14 Aug 2017

Eddie Izzard's life as a citizen commando

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:06 pm on 14 August 2017

British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard likes to say he is a really boring person who has lived an interesting life.  That may not have been the best pitch to the publishers for his first book, but it worked.

He writes about his rise from street performer to international success as a comic and actor in his memoir,  Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens.

Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard Photo: AFP / FILE

He writes candidly about the death of his mother at age 6, cross dressing when it was actually dangerous to be different and what it takes to turn dreams into reality. 

Izzard says he dealt with the traumatic event of his mother's death in just four pages.

"It was in my head for 50 years, so I wrote it in about half an hour, after thinking about it for 50 years.

"It wasn't a good day, it was confusing for me and my brother and not good for my father either.

And he says time has made it better, but hasn't healed.

"Time covers all wounds, a body will actually put new skin a wound. It's like a scar, it's a deep wound, I can interact and be in my life but it has affected me."

Izzard is a driven man. He plans meticulously; and he evidently loves a challenge.

"If you look at my life, it is a bit like how many people can you get in a mini or a phone box. I'm doing things that are challenging, so they might get noticed, so they might draw attention. Like performing in French and German and Spanish as well as English - that's a good business thing."

He is an activist, a vocal supporter of the Labour Party and a passionate European. He says he plans to move into British politics after 2020.

"If there's only one vision for this century, it's that somewhere in this century all 7 billion people are living with a fair chance, otherwise we're just going to wipe ourselves off the planet, it's got that extreme in a world of hatred and Trump."

But Izzard says he can see cause or hope in the election of Emmanuel Macron in France, and Angela Merkel's undimmed influence in Germany.

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Photo: supplied

When he was young he fancied a career in the Special Forces; that didn't happen but he brings a military style of planning to his professional life.

"I worked very hard, I didn't just fall into this career. You can't get this far and just fall into it, unless you're very, lucky and then you're likely to fall off the perch. And I quite like staying on the perch if I could, I've worked so hard for it."

He may not have become a paratrooper, but he is a kind of civilian commando.

"I try and do civilian special-forces: coming out 32 years ago, running in over 80 marathons and performing in four languages - that's my contribution to the civilian branch of special forces."

He says whether it's walking out of the front door in makeup, or trying and failing as a dramatic actor or a stand-up comedian, he has a tolerance early failure that has allowed him to learn and grow.

"Whenever I go into a new area my confidence is very low. It's like dramatic acting, if you look at my early work in films it's not very good.

"I had to switch all my muscles off and had to develop dramatic muscles, dramatic senses, without having had the experience of doing it - so my confidence was low at that point."

He got good at it, by doing it, he says.

"Initially it's very humiliating and a lot of people pull out at that point, but you've got to want it, you've got to want it enough to go through that initial development stage."

So what drives him to make his dreams and ideas a reality?

"Stamina, I think Ridley Scott said about making films in the end it's just stamina, you've got to want it more than blood."

Eddie Izzard appears in Victoria and Abdul which opened in New Zealand cinemas this week.

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