Eddie Izzard | Interview
Drama or comedy, pants or skirt? Eddie Izzard makes the call.
Eddie Izzard is on the move—literally. When we talk to him by phone post–L.A. red-eye, he’s driving to Manhattan’s Bowery Hotel after recording voice work for the upcoming animated film Igor (followed by the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie). This happens days before the second-season finale of The Riches, starring Izzard and Minnie Driver as Southern gypsies who “steal the American dream,” as the series’ tag line goes. For the 46-year-old British stand-up—who says he really always wanted to be a dramatic actor but got into comedy because he couldn’t get cast in school plays—it’s been, as he says, “a little bit hectic.”
Time Out Chicago: Is there a connection between cross-dressing and your humor?
Eddie Izzard: No. It has absolutely nothing to do with the comedy, not a jot, nothing. If you walk down the street and you look like a bloke wearing makeup, you have to be ready to fight people. And if you stand onstage and do stand-up, you have to be ready for people to shout at you to get off the stage. They can both be scary. But apart from that, it’s nothing to do with performing.
TOC: I understand you’re toning down the cross-dressing to look more like a serious actor in Hollywood’s eyes?
Eddie Izzard: No, no, no, I just, no, I’m—it’s very sociopolitical at the moment. Can you name for me all the transvestites you know in the public eye?
TOC: I think you’re about it.
Eddie Izzard: Yeah, exactly. It’s probably about five or ten around the world. And so anything that any of us do, everyone says, “So what does this mean?” If a woman decided to wear pants or a skirt, nobody would bat an eyelid. I’m just at the moment going back into boy mode because you can’t go up for most roles wearing makeup and say, “I want to play that drug-dealer guy.” The imagination is kind of limited.
TOC: Do you feel like you’re compromising yourself?
Eddie Izzard: I’m all the way out. I can wear a dress whenever I want. I’m choosing to be socially strategic to get roles and keep moving on up the ladder. But I’m a transvestite; I’ve told everyone, so I don’t see how much compromise, you know, what else can I fucking compromise?
TOC: A reporter for The Times wrote about you, “He won’t ever open up about his personal life.” It’s a strange thing to read given that you’re so open about this one area.
Eddie Izzard: I know, I know, but certain members of my family do not want to be mentioned next to me because they just don’t want to be judged through the kaleidoscope of me: “So, you’re so-and-so’s brother/sister/partner/whatever, so what are they like? I don’t give a shit about you, but what are they like? Can you get me an autograph?” My dad doesn’t care, but the rest of my family and my relationships I tend to keep quiet.
TOC: So it’s really to protect family members from that association?
Eddie Izzard: Yeah, yeah, I am a straight transvestite. It’s not that I’m a gay transvestite, ’cause what’s the point of hiding being gay if you come out being a transvestite? I don’t know why I’m straight; I’d be much more sensible to be bisexual if I had a choice in the thing.
TOC: These days you’re searching on Wikipedia for stand-up fodder?
Eddie Izzard: It’s an amazing tool for people who can’t be bothered to get off their ass and do the research. I stand onstage and if I’m talking about something and go, “How do they make hats?” or “Who is the king of China in medieval times?” I look it up in real time right in front of them, and then they don’t believe that I’m doing it, but I am doing it onstage, on my iPhone.
TOC: People sometimes wonder if you’re making up your stand-up as you go. How planned is that spontaneity?
Eddie Izzard: I decided if I can just keep the material molten, then maybe it would be always interesting. It isn’t totally improvised— the most I’ve ever done is about half an hour off the top of my head—but generally it’s just a conversation and that’s why it seems very loose and fluid.
TOC: You recently told Newsweek that you’re interested in a career in politics, and suddenly lots of sites picked it up. Why all the interest?
Eddie Izzard: I don’t know. Slow news year?
TOC: It’s been far from that.
Eddie Izzard: I’ve always known I was gonna do it but I just thought I’d mention it. And maybe Barack Obama—if a black man is a presidential candidate, well then maybe a transvestite can come and stand politically. I think mainly they just like the idea of putting the picture of a transvestite and politics next to each other—an old transvestite, not old, but an old-er one.
TOC: Who’s your favorite women’s fashion designer?
Eddie Izzard: Gaultier. Jean-Paul Gaultier has this boy-girl thing going on.
Izzard performs Stripped at the Chicago Theatre May 15–17.