Note to editor: A few limited comments from other actors who were at the press conference with Izzard are included because they lead into Izzard’s answers.
By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Comedian Eddie Izzard arrives for his new “What About Dick?” film’s press junket in a natty-casual black blazer, open-neck white dress shirt and jeans, but his fingernails are the main focus of attention. The one on his left ring finger is painted with a tiny European Union flag, the one on his right with a British Union Jack, and the rest are a deep and glossy burgundy. The self-proclaimed “British-European” has expressed a desire to be an MP or possibly mayor of London by 2020.
He also is likably easygoing and leading-man handsome, with bright blue eyes and dramatic blond highlights in his dark hair.
“What About Dick?” presents a radio-drama-style staged reading of an absurd comedy mystery written by Monty Python’s Eric Idle, who performs alongside Izzard, Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Tracey Ullman, Jane Leeves, Sophie Winkleman and Jim Piddock. Izzard plays three roles: an Indian inventor named Deepak Obi Ben Kingsley; the dignified manufacturer of a popular early 20th-century marital aid; and an Italian hotel manager (using hilariously labored phonetic pronunciations to deliver a lengthy Italian monologue). The comedy will not appear in theaters or (for the time being) on DVD. Instead, it will be available exclusively online for download beginning November 13 (at whataboutdick.com).
Izzard’s past movie roles have ranged from dramatic (the WW2 thriller “Valkyrie”) to comedic (“My Super Ex-Girlfriend”) to musical (as Mr. Kite in “Across the Universe”) to voiceover work (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and Pixar’s “Cars 2”). He recently appeared as Grandpa in the “Mockingbird Lane” reboot of TV’s “The Munsters.”
Alongside Idle, Winkleman and Connolly (later joined by Brand) in an eighth-floor Hollywood Boulevard conference room, the man John Cleese once called “the lost Python” holds forth on humor, politics and the requirements of being a transvestite.
Q: Could you describe the sense of onstage chaos in “What About Dick?”
Izzard: Eric wrote it into the script. He said, “Make sure chaos is in there,” and we tried to oblige. I thought we had an energy, it was alive. Chaos implies that we didn’t know what was going on. We knew what was going on, but we knew that we could actually fly off a bit, and there was a certain license to that Eric allowed us. Also, we never leave the stage. It’s like a film with De Niro. It’s like “Apocalypse Now,” where no one actually leaves the film. They’re all just hanging in the back of the frame waving.
Connolly: I thought what it needed was one of those little things that squishes out perfume.
Idle: Yes. Smell-o-Vision.
Izzard: If you go to the loo these days, you can be sitting there on your iPad, just doing something, and suddenly (makes perfume-spray sound). It’s up on the wall. It’s weird. I was just in the toilet here, and there’s a bloke (on a phone) going, “I’m at Bronson and McDougal,” or whatever he was saying. I wanted to shout, “No you’re not. Tell him you’re in the loo.”
Q: Do you think humor is natural or can it be learned?
Izzard: I think comedy is genetic. I think it’s built in. If some people, unfortunately, don’t have a sense of humor, it’s either because they’re Republicans or they’re genetically challenged. I think it’s a world thing. I don’t believe it’s national, which is why “The Simpsons” is now around the world and “Python” is now around the world.
Connolly: Half of it is wanting to be funny. The desire to be funny is kind of strange. Most people have a desire to be handsome and attractive and sexy and wanted, a desire to be loved.
Izzard: But we can get wanted and loved and kind of sexy out of comedy, can’t we? If someone wrote a book on how to bridge the laughter ability into the sexual ability, that bridge, that is quite a tricky one.
Idle: I do believe it gets you girls. It gets nerdy boys girls.
Izzard: How about if women are very funny?
Idle: That’s not attractive. It threatens men.
Izzard: (I like) Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French…
Idle: But you’re specialized. You’re not everybody.
Izzard: “I Love Lucy” was one of the biggest things ever, and she was more funny than Desi. Desi was just filling in the lines. But there have been a lot of really funny women. I think that weaker men get challenged by them, I do believe, but I think the smart men think it’s very sexy.
Q: Are there cultural differences in humor?
Izzard: On the world stage, I am someone who actively goes out and says that humor is a world thing, it is not national. I’m going to be playing all these crazy places like Katmandu and Delhi next year, and Russia and France, and they all seem to get the stuff. It’s only the references they don’t get. So in Switzerland there are comedians, there’s a whole bunch in Germany and Austria. One of them, Michael Mittermeier, just came and played London in English, and I was one of his co-promoters on that. And he did a great job, but he’s just still learning the language. I’m still learning French and doing it in France. The French comedians come to my gigs, and I know I have to get my French better. But it’s the ability to understand the words, and then just to get the references. So if you’re talking about American things, and you go over to London, they’re going to say, “Well, it’s the same language, but we don’t get you because you’re talking about some sort of congressman over here,” or Michele Bachmann or something like this, and they go, “Well, we don’t know these people.” So it’s obviously the language, and then it’s the references. But apart from that, it’s human. There will be Swiss people with no sense of humor, but also Swiss people who will be very, very funny. You betcha.
Q: Could you talk about your very glamorous hands?
Izzard: (Joking) Yes, I have enormous monster gloves on, and that’s just because DNA-wise I probably have a monster way back. No, I’ve got painted nails. Apparently, if you’re a transvestite, you have to do this. It’s one of the rules or laws. Also, I have the flag of Britain, the UK, on one side and the European flag on the other. I’m a British-European transvestite, 10 fingers, political statement.
Q: You’ve been in boy’s clothes the last few years.
Idle: He’s the world’s laziest transvestite.
Izzard: I am. I think it could be said that Sophie is representing the clothes that I would like to wear (a very sheer cream-colored dress), if I could borrow her body for a while.
Q: You once said you were a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. Has she gotten out yet?
Izzard: No, it wasn’t trapped. We were just happily co-habiting. I’m actually okay with it all. The bit that I’ve got is the girly bit. The bit that Sophie here is wearing, that kind of girly bit, that’s what I know. But I do not have…some women and some men have this, which is a design aesthetic that goes with that kind of thing, which I don’t have. But I do have the girly piece of the genetic code that they’re going to find in women and me. I predict that now, that will come out. Because I didn’t choose this, I just have it. And I’ve also got all the boy stuff, though. I’ve got the fighting, I’m going to be in the army. (Connolly) was in the paratroopers, I wanted to be in the paratroopers. That’s a big comedy thing, jumping out of aeroplanes and wanting to do comedy.
Q: Where does “The Munsters” now stand?
Izzard: That stands exactly where you think it stands, which is we’re not sure. It was great to work with that cast and those people and (writer) Bryan Fuller. I did it for Bryan Fuller. I put to him that he should put Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” at the end of it, when I’m sucking the blood out of one guy and regenerating. That’s how I wanted my character to go. When I was at the age of five, my mother told me I was going to be the greatest man alive. (Here I am playing) the greatest vampire ever, and where that would go. But NBC (executives) are choosing what they’re going to do with it, so we can’t tell.
Q: What was it like to work with Russell Brand?
Izzard: He’s much taller than me, so that was a real problem. But there was a very nice bit that Mr. Russell Brand did, which was when he said, “No, I’m an action transvestite.” Remember that, Russell?
Brand: Yeah, that was one of my favorite bits.
Idle: Didn’t make the cut.
Idle: It will be in the outtakes.