GET ME A SPITFIRE! EDDIE IZZARD PILOTS WIND BACK WEDNESDAY


Currently appearing in the World War II-set spy thriller Six Minutes To Midnight, having completed another marathon run of fundraising marathons (this time on a treadmill at home), beamed everywhere during lockdown, filming a Netflix series based on a Harlan Coben book and preparing for a stand up comedy tour to be performed entirely in Spanish, Eddie Izzard is most definitely du jour.


It seems entirely appropriate then to forage in the Wind Back Wednesday files for this interview with the actor/comedian/aspiring Labour politician. So here’s a buzzy moment from a decade ago.


As you may be aware, Izzard, is now using she/her pronouns , wanting to be “based in girl mode”, as she put it recently. At the time of this interview, she was in boy mode, hence the now-out-of-place pronouns used then and not changed to keep in Wind Back Wednesday mode.

It's often said that the permanent state of existence in Los Angeles is "development hell", that open-ended period during which you wait and wait for your next film or television project to be approved, then funded and maybe then, if you are extremely lucky and still alive, actually made.


However, for Englishman Eddie Izzard, a comedian of the surreal and an actor of great versatility, it seems the sun does shine more sweetly in the west coast city which has been one of his homes for the past decade. While maintaining a career as one of the finest stand-up comedians of his generation, he's appeared in more than 30 films – from Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen to Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie and the Pixar animation, Cars 2 – and helped launch and co-write the pilot for the cable television drama series The Riches, which ran for two seasons.


And now, on the verge of an Australian tour of his latest stand-up show– or as he has put it in the past, the chance to “talk complete bullshit” - he sounds particularly happy.


"I'm actually in mid- development joy," he says from his Los Angeles office. "I am developing a second drama series here but it's with the same network, FX, I did The Riches with, so we all know each other.”


They know each other so well that he hadn't even finished his pitch when FX executives gave their approval.


"It doesn't feel like hell," Izzard says. “Usually what happens in LA is they tend to have scripts pitched without an actor attached and I'm already attached and I'm the co-creator and producer.

I don't want to get complacent but I know LA, I know how it works so that a good chance I'll get the ball and, in baseball terms, knock it out of the park."


Listen to him, an Englishman in Los Angeles, making baseball analogies like a native. (“It’s like rounders isn’t it?,” he jokes, though he admits developed a genuine love for the game when living in Canada for a while when he was 9.)


But along with the lingo, he learned some time back that for any kind of artistic endeavour in the States you can't be dependent on the writing or creating of others.


"It’s opportunity. Even the A List male and female actors, they’re often up for the same role and if one of them gets it the other nine are asking why aren’t I on it. I realised you could hang around looking for good supporting roles or you write your own stuff and you shoehorn yourself in and write to your strengths," says the 49-year-old.


“You can be a brilliant actor and everyone wants you in everything but that's not what it's like for me, it's more like hacking away at the north face of the Eiger.”


The hacking away is bearing fruit with the new show. It’s about a political fixer based in Washington, now with a name sullied by something he didn't do, who has become an amoral gun for hire.


"Like someone from The West Wing went feral, went off the grid,” Izzard explains. “If Josh from The West Wing got pushed out with all those skills and went around doing all the things that Nixon had people doing."


Another somewhat gritty drama may seem odd given his worldwide reputation for off-the-cuff comedy and flights of fantasy that stretch from God to Darth Vader. However, it’s obvious that unless the remaining members of Monty Python fulfill his childhood dream and invite him to be the new member, Eddie Izzard feels no need to create comedy programs or seek out comic roles on film and TV when live performances provide that outlet.


"I enjoy the dramatic roles, which is very annoying for agents because they say, 'just do the comedy roles and you’ll get more money', so not everybody understands why I don't do it. [But] I always wanted to do drama when I was a kid. I went away from it for so long because comedy got going but then I thought, fuck it, I'm going to go for both of them," says Izzard who recently finished a three month run performing in France, wholly in French.


"I want to push an edge out in the comedy and do it in India and in German in Germany, in Russian in Russia, Arabic in an Arabic country. I've got all those things to do so I don't need to do great comedy roles.”


Still, why does he do the comedy at all? Why does he put himself through the rigours of live performance?


He admits that "it's a bit greedy having a comedy career and a drama career" but “I try to do only things that give me pleasure", including learning to fly in late adulthood. That way he can appear in a “Goodfellas-like, give me the fucking money” Treasure Island, playing Long John Silver (learning that when working with parrots it's best to act into the wind) and still dream of flying a Spitfire between comedy shows across Europe.

“With the comedy I try to make myself laugh,” he says. “I ad-lib in every show. In the French shows, by the last week five out of the six improvised bits I did, the French came out perfectly. Ad-libbing in French? It made me laugh, it made them laugh.


“So the comedy thing I do because I like it. It also earns money. I don't do adverts, I only do creative work."


He talks about how while it may not amuse him exactly, dramatic acting does thrill him, explaining the deep pleasure of getting a scene right amid the dust of a desert location or the bustle of a film set filled with crew, hangers on and an anxious director.


And if he needs more action there’s always his charity work, which once had him run seven weeks of ultra-marathons, and dreams of a political career one day. Somewhere in all that is the Spitfire dream.


“I wanted to fly a Spitfire,” he says in the same way you might say I wanted to eat truffles. “I have a fear of flying so I thought I can conquer my fear of flying and fly one of these fantastic birds of freedom that saved us in the second world war, flown by Australian pilots and British pilots, Free French and Polish pilots.


“I’ll then fly one of these, land it and do a gig at an airfield. Then get back in the plane, fly to France and do a gig in French. And then fly to Germany, in a Spitfire, and do a gig in German.”


You know he means it too, not least because he is intensely interested in World War II. It’s an interest which has me wondering if he had ever read Spike Milligan’s brilliant, nutty and hilarious memoirs of his days in the military during that war. Oh yes, he says, he’s read them all.


“He was based in Bexhill which is where I spent 11 years growing up so I always said he was stationed at the top of Galley Hill in 1940 and I was stationed at the bottom of Galley Hill selling ice creams in 1976.”


Once you know this, going from Spike Milligan to Monty Python to Eddie Izzard is but a natural progression.


“Spike is the godfather of alternative comedy, of surreal comedy, here and around the world,” Izzard declares.


Would that make Izzard the nephew of surreal comedy?


“I asked Python if I could say I was the bastard child of Monty Python, so I’m a wannabe nephew. I have picked up a standard that was made by giants and I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.”


Which does make it easier to see him.



AFTERTHOUGHTS


So Izzard True?: part 1


Eddie Izzard has declared that his stage shows are really just Monty Python as stand-up “with [me] playing all the parts”, including the drag. His career may owe a debt to Michael Palin, John Cleese et al, but it’s still a better option than his first career choice after leaving school.


“I was studying to be an accountant at university so I thought I could make money doing accountancy but I’d wanted to be an actor since I was seven. Then I thought I’d be a performer and then it was fuck it, I’ll be an actor and a performer.”


And then I’ll do it in French.


“And in Russian and German, yes.”

So Izzard True? part 2


Even people who’ve never seen Eddie Izzard on screen or in the flesh have become fans thanks to an online favourite, a Lego animation accompanying his gut-achingly funny routine about Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen. In this Vader orders the penne alla arrabiata but hits a snag, even before he is confused with his “brother”, Jeff Vader.


Canteen Worker: You’ll need a tray.

Darth Vader: Do you know who I am?

Canteen Worker: Do you know who I am?

Darth Vader: This is not a game of who the fuck are you. For I am Vader, Darth Vader, Lord V

Vader. I can kill you with a single thought.


Canteen worker: You’ll still need a tray

Darth Vader: No, I will not need a tray. I do not need a tray to kill you. I can kill you without a

tray, with the power of the Force, which is strong within me. Even though I could kill you with

a tray if I so wished. For I would hack at your neck with the thin bit until the blood flowed

across the canteen floor.

Canteen Worker: No, the food is hot. You’ll need a tray to put the food on.