Comedian and Treasure Island star Eddie Izzard talks about parrots, politics and his unique comedy style.
Actor, comedian, activist, action transvestite; Eddie Izzard is a man with his fingers in a whole bakery’s worth of pies. He’s performed stand-up all over the world, not only in English but in French and German as well, and snagged starring roles in films and TV series, such as The Riches. After the recent release of Treasure Island on DVD, in which he plays iconic pirate Long John Silver, we caught up with Izzard in London, where he is performing a series of stand-up gigs and enjoying the Olympic fever.
Playboy.com: You’re famous for an almost stream-of-consciousness style in your shows. Did you have any idea, when you were starting out, that this was going to become so big? Some of your bits have become sort of catchphrases, like “tea and cake or death” or “covered in bees!”
Izzard: Yeah, or “I’m going to kill you with a tray.” I don’t think I planned that, I don’t think I was thinking in that way. I actually just wanted to be an actor. And then that wasn’t working and I discovered Monty Python so I thought, “Okay, I’ll dump everything, dramatically, and I’ll be in a group like Monty Python and hope that that will go as big as it could go.” But in the end, being in solo standup and having people repeat the lines, it isn’t quite how I thought of it, but it’s a wonderful thing to happen. They’re quite silly but they all come from somewhere — “covered in bees” is a bit odd — but they all mean something, they’re all kind of weird observations that I’ve done. So I’m very happy about it. My comedy is quite positive, I feel. Comedy is a good attack weapon and a lot of people use it, taking apart things; it can get very gossipy and very sort of catty in comedy. I think it’s better for me when I’m going for bigger targets, like mass murderers and war and death and dinosaurs and god. With these subjects, it all gets quite intriguing.
Playboy.com: Recently the Treasure Island miniseries DVD came out, where you work with quite the star studded cast and portray the legendary Long John Silver.
Izzard: It was great to work with Donald Sutherland; I was a big fan of MASH, Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland and…wonderful. He was very chatty; it was a great honor to be there and to do scenes with him. I would have liked to have done more, but we only had a few we could play together.
Elijah Wood was very relaxed. He came in and he just fitted in as part of the group and moved into our hotel, ’cause he wasn’t in our hotel initially, and just got on as one of the guys. I’ve seen him since, with Dominic Monaghan, [they] both played hobbits in Lord of the Rings, they came along to a gig in L.A., so it’s nice to have worked with him and nice to know him.
Long John Silver is such a classic role to play, and I had a wonderful experience doing it. When I was seven I wanted to act, and I think the roles that I was always trying to do were playing something like Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Before I did it I said, “Look, the adaptation has got to be gritty, it’s got to be ballsy, it’s got to be really pushing the edge, ’cause that’s what pirates were, not sort of thigh-slapping and pantomime,” and they went for that. I think we’ve done a very edgy version, more the Goodfellas version of Treasure Island.
Playboy.com: The first time you see Long John Silver, he starts a mutiny and then cuts off his own leg, so you really start out seeing him as this man who can do just about anything.
Izzard: Yeah, I don’t think he started the mutiny, I feel that he was forced into… well, it was an abandon ship, our Captain Flint told us to get the hell off the ship cause he was keeping the gold, but yes, I pushed to show him cutting his leg off. I said that would show the determination in this character, and I like playing very determined characters: I may not look like this person or that person, or I may not be suitable for this role or that role, but I can play determined people. That is what I am, and I like to take that into my characters.
Playboy.com: What about working with a parrot?
Izzard: I was wary of the parrot. Of course, it’s not one parrot; it was five parrots in the end. And the thing with parrots is, it can be annoying, the scene can end up all being trying to parrot-wrangle. They were pretty good as long as I — there was a certain thing: you have to act into the wind. This is kind of bizarre, but parrots, or any birds, would not sit on your shoulder if the wind is blowing backwards up their feathers. Their feathers would fly up and they feel like they need to take off. So they need to stay into the wind. We had to get the hang of that one. You can’t move about much — you turn around and suddenly you’re facing the wrong way, so then he turns around and you have a backwards-facing parrot, which doesn’t quite look right.
Playboy.com: You’ve always been a very outspoken proponent of the EU and of being European. Lately, with all of the financial uncertainty in the EU at the moment, if you were the Prime Minister of Britain, what would your next move be?
Izzard: Well, Britain is not part of the Euro financial system; we didn’t join the Euro at this stage, so there’s no particular thing linked into the European financial system that needs doing at the moment, but it can be better. I believe that they should be using more Keynesian economics than the Milton Friedman, Chicago school of economics. They’re using this sort of Thatcherite cutback, cutback, cutback stuff, which we know does not work. We know going back to the ’20s, Roosevelt proved it, you have to invest in the country and in jobs to get things back on track, and the Tories have done it in the wrong way, so I disagree with doing that. With Europe, people say, “Oh, we have a crisis at the moment,” but I say, “Well, World War II was a crisis. And we got through that. It was tough but we got through it. We’ll get through this.” We will get through it. If you look at the history of the dollar, they had a tough beginning.
If Greece came into the financial situation of the Euro with accounting that was incorrect and improper, then it’s right that restructuring has to happen, and it’s probably right that the Euro has to go through some knocks and bumps to get up on its feet, because it’s a new thing, and we need to find out how it works. I believe that you have to be heading towards a fair world, and there are other people in my country and in other countries who believe everything should be about separation and pulling back and devil take the hindmost and the rich get richer and everyone else has to just suffer, and I don’t believe in that. So that’s why I’m very positive about Europe. I’m putting my money where my mouth is: I am doing gigs in French, I will do them in Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic, and so we will see what happens in the future.
But the future is with the Progressives, it always is. It’s the positive, progressive, democratic people who have taken this world from Ancient Egypt, with slavery and kings, to the point now where there’s much more democracy around the world. It is the Conservatives and the Republicans, unfortunately, that have held everything back. They conserve, they resist change, they wanted to keep slavery, wanted to keep women out of the vote, they wanted to stop voting for all men in democratic countries, and it’s the Progressives and the Democrats that will change the world and have changed it. And I think that these are the right people and the Republicans are the wrong people.
Playboy.com: We just saw the first cast photo from Mockingbird Lane (the Munsters remake). It looks like the look, at least, has gone in quite a different direction from the original. Can you tell us a bit about playing Grandpa Sam Dracula?
Izzard: Yes, I didn’t think this was my next move, but Bryan Fuller is an intriguing person and I felt we could go on a very interesting ride here, so we’ve done a pilot, and probably if they go with the series, the series will go far-ranging. I regenerate at the end of the pilot and become a younger person; it’s kind of weird having to play with a lot of prosthetics, which is not my top favorite. I now know what it feels like to have to put that stuff on for five hours. But yes, great, exciting, great feeling shooting it, working with Bryan Singer again, great designers, wonderful set, Guillermo Navarro as DP, so pretty beautiful setup to do, and I’m hoping that they go for this. We’ll see what they think, but we’re taking a risk, we’re pushing it in a different direction, a deeper direction, and it is rather exciting.
Treasure Island is out on Blu-Ray Disc and DVD. Buy your copy here.