Eddie Izzard

The stand-up comedian ditches the stilettos for TV.

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Illustration: Rob Kelly

It's Sunday morning in Los Angeles, and actor-comedian Eddie Izzard has just woken up. He's groggy after working multiple late nights filming The Riches, a new TV dramedy about a family of nomadic grifters who connive their way into luxurious suburban living in, of all places, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Izzard plays the father, Wayne Malloy, opposite Minnie Driver's just-paroled matriarch. His character, a fist-fighting con merchant, seems very different from the Emmy-winning, stiletto-wearing stand-up comic whose world tours sell out instantly.

But over the past couple of years, Izzard, 45, has gotten pretty good at acting. In 2003 he earned a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, and he's been stealing scenes in everything from Ocean's Twelve and My Super Ex-Girlfriend to the animated feature The Wild. We caught up with the softly spoken Brit by phone at his apartment, where he explained that it's best not to mess with an "action transvestite."

Your character Wayne Malloy is a bit of a misfit: half gypsy, half square. Is he anything like you?

Yes, there's a lot of me in him. He's constantly trying to ad-lib his way to the next place. And he's realized that the entire lifestyle he's developed—and become very good at—is a complete waste of his life and he wants to change it. I have the same sort of relentless drive thing.

Do you think of yourself as a striver?

Yeah. But Wayne got very lost and is trying to find the right way around. I got lost in my twenties.

How?

Well, my midlife crisis was in my twenties. I realized I was a transvestite, and I thought, Oh, I better tell everyone about it. So all my mess was there. His mess is now.

Wayne isn't afraid to stand up for himself. Do you enjoy doing the fight scenes?

Oh yeah! I am a scrappy kind of person. I had a fight in Cambridge [England]—I took people to court when they attacked me for wearing makeup. I stood up to them. I'm an action transvestite, and I will fucking fight them if they get in my face. I just get angry and get in a fight; I should learn how to fight better.

Do you still wear dresses?

Wearing a dress hasn't gone away. I'm a card-carrying, born transvestite—but I'm a transvestite with a career. You have to be a little bit tactical about wearing a dress.

Why?

If you're going for a straight role and you show up wearing makeup and a dress, your career won't go anywhere. I've wanted to be a dramatic actor since I was seven—everything up to now has been trying to get there. For a long time I was trying to get things going, and the world was saying, "You can't do things." Then I thought, Oh, fuck it—I'll just do comedy.

And now?

Lately I've pushed the dramatic and held the comedy back; now I've got this role. But I can't play Wayne Malloy in a dress—it's not believable. So I'm in full boy mode now, and I've had to do that for a couple of years just to land this role.

Do you get sick of explaining it all?

Look, people still say, "You must be gay." And I say, "No, I'm a straight transvestite: There are bisexual transvestites, gay transvestites, blah blah blah..." And I'm sort of bored with it, like, Jesus Christ—can't people catch up?

Where do you live when you're performing in New York?

Initially I was up by Central Park; then I discovered the West Village and Soho, and I thought, My God! I have to be down here. I love it downtown!

Do you own an apartment here?

I rent. I loved my time in New York. And I am very fine working in L.A.—I do like the weather, having had a lot of gray in England. If clouds weren't gray...why the fuck do clouds have to be gray, is my point? If they were blue, yellow or red, if they were any other color than gray...

Like white?

If they're white, then they are bright, but when they're gray it is just so depressing. L.A.'s got this thing, where they go, "Oh, no, no—we're not going to do that: We are going to do endless sun."

They get smog!

Yeah, but not as bad as Dickensian London.

The Riches premieres Mon 12 at 10pm on FX.

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