton's unbreachably violent Jacobean tragedy. Starring (‘hristopher liccleston. Derek Jacobi. Sophie Dahl. Andrew Scholield and Margi Clarke.
It is. however. lzzard's slippery proto-posh villain Lussurioso that steals the film. It is a bonkers low- budget epic shot entirely in Liverpool that harks back to that brief golden age of British cinema that came on the shirt tails of (‘hannel 4 in the early l980s‘. It is an unlikely project for an actor hoping to climb the broken ladder of celebrity to take on. To appear in a Cox film nowadays is something akin to career suicide.
‘I chose to do it because I thought it would be fun to work with Alex and it proved to be.‘ says lzzard. ‘My name was thrown into the mix. Also I knew nothing about Jacobean plays. I wanted to go towards it because it was intimidating and scary. I
come from a science and comedy background. so I come to these roles with all this shit and weird stuff I have been through. So at the very least it was always going to be challenging. Also I'd done Marlowe's Edward I] so I wasn't scared of the verse. Some people believe there is a particular way for the verse to be read. but to me the only logic is to do the verse so people can understand it. Polanski‘s tl/Iueheth was the one that got me into Shakespeare. ()n seeing it I just thought. this is a really good spooky story.‘
lzzard has three other films in the bag: Peter Bogdanovich‘s The (‘ut's Meow in which he plays a lascivious Charlie Chaplin. Blueberrv. a ‘baguctti western‘ as he calls it. in which he plays the orninotrsly named Baron Werner Arnadctrs von Luckner/Prosit and All tlte Queen 's Men in which he plays opposite Matt LeBlanc of Friends fame.
He also has a TV series coming out called 4(). Starring Joanne Whalley. Hugo Speer and Kerry Fox. 40 is written by Bryan lilslcy (The Young I’d-son's (iuide to Becoming a Roek Star). Due on our screens in March. it features lzzard as a bed-hopping hetero with a talent for head-fucking his conquests.
All of which is pretty impressive for an actor whose celluloid career has ranged from the silly (rock manager Jerry Devine in Todd Haynes‘ Velvet Goldmine) to the ridiculous (silent baddie in The
Avengers). And still the awards for his stand-up work pile tip.
Does he ever see any conflict between
the many genres he chooses to work in‘.’
‘You see. I understand the urge for me to
get into drama.‘ he says. ‘You get taken
slightly less seriously as a comedian
because you make people laugh. which
immediately pttts you on a lower status. I
mean. I wanted to be a dramatic actor from the age
of ten but it all happened so late for me that l was
mtrch more analytical and in control. I thought. I‘m
gonna hold things back a bit. not do the comedy
series on TV. get myself a dramatic acting agent and
push for that different area. I knew that if you got
associated with comedy people are very reluctant to
take you on. lt's the Steve Martin/Robin
Williams/Jim (‘arrey problem where people want
those hits of laughter. You have to throw it all down
and train yourself for the truth instead of letting yourself be tamed by the truth.‘
Twenty minutes into the interview I realise I have let lzzard open the lid on his phenomenal capacity for verbal diarrhoea. He is counting my time until his ever present PR girl rings the bell. With a bleary luke warm nod he says his goodbyes. lowering his head as 1 exit to stare at the green and black kilt that is now hiked someway above his knees. perhaps wondering what on earth he is wearing.
Revengers Tragedy, GFT, Glasgow, and Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 14 Feb.
lzzard’s slippery proto-posh villain Lussurioso steals the film
THE STRAIGHT STORY
Making the leap from successful stand-up to serious screen actor is fraught with danger. Here are a few who have had the last laugh.
Jerry Lewis For a man who made his name playing the bug-eyed. buck-toothed stooge to Dino's cool dypso. it‘s a Supreme irony that Lewrs' finest moment should come as the bitter ex-comic being kidnapped by his stalkers Bobby De and Sandra Bernhard in The King of Comedy. W Lee Evans The Essex elastic man was Surprisingly c0urted by brgsbot film execs after years of leavrng behind a trail of tight-suited sweat on the nation's comedy stages. In Funny Bones he plays the sad clown in a psycho-trauma drama where he gets to be comforted by Leslie Caron. And Jerry Lewis does dark again. Billy Connolly We knew for a long time that a dark, serious side lurked underneath the Big Yin's jobbies. It came Out frightenineg in The Debt Collector and regally in Mrs Brown. Still, he let down his dramatic credentials with those bloody ads. KW- ,. r Alan Davies
' Once just another circuit stand-up with good jokes and cheeky observations. the shaggy-haired one has become a very unlikely sex symbol with his roles in Jonathan Creek and Bob and Rose. but he's another one who's undermined his cred with ad work.
r Dylan Moran The happy-go- lucky Irishman has previously pitted his extreme wits against actorty heavyweights such as Frank Finlay. erm, Julia Roberts and. erm erm. Hugh Grant. This year he will take on rookies with names such as Michael Caine. Michael Gambon and Miranda Richardson in The Actors.
Denis Leary Some cruelly suggested that Leary's jokes died when they put Bill Hicks six feet under. Undeterred. he went out and got himself a new job. playing a series of world-weary cops. ruthless businessmen and armed desperados.
30 Jan-13 Feb 2003 THE LIST 13