On Faith, Politics and Eating One's Own Leg
By Andrew Lennon
From humble beginnings on the streets of London town, via his breakthrough Emmy Award winning show Dress to Kill, and on into the rarefied air of Hollywood success, Eddie Izzard now straddles the worlds of stage and screen like a bulging high heeled colossus. On the eve of his arrival in Australia as part of his wildly successful Force Majeure tour, Collide spoke with everyone’s favourite renaissance transvestite.
‘Force Majeure’ has been touted as the largest comedy tour ever. What inspired you to undertake such a massive jaunt, and are there any particularly exotic locales or gigs that have stood out for you so far?
Well, you say the largest comedy tour, but it’s actually the most extensive comedy tour. I need to get this correct because someone could say “I sold more tickets” by staying in their own backyard or whatever. It’s definitely already the most extensive comedy tour. I’m going to be playing Kathmandu!
Do you find that when performing in different languages the linguistic idiosyncrasies of each make you approach the material differently?
No, I do it exactly the same - almost word for word. I do that deliberately to show that we’re all the same. I thought it would be more difficult, but say I’m talking about human sacrifice and I say, “Human Sacrifice - why the hell did that happen? Why did we have people saying ‘Oh no, the crops have failed - LET’S KILL STEVE’. It’s an insane idea. Why did we do that?”. In St Petersburg and Istanbul and Belgrade, they all got it.
It’s been said that you discovered that you were an atheist one night whilst on stage. What led to that particular epiphany, was it just a really tough crowd?
It was more that I discovered that I was hedging my bets I think. Because for years I was saying I was agnostic and I thought, “Right - it’s time to stop pissing about. I’m actually an atheist”. I realised if there is a god and they have a plan, then their plan is exactly like someone having no plan at all. I see no consistency. If you look at the entire universe, it only really makes sense if it’s random and there is no god; I just decided to get a bit more honest with myself and stop saying I was agnostic. People say they’re agnostic in case God comes down and there’s an end of days, but I don’t think that will be the case. I don’t think there’s a heaven or a hell. I don’t think he’s there, or she’s there, or the flying sandwich is there. But I say I’m a spiritual atheist because, although I don’t believe in God, I believe in people. I believe in humanity. I think there’s more good will than ill will in humanity.
What do you think of characters like Richard Dawkins and his cult of personality that can seem to verge on a new form of fundamentalism?
Yeah, I suppose it could be considered that way. I’ve spoken with him at a rally in Washington and although I haven’t read all the stuff he’s written, I hope he’s saying ‘think for yourself, try your own way in life, there’s no-one up there’. If it’s becoming a whole cult of personality, well, at least it’s not like an evangelical thing. I don’t think he’s asking for money, is he?
Oh yes! For a nominal fee you can become a member of his ‘Reason Circle’ - it entitles you to all manner of bonuses!
See that’s why Martin Luther got pissed off! I find him to be interesting, ‘cos he got pissed off with the Catholic Pope saying you could buy your way into heaven and said “no, I think this is crap”. Then he set up the protestant faith. I find religion fascinating, I just don’t believe in it.
The element of transvestism seems less pronounced on this tour than some of your previous shows. Was this perhaps a case of finding that something which was once liberating had come to feel somewhat limiting, or did you just happen to find a particularly fabulous suit this time around?
I have been somewhat tactical with being a transvestite. I did a big campaign in the European elections wearing lipstick and heels but I’ll dial it up or down whenever I feel like it. Quite often I’ll be wearing more heels and make-up when turning up to a gig and then change down into the suit, take off the make-up and then put some more back on afterwards.
Speaking of the campaigning, you’ve been quite politically active - notably, donating some not inconsiderable sums to the Labour party. At this point in time do you think they offer enough of a viable distinction and alternatives in policy between themselves and the Tories?
Yes, I think we do. When it comes to the extreme right wing, then yeah absolutely we do. The current Tory party are just way out there. But real politics is in the centre ground and I think most people in the world are centre right or centre left. It’s amazing the amount of time, energy and money that is spent getting people to choose between different parties when they could probably broadly agree. I guess we’ll find out in this election. It’s going to be a tough one and we could wind up with a hung parliament, but I’m going to be out there campaigning in all the marginal seats and we will see where people vote.
Are you still intending to run for mayor of London in 2020?
Mayor of London or Member of Parliament in 2020! I can’t decide yet because we’ll have to see who gets in in 2016. It’ll be one or the other - I go into politics in 2020 if someone votes for me! Otherwise I’ll just keep doing this.
It’s a lot of people’s dreams to appear on ‘The Simpsons’ even if not in their own guise. You were invited to lend your voice to the show. Who did you work with and what was the experience like?
It was great doing the Simpsons. Unfortunately I was just in a recording booth in Dublin where I was doing Treasure Island, playing Long John Silver. I’d wanted to do it for ages. I’m just such a big fan of the show. They’ve been going for so long... eventually I’d love to do my own kind of Simpsons. A TV show that’s a comedy but with me just doing voices. That’s what I plan to do in the future.
You’ve done quite a bit of TV drama recently. What do you feel is your natural home and what sort of itch does the acting work scratch that the stand-up doesn’t?
I would have to say that acting is my first love. I ended up doing comedy because I never seemed to get any acting roles at school, so maybe the comedy came more easily and naturally. If I had to choose I would just do drama, but I don’t have to choose so I’ll do both.
Hannibal has been really well received. What’s it like to work with Mads Mikkelsen, a genuine Danish Bond Villain?
It’s great working with Mads, but you have to have your acting chops ready and you’ve got to have the confidence to be able to push. I love it. Its’ fantastic to finally be in a place where people are inviting me to do these things. It took a long time to get going, but I got a separate acting agent in 1993 and now it’s happening. Things are getting fun.
Do you have any favourite behind the scenes stories or anecdotes from the set?
Oh, all of them - they’re all kind of scary and weird. I could talk about preparing for scenes where I’m eating parts of my own body! The truth is what we’re doing with the show is beyond horrific, but the drama of what we’re doing is absolutely fascinating - so I really can’t approach the show in terms of reality. You have to focus on the pure drama of the situations you’re in, which is a tricky thing to do.
Is there an element of method acting that goes into it? Immersing yourself in a certain mindset for the duration of the shoot?
It’s quite tricky on top of all the technical aspects and rigmarole of acting... you know, just trying to get into that zone, trying to imagine what it would be like to be sitting there eating parts of your own body – in my case, my leg. It took some time but now I think I’ve got it in a good place. You need to get as far inside the character as you can, but if you went totally method on this you’d go to prison pretty quickly.
Eddie Izzard 2015 Australian Tour Dates
Wednesday, 28th January 2015
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney
Saturday, 31st January 2015
AEC Theatre, Adelaide
Monday, 2nd February 2015
Convention Centre, Brisbane
Wednesday, 4th February 2015
Riverside Theatre, Perth
Saturday, 7th February 2015
Llewellyn Hall, Canberra
Monday, 9th February 2015
Hamer Hall, Melbourne