When old-school director Peter Bogdanovich (”The Last Picture Show”) cast the role of Charlie Chaplin in his recently released Hollywood yarn ”The Cat’s Meow,” he made an unconventional choice: British comic Eddie Izzard, who is best known for hyperkinetic stand-up comedy routines — which he performs in women’s makeup and clothing.
But playing Chaplin is just one of many big leaps this year for Izzard, 40, who has finished filming his next movie ”All the Queen’s Men,” opposite ”Friends” star Matthew LeBlanc. This winter, the transvestite comedian brings his West End play ”A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” to Broadway. And — after winning two Emmys in 2000 for a stand-up show that aired on HBO — he recently finished taping his latest one-man show, ”Circle,” which he plans to sell to TV. EW.com caught up with the enigmatic star to discuss cross-dressing, lipstick colors, and his kiss with Kirsten Dunst in ”The Cat’s Meow.”
Peter Bogdonovich cast you in ”The Cat’s Meow” after seeing your stage show. What makes your performances so unusual?
I’m an action transvestite. Essentially, I’m a comic, but I happen to be a transvestite, which confuses the issue totally. Everyone looks at the makeup and they stop on that. But if they watch the stand-up, they realize I don’t do transvestite, transgender comedy. The transvestite thing is just a curiosity. I could be wearing an elephant suit.
How did you come up with your performance as Chaplin in ”Cat’s Meow”?
People don’t know what he was like at this point in his life so I felt I could use some broad strokes. I have these theories. I think he had an inability to chat with and get relationships going with women. I wanted Chaplin to be sexy and flirty in this because I think this is where he learned how to flirt — with Marion Davies [the movie star character he has an affair with in the movie]. I also changed the way Chaplin was speaking. I thought I’d just use my accent and not do it too posh.
Could you help being influenced by Robert Downey, Jr.’s Oscar-nominated Chaplin?
He’s playing Chaplin from very early days to the end of his life and I’m just doing two days. I felt like I didn’t need to go anywhere Robert Downey had gone. I didn’t need to get into his motivation. This is a guy who wanted to get laid. That was my motivation.
Which could explain why you end up in a steamy scene with Kirsten Dunst, who plays Davies. How was the kiss?
It was very good. Wherever I wanted to take it with Kirsten, she’d be bouncing ideas back. She’s wildly more experienced than I am in filmmaking — she’s been doing it since she was 3. I found it very easy, and once she got where she wanted to go with it, she seemed to pull it off very easily and very effortlessly. She’s quite a natural.