Eddie Izzard has exciting news. Not only has she co-written her first screenplay, she’s also prioritising she/her pronouns these days. “I spent 50 years predominantly in boy mode, so let’s try the next 50 in girl mode,” she explains to HuffPost UK down Zoom.
The stand-up comic turned actor was splashed on the front pages last December when she announced her pronoun preference on a Sky Arts TV programme. Now aged 59, she’s planning to spend the next 50 years embracing a different part of her identity.
No wonder she says determination is her best trait. “I’ve had a lot of setbacks early on in life and I’ve just kept going,” she says.
It’s been an iconic journey. Starting out on the comedy scene in 1985, Eddie has become a national treasure, winning everything from Emmys to Critics Circle Awards - though she would refuse the label herself.
Away from performing, which she does in four languages, Eddie has been on another impressive journey of late: she recently ran 32 marathons and performed at 31 comedy gigs in 31 days, raising money for charity as part of her ‘Make Humanity Great Again’ campaign.
This spring, she’s speaking to the press to promote her latest film, Six Minutes To Midnight, a novel take on the war movie about a girls’ school in Bexhill-On-Sea, which housed young German women in the run-up to World War II.
While so much of Eddie’s life is about looking forwards, Six Minutes To Midnight, which she co-wrote, offered the chance to reflect. One particular scene was shot at Pinnacle Point in Eastbourne, where Eddie grew up.
“I loved doing that day,” she says. “That was like going back to my childhood where I used to play on that pinnacle rock, and down, looking for crabs and things on the seafront. That was an amazing juxtaposition of life.”
“One of my particular strengths is knowing what I don’t know”
Having flexed her acting chops alongside George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Thirteen, and with 68 movie credits to her name, I ask why it’s taken her so long to write for the big screen when she’s been crafting comedy for so many years.
“That’s a very good question,” Eddie says. “I don’t think many people have asked it specifically… One of my particular strengths is knowing what I don’t know.”
The comic says she went through a period of “self-analysis” before she came out as trans in 1985, an experience of self-discovery she likens to the process of learning to write.
“I lay on the bed and I came to a certain conclusion,” she says. “It wasn’t a brilliant analysis but I developed this thing. If you can look at yourself, what can you do, what can you not do?”
With her trans identity, it was working out “what was I thinking?”, whereas with work, it was coming to terms with how to write and perform in different styles. “I could do sketch comedy early on, so I thought I could do street performing, I thought it would be easy, and I failed,” she remembers.
“Then I analysed why I was a bad street performer, worked out certain things and got better at that.” Similarly, she says her initial acting work was “not good.”
In the same vein, it has taken decades of self-analysis to write for the screen. “It took this long because I didn’t want to do rubbish,” she says.
Now Eddie feels she can write, but it’s a slow process. “I’m very slow at writing, which is an annoyance for me,” she says.
Speaking of the process, she adds: “I wanted my first one to land as opposed to going ‘that was all over the place.’ If you look at Jack Nicholson in The Terror, he’s the lead in that and he’s not great... It’s just Jack not switched on, and then later on, it’s Jack fired up.”
Fired up or simply determined: both are apt descriptions for Eddie’s ambition on and off-screen. In Six Minutes To Midnight, she is exuberant as schoolteacher Thomas Miller, and is particularly scene-stealing in moments alongside co-star Judi Dench.
“The one thing I’ve tried to do is crowbar these two apart,” she says of the difference between her comedy and acting. “You’re trying to be truthful to this character, so there’s no muscles I’m reaching for in my comedic training.”
The only similarity? “Being present in the moment,” she reflects.
“In comedy you’re present in the moment on stage and in film drama you’re present. If it’s comedy you’re being a giraffe or a weird General, in drama you’re being that character. The rest I keep separate.”
“I think there is a transgender action hero type character, which I think should be coming out somewhere in the future.”
The conversation off-screen may be around Eddie in girl mode, but Six Minutes To Midnight is a signifier of how she says she will remain in boy mode on screen. “It’ll probably still be male roles I’m doing in films,” she says.
Does she think she’ll look to pick up female roles? “No, I don’t.”
She’s working on writing other stories but she holds back on sharing details. The one thing she will say, though, is that there’s space for more trans representation.
“I think there is a transgender action hero type character, which I think should be coming out somewhere in the future,” she teases. “I always was a tomboy. I was a boy tomboy, now I’m a girl tomboy. I was always fighting, scrapping, running, jumping, climbing trees. The tomboy aspect of me hasn’t moved an inch.”
She says she was surprised by how big a story her pronoun change became. “They did the show and then four months later it goes viral with such a wind behind it. And I said ‘well, what about the 35 years beforehand?’
“I was a little confused on that, but it’s fine. I feel I’ve been promoted to she and it’s a great honour, but I’m still gender fluid and I tell everyone that’s supported me, ‘Relax people, he or she, it doesn’t really matter.’ The pronoun thing isn’t the important thing, the important thing was coming out back in 1985, that was the tough time.”
Did anything spark her to request the pronoun changes on Portrait Artist Of The Year? “No change at all,” she admits. “It’s all just bubbled along. I’ve got boy genetics, girl genetics... The thing is, if I’m kinda more based in girl mode, then ‘she’ would be great, but if not, you know… If some people make a point of it, obviously they’re trying to be negative, but it’s just a language adjustment and no one should get het up about it.”
I suggest that some people might make a point of her pronouns, as Eddie’s use of she/her will inspire legions of young and emerging trans people to use the pronouns they feel most comfortable with.
“I’m with you on that,” she says. “I just, I’m talking about the film here and I don’t want people to swirl around. The Guardian did a thing and the first headline they came out with was all about breasts, you know. Really? Sub editors, is that what you get from the whole of my life, you sum it up to that? So I suppose that’s them just trying to grab headlines.”
Remembering the occasion on Portrait Artist Of The Year where she asked for she/her pronouns, Eddie adds: “It was a bit like ‘tea or coffee?’, and I said ‘latte please.’”
Does being gender fluid mean the dial could swing back towards boy mode? “No, I’m more based in girl mode from now on.”
Alongside more writing, the comic is also determined to spend the next 50 years in politics. If she can get a seat, she will be honoured to serve in parliament for Labour, she says.
Does the alleged anti-trans faction of the party worry her? “Nope. No bother.”
More pressing is her distaste for the far-right. I say she seems to come across as always compassionate in interviews, as she does in ours, but she says not quite. “I wouldn’t quite term it like that,” she says.
“The right-wing point of view, I have no compassion for that. The idea of hating people - no.
“Starting from hatred, people who self-disenfranchise themselves - franchise is society if you think about it - and some people say they wish to be sexist, they wish to be racist, they wish to hate people who are LGBT, use violence and the threat of violence in their everyday life.
“I’m not going to agree with those people, but I can probably make common ground with most people. A vast array of moderate people, passionate people, live-and-let-live people.
She continues: “That’s who I want to link with. It’s not that I think my ideas are right and no one else’s are right, but it’s more that I’ve looked at a lot of ideas and I’m trying to put forward a thing where a fair chance in life should be the right of every person in the world.
“That’s my world view and that includes everyone = 7.8 billion people [the world’s population].”
Eddie has an encouraging theory for how equality can be achieved. Far right movements can be reversed quickly, she says. “They snap back to whatever they were.”
“Boom. Just like that. That’s what Biden did. Joe Biden got in, boom, he undoes a lot of this extreme right wing hatred that Trump was doing. And that’s one of the great things - you can reset, even if a person comes in and drags it backwards, it snaps back.
“It doesn’t have to acclimatise. You don’t get the bends - you just snap all the rights back. And that’s a wonderful thing. I’m interested in what makes good ideas stick, and stick around.”
Let’s hope she’s onto something. By Eddie’s watch, time’s running out to save humankind. “We have to get there this century,” she urges. “We’ve got 80 years to get that working or I don’t think we’ll make it as a species.”
Luckily, Miss Izzard’s forthcoming political career has 50 of those within her sights.
Six Minutes To Midnight is available now on Sky Cinema and Now TV