Fans of British comic Eddie Izzard – a self-described ‘male Lesbian’ -may be surprised to find him on screen as Charlie Chaplin in the new film The Cat’s Meow. But Izzard, who insists he is a straight transvestite, felt there was a lot in the Hollywood legend with whom he could relate, as the outspoken actor revealed to Paul Fischer.
Question: I read an interview where you said you could relate to Chaplin because of his rapid sex life? Can you explain what you meant by that?
Answer: Not by a rampant sex life, but I feel it’s different; I think he had a low sexual self-esteem.
Question: And you could relate to that?
Question: How so?
Answer: Because when I was a kid before puberty, I was very athletic, running about, playing football, I didn’t tell anyone I was a transvestite, and as a straight person I fancied girls, so I was into boy things, so there was no problem there, I just fancied girls. So kissing girls was great and I was really fine with that and so kind of on top of it, like in the sense of it was fun and easy and great and ‘she’s pretty so I can chase after her’. And then, I hit puberty and it was anger and spotty and greasy hair and sexual waking up and doing what the hell is this sex, I didn’t know about that and loss of confidence, that all disappeared. I went to school where there were no girls so I lost all that. I lost confidence, couldn’t play soccer, didn’t like the other sports and was a non-athletic person and I wasn’t doing any acting, and football was my life. And, yeah I lost my virginity very early at age 21. Once it came out [the transvestitism], I actually was celibate for a while, because I thought that women weren’t going to be able to deal with this and then it came out I thought I was missing out on a whole lot and I thought I better get this back.
Question: So what have you gotten back?
Answer: Well, I started sleeping with women again. I chat with women and I sort of worked out that I never was able to flirt with women. I had no ability to do that and was very tongue-tied. But, before when I was doing sketches up at the Edinburgh Festival, I cast this woman in the play and then proceeded to get it off with her and started to have relationships only people working in the shows which was the only I could do it, which in turn is very like Chaplin. The only way he could really get someone to, have sex with him, have a relationship with him, was by casting them; I feel he didn’t know how to interact with them.
So it was when I was 26 that I realized I know how to flirt; it’s something of a performance which I could integrate into my life, and THAT’S what I think Chaplin doing with Marion [Davies]. I think Charlie just kind of rolled on that one in 23. So when it comes to 24, he met Marion. I think she had a sense of humor. I think he just thought, I’m going to go with this woman. She’s allowed to have flings, you know, she’s a mistress, so Chaplin just goes with it and gets in a relationship. He’s very open about it.
Question: Why are people so fascinated by the sex lives of those working on the stage and screen? Are your sex life and your whole persona is part and parcel of who you are.
Answer: Firstly, it’s a very intimate part of ourselves, and the more you talk about other people’s intimate life, outward and it becomes public, it’s just very intriguing; you want to know whether it matches up, I suppose. If people seem to have a wonderful, glamorous life, and they seem to be a bit of a bastard, you hope that they’re taking a helluva lot of drugs and having a bad time of it while if those people are wonderful and decent and shagging away, good luck to them and we feel happy about it. for me, as soon as I said I was a transvestite, I knew that was going to get in the way, and the one thing that I didn’t think about and plan for was for people to say, ‘Ahhh, saying you’re a transvestite moves your career forward’, which if you think about it, a lot more transvestites would be out. It obviously does create a certain amount of fame but it spins everything off this way, so I’m in a more ‘blokey’ phase at the moment.
Question: Blokey, how so?
Answer: Well, I just say I’m not wearing makeup. And it’s just roles I’m having to do, so I’m trying to mix it up so that I just don’t get pigeonholed as ‘the transvestite’ because that’s going to cut down your acting roles.
Question: What are the biggest misconceptions do you think that the public has of you based on what has been reported about you?
Answer: One that I talk a lot of surreal rubbish ALL THE TIME but I’m kind of boring offstage. A lot of comedians do this, you develop comedy as a social tool you do it professionally and then you start really honing it down and you stop using it in your social life, so you become a sad bastard. Obviously everyone assumes I’m gay, because I’m a transvestite, that’s fine. I happen not to be but I’m up to being bisexual which seems logical. Why aren’t I bisexual? I ask my genes this, they don’t seem to give me any answer so I just go with it, male lesbian is how it seems. I’m trying to work out the answers on the sexuality.
Question: Looking at Cat’s Meow, was your attraction in doing this movie, partly because it made you aware of old Hollywood in some way?
Answer: Yeah, absolutely. I am fascinated by history in general and the history of Hollywood. I remember watching the film Nickelodeon, and I thought: This is great stuff I wanted to know about and I hadn’t seen in a while, and I realized that was a Bogdanovich film. So I love that stuff.
Question: If you were able to ask Chaplin about his life and career, what would you ask?
Answer: I would ask him when he became calm. It’s sort of a weird question but it’s thing I call the calmness because I was pushing away in my twenties thinking I could do this but nothing’s happening. At 7 I wanted to act and at 30 it started happening, so it was years of what I call, holding the madness when you think: I can do something that can really work on a world scale but I can’t even get paid more than ten pounds.
Question: But now—
Answer: And the weird thing is there was the whole of my twenties, nothing and I thought that either I’m crap or it’s just not coming out right.
Question: Are you in a particularly comfortable point in your career now?
Answer: Very much, I mean, yes, since 1987, I have been very content. That’s when I went solo
Question: Do you still go back to standup?
Answer: Oh, yeah. I’ll be touring at the end of next year.