Whether he’s babbling brilliantly to sold-out arenas or hobbling to the finish line after 43 marathons in 51 days, Eddie Izzard normally has a (sporadically lipstick-smeared) smile on his face. But, as ShortList found out, mentioning politics will get him fired up in no time...
You have a new documentary out about your life. Did any surprising memories resurface as a result of it?
Well, there’s footage from my dad’s cine film back in Aden in Yemen where I was born. Then there’s stuff from 1965 where our Swedish neighbours filmed me playing football with my dad. I played a gig in Gothenburg and, after, a girl came up and said: “My dad’s got film of you.” It’s like someone had gone back in a time machine. It didn’t exist for me, and suddenly it did.
What about any embarrassing on-stage memories from your early career?
I used to do warm-up for a Sky show. Now a warm-up gig is tough, you’ve got to talk to people, so you can’t really do surreal stuff about a spaceman playing a banjo. It’s the same with corporate gigs. I soon managed to avoid them once I realised they were death on legs. You’d go on stage and they’d all ignore you and be chatting to each other unless your material was about the guy in the front row’s haircut.
You used to be a street performer. Do you have happy memories of it?
I did it for four-and-a-half years. I look back fondly but it was really rough. People could be aggressive, I did an escapology act and twice I was tied up and couldn’t get out. So I just had to dismiss the audience and ask for the keys. But the embarrassing thing was doing a bad show as people just wandered off. You could feel them going, it was like rats leaving a sinking ship. You’re best known for your transvestitism and comedic obsession with jam, but you’re also quite the activist.
What do you make of the student riots in London?
I was in the US but I knew it was happening. I disagree with the way the coalition is doing things, what Gordon Brown was doing was the right thing. We need to shoulder the debt and ease it gradually so better-off people will bear the brunt. You know rich people are going to be fine and they’re the top end of the Tory voters. Speeding up the cuts is wrong. People forget that the Second World War debt was paid off in 2007. We all grew up not knowing that the government was slowly paying off this debt, that’s what governments should do. It should be the positive big brother that can help rather than the negative one. There are jobs being cut in the police force, the armed forces, teachers, NHS, everything’s going to be cut back left, right and centre.
Presumably you’re fuming about the royal wedding, then?
Paying for it I have a big problem with. It’ll cost millions. It’s not wise because we haven’t got the money. I’m for democratic monarchy. After Charlie’s been king, William should have to stand against other royals, and we should vote in a king or queen. I think he would win because he’s been a good ambassador.
What’s been your strangest Hollywood moment?
When I first did stand-up in the US, I called the Darth Vader actor Keith Prowse and someone shouted, “David Prowse.” And I went, “Ah yes, you’re right.” Then I looked up and saw I was being heckled by Princess Leia, or rather Carrie Fisher.
Have you ever been the victim of George Clooney’s famous on-set pranks?
Not personally, but on Ocean’s Twelve they were doing water bombs. Brad Pitt, George and everyone was involved. Then they started using buckets of water.
Were you bed-ridden after doing all those marathons for Sport Relief last year?
[Laughs] No, I wasn’t too bad. The pain was a lot initially but it gradually got better as you got used to it. But you can get used to anything. Eventually I want to do an Ironman triathlon.
You’re starring as Long John Silver in Sky’s Treasure Island adaptation — have you been practising your limp?
Yeah, we’re getting into his exact look. I will have my determined approach, it’s going to be gritty rather than swashbuckling. But I do these things, like running all those marathons, because I’m basically a determined idiot.
Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is available now on DVD
(Main image: Rex)