Comedian Eddie Izzard might have played a German general in Valkyrie, the Chief Mouse of Narnia and partly inspired a certain feline musician in his new animation Rock Dog, but make no mistake: he is as British as it gets. Or, to borrow his own expression, British-European. When we meet, instead of his signature red nails Izzard is sporting a patriotic manicure combining the Union Jack and the European flag.
“I am a fighter” – he admits. “I tour France in French, I tour Germany in German. Young people should have this opportunity, too. People always talk about the French or German sense of humour, but comedy is human. We are 7 billion people and we are all the bloody same.”
In Rock Dog you play a cat, or rather a British rock legend named Angus Scattergood. Is any resemblance to the actual persons purely coincidental?
I thought that the name had something to do with AC/DC, but they said no. I have been offered the roles of ageing rock stars before – that’s the kind of thing British people do well, apparently. So I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this, but we tried it out and it seemed fun. Angus has fallen into all the trappings of power and success – just like me! He is selfish, egomaniacal and paranoid. Again: me, me, me! Ash (Brannon, director of the film) let me play around – he saw me in Dress to Kill, so it’s not like he hasn’t been warned.
Angus reminded me of Spinal Tap and their illusions of grandeur.
I think the essence of Spinal Tap was to take the piss out of the 1970s. And in order to do that, you don’t really need to do anything: you just show the bloody 1970s. This has more to do with paranoia and ivory towers.
It’s based on a graphic novel, but it’s a story that should work anywhere. You have Bodi, this very naïve dog who hears a rock song on the radio when it falls from the sky and goes on a life-changing journey. And then you have me, a rock god who has been in the music business for so long he lost all inspiration. It’s their relationship that really carries the movie.
Angus looks kind of like Andy Warhol, too.
Yes, Andy Warhol as a cat. But he’s much better at guitar – Andy was never good at that. Listen, I didn’t really want to make this film. When it comes to cinema, I always had this weird way of trying to cut off all ties to the comedic me. I try not to do comedy in my films at all – they are all dramas. But then I met Zheng Jun [author of the graphic novel] and his life story was quite inspirational. Here is a guy who seemingly had his future all mapped out for him until one day he heard Bruce Springsteen sing. That’s the power of music.
Which is not all that bad. I find it interesting that now you can go to China and say: “Hey, that kid from America does great stuff” and you can go to America and say: “Hey, that kid in China is doing great stuff.” So as far as communication is concerned, it’s got to be a positive change. To have Tarantino steal from the filmmakers in Hong Kong or me doing things in French and German, and then Arabic, is pretty spectacular. That’s why I am pro-European Union, now more than ever, and pro-people just getting together, really. The world doesn’t work when we are separated.
I always thought that comedy doesn’t translate as well as drama.
You just have to avoid making storytelling points or punchlines about things that are national. If you make jokes about Sarah Palin, people in China will go: “I don’t know who the fuck that is.” Or about Hershey’s chocolate bar, which is only made in America. It took me some time, because when I was growing up, my inspirations came from things that were mostly British.
Like what, Shakespeare?
I wish. I was intimidated by Shakespeare until I saw Polański’s Macbeth.
I liked The Sweeney, or that stop-motion animated series The Clangers and The Magic Roundabound, which is a cartoon on acid if there has ever been one. Or even Bond. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was my first Bond movie. Some have been better, some have been worse, but that one stayed with me. But it’s irrelevant now. People always talk about the French or German sense of humour, but comedy is human. We are 7 billion people and we are all the bloody same. When I say “American comedy”, what’s your connotation? Louis C.K., Robin Williams? They are miles apart. In Britain, you have Jim Davidson and Monty Python – again, miles apart. So is there a national sense of humour? I don’t think so. The same goes for music, but music works with feelings and comedy is more about the mind. No one ever nationalises music. You could say that jazz is an American-built style, but there can be some kid in Indonesia, born just as we speak, and in 30 years he will be great at it. Nowadays all we see are differences, but the similarities are just so much bigger. That’s what we should be focusing on.
Is that why you are so involved in politics? Because it seems that now it’s all about the “divide and conquer” rule.
Wars start when people are done with politics. When somebody says: “I am not going to do it anymore” – just like Hitler. It’s tough: you go out there, work your ass off and then the results come in and they are not how you would like them to be. But hey – that’s life. (American comedian) Al Franken went into politics, so it can be done. Also, being a transvestite prepares you for that. After hearing what I have been hearing, nothing can shake you up.
In 2020 I will be seeking the Labour nomination for mayor of London, and if that doesn’t happen, a member of parliament. People can mock me all they want, but they voted for Boris Johnson, so the joke is on them. So yes, I plan to do it and nothing will change that.
Given your stance it didn’t bother you that Rock Dog is partly a Chinese production?
It’s a film made with China, so you have to adhere to their rules. But it’s not evil corporations that are making this movie – artists are.
Their system is not something I would consider a success, but things are changing. Perhaps not how we would like them to change, but just the fact that Zheng Jun could write this story and get it made speaks for itself. This idea of an individualist who goes against the grid is more of a western concept, but did they actively block him? Not really. There was a kid in China who said: “I want to play rock’n’roll.” And he did, and then he made a movie about it. So it’s about going for your dreams. People can read this film however they want, but that’s not what I am doing. I will deal with politics in a different way.
Comedian, self-professed “executive transvestite” and a political activist. He participated in marathons for Sport Relief and had his iconic pink beret stolen during an anti-Brexit march. Predictably, he then proceeded to chase after the attacker – all while in heels.