Five Children and Eddie IzzardThe comic discusses voicing the It and his role in Ocean's Twelve
Eddie Izzard may have keen the King of Comedy since making his first appearance on the London stage in 1993, with his one man show at The Ambassadors. But since then, he’s divided his time between stand-up and film work. Roles in big budget films like The Avengers and Mystery Men complemented more esoteric work, in films like Christopher Hampton’s The Secret Agent and Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine. This year alone, he has already been seen in Western Blueberry and will soon be featured in the much-anticipated Ocean’s Twelve. As for Five Children and It, John Stephenson’s charming adaptation of E. Nesbit’s classic tale of childhood adventures and magical wishes, for the first time Izzard, lends his voice to an animated creature – in this case, the grouchy Sand Fairy, christened ‘It’ by the children who find him.
As you recorded your voice track separately for Five Children and It, did you get to go on set?
I wanted to be there, and I wanted to play the father coming back in the airplane as well. I thought it would be quite nice if ‘It’ was actually their father, as if it was all in their heads and it was their creation that came out of it, and it was a projection of their father, which I thought was quite a nice tie-up. I couldn’t do it, and it was already cast.
How did you settle on the unusual accent for voicing ‘It’?
I wanted my voice to have this European thing, which came into my head when I was reading it. I think there was a certain pressure, maybe from America, saying this would not work. But I was kinda stiff, and I said if it’s not going to work, then get someone else. I said I think it will work. My answer to people of America not being able to understand a European accent was ‘Hasta La Vista, baby. I’ll be back!’ That guy had an Austrian accent, and I’d stake my life on it! And everyone found that very groovy, so it just shows Middle America can swing with anything it wants to.
So, they’re not going to subtitle you for American audiences, then?
God, I hope not. That would be crazy.
How would you describe the accent you used?
It’s somewhere between French and Italian, I think. And I like both countries, so I’m happy to be like that. He’s 2000 years-old, plus, so he must’ve picked up a few accents on the way. I felt he became slightly more English when he was drugged! So I liked the fact that when he was off his face, he’s slightly more English – which makes us more sexy!
Do you have young nephews and nieces who would want to see the film?
I do have nieces and they will see it, but they haven’t seen it yet. I left that to producers to do the testing! When it comes out, I hope they’ll see it. It’ll be interesting to see what my niece. Hopefully, it will appeal to adults too.
Would you say one of the main themes if ‘be careful what you wish for’?
I suppose so. It’s got that message but it also has the message where my character mentions to the kid that when you’re a child, it’s a magical time and the magic does fade, and you may not have that sense of wonder when you grow up. I hope that works. We went round and round on that about how to say it. It’s probably not quite what E. Nesbit said, but we kept fine-tuning it.
What would you ask for if you a wish from ‘It’?
Well, I want unlimited wishes. I’ve already worked that out! I think if I had one wish, it would be able to speak every language. It would be really good to go through African tribes and be able to talk to everyone.
Was it hard to record your voice without seeing the images?
It was a little difficult, but Nick Hirschkorn – whose the young producer on it – he grabbed the script, when I said I need to read it with someone. I’ve just done a Disney film called The Wild, which is pure animation, and I forced the director on that to read it back to me and play with me. People often on animation films will record totally separately, so you just go in and do your lines and do them, even out of order. It’s all separated, and they do this because you can get anyone at anytime, and it keeps the costs down. You can pay people less money, as you can get them in when they can fit it into their schedule. But I think get them in altogether, so they’re bouncing off each other, getting emotion off each other. Anyway, I sat down with Nick and fired all this stuff at him, and then I ab-libbed off it as well. I took the script, especially when the ‘It’ character is on the table and Horace is having a go at me…it just gave me freedom to go crazy. I think I have done the Enigma Variations of E. Nesbit!
Was this the first animated project you had worked on?
I did one for Aardman before. I want to make my own series. This character Pants Cat I have worked on for years, I want to make him into an animated thing. I’m a huge fan of The Simpsons, and I felt this would be a great way to get my comedy out without having my face all over it, so that I could still have free reign to do dramatic things without people going ‘Total association’. I mean, there will be vocal association, but if I can go crazy voices, then I can do all my comedy on television or on film, which will leave me free to drama as well without all the baggage of comedy.
Where did Pants Cat originate from?
I did him at my first show, live at The Ambassadors. I was talking about a cat – as I’ve never had one – and I said he was good at doing laundry, as he was Pants Cat! I just came up with this stupid superhero cat. Everyone says now ‘Tell us about Pants Cat’. We did a few cartoons of him, but I never quite got the image I wanted for him. I wanted a certain look, but I didn’t quite know how to do it. I haven’t hung out with animators yet, so I just want to engineer myself into a position to do it. Also, to do animation it costs a hell of a lot, but I have kept hold of the copyright to my stand-up shows, and that’s very hard to do, and I don’t want to give away Pants Cat. I just have to engineer myself into a position of clout, or having enough money to develop it, so I’m going to do that…
So I guess you’d like to appear on The Simpsons?
I sat in on a read-through and then I went back and sat in on a script meeting, where they were arguing about how to tweak things, which they didn’t think quite worked, and that was great. I’d love to be in it, but they never asked me, and I don’t want to push it. I think it’s because I’m a cult – rather than a mainstream – name. If I keep hacking my way up the ladder…I’m still in the cult area where some people love my stuff, and some go ‘Who is this guy? Is he a toilet cleaner?’
Given that you’ve just appeared in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve, I guess your days of anonymity in the US are numbered…
Unfortunately, it’s just a cameo role. It’s great to be in it, and it was fun to do and I’ll try to do every opening I can. I did two scenes, of a film that has about 400. They seemed pleased with what I did, but I’m a battler – I’ll just keep battling my way up.”
How did you get involved?
The producer, Jerry Weintraub, was the producer of The Avengers, my second film. The Avengers was somewhat ill-fated, but Jerry is a Republican who was very friendly with George Bush Snr. I’m not so sure about George Bush Jnr, it seems. I being a social democratic transvestite pro-European, meant we would argue politically on the set about stuff. Jerry’s a big, cigar-chomping kid from the Bronx and I’m from a different place, but I think we got to a certain place where we could agree to differ. I kinda liked him, with his gruff way. So I get a call saying ‘Call Jerry Weintraub. Do you want to be Ocean’s Twelve?’ I did, and he’d suggested it to Steven. He puts me onto George, and he says ‘Hey, Eddie. We’re in Amsterdam…’ I think he’d visited…many places in Amsterdam! My scene is with George and Brad and all of them. I have two scenes, one talking to Catherine Zeta-Jones on the phone. I’m an expert on holograms, and the second scene is with everyone, talking to George and Brad.
You’re not a fully paid-up member of the Rat Pack then?
I said to Jerry. There has to an Ocean’s Thirteen – and I have to be in it! So we’ll see how it plays out. I’d love to come back. But I always wanted to be in a big, stupid crazy movie, so to get a couple of weeks on that was just great.
Did you manage not to get star struck?
You try not to get star-struck. Brad and Jennifer had already come to my show in LA a couple of years before, so I’d met them and hung out with them. If you start going ‘Oh, my God’…I mean, you’re ego is going to be stroked anyway. So anyone who comes into that situation…you just try not to go a bit silly and you just hang out and get on with people. The first night, I was playing poker with Brad Pitt, Elliot Gould, Michael Douglas and Don Cheadle. I came second in my first game. George doesn’t play; he says he has a bad mojo that makes you unlucky. So he was leaning on people, giving them this bad mojo, then he did it to me and I won a huge hand! So it was great – player poker in Rome on a rooftop watching the sun go down.
Are you glad your level of fame isn’t quite like your co-stars?
Well, yes. I never did a television series in Britain, and Jack Nicholson said ‘Always be number two’. I like that idea of hanging back, because you’re always trying to go forward. It’s not that I would get those roles, and would get that fame anyway, but I like the analogy of being able to buy a packet of crisps in shops; being able to switch on and switch off.
You must be pleased with the sort of character parts you’re being offered…
I’m also picking and choosing very carefully. I was offered a lead role in a romantic comedy, which I do want to do. But now that I’ve proved I can hold a character…I didn’t like the script. It was half a million they offered me, but I said ‘No’. I’m happy to turn that down and keep on my plan that it should be a good role. I can’t wait for the perfect role, and sometimes you even have to roles for your agents, so that they’re earning money off you – it is a business in the end.