NEW YORK CITY—There doesn't seem to be much that Eddie Izzard can't do. He is a standup comic who has starred in more than a half-dozen videos and played clubs and arenas in several countries. He is the star of an award-winning TV drama called The Riches that sees him heading up a family of con men that takes over the identity of an upper-middle-class family. And, as of Christmas Day, he will be on screens playing a respected German general who is unsure of whether or not to join a plot to kill Hitler.
Izzard says his role in that film, Valkyrie, which stars Tom Cruise as the leader of a group that plans the assassination but needs Izzard's general to make it work, was a project that he decided to seek. Surprisingly, the U.K.–raised Izzard says he could relate to his character.
“I have studied World War II, and when I was a kid, I wanted to be in the British army,” he says in a New York City hotel room. “There were a lot of things about my youth that would have slotted into his life. If I had been a German person going into the Second World War, I would have gone into the army. I can see that happening. So I felt comfortable from the beginning with him. There was never going to be a problem with becoming the character. You just have to go into it and grab it. Some of it you are pulling from yourself and the other things you find.”
Izzard says he is a big believer in taking pieces from your past in order to create characters. And he feels that it is that approach that has allowed him to move easily between standup, his dramatic TV series, and movies like Valkyrie, something he says audiences aren't always ready for. He says that standup comics have a particularly tough time doing drama because the audience has been conditioned to laugh with them.
“The buttons you are pushing in a dramatic role are different from comedy and it is tricky to land both well because comedy tends to get into people's brains. If you are a comic, you can do what you think is the best dramatic performance in the world but someone will say, ”˜I was waiting for you to say this.' When I am doing drama, there is a distinct part of me that I pull from. It can be some fight I had in my life, or the hell I went through when my mom died that has created an anger inside me. I feel as though I am getting better at bringing those things out in roles. My standup routine is different. When I get into that, I am a relentless bastard. Hopefully, I get better and better at all these things. I know you are always going to make a misstep if you have that ambition, but hopefully each will inform the other in some shape or form.”