Eddie Izzard Reflects on Coming Out as Transgender, Why Caitlyn Jenner Is a Role Model

The comedian also recalls working with Robin Williams on his first feature film: "That was a beautiful moment, just to hang out with him."
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Eddie Izzard
Eddie Izzard wears many hats: stand-up comedian, thespian, film actor and marathon runner, to name a few. In his new memoir Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens, however, he focuses on one of his many hyphenates most prominently: transgender activist.

The 55-year-old, whose Hollywood credits include The LEGO Batman MovieValkyrie, Across the Universe and Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, writes of how acceptance of the transgender community has changed since he first came out in the 1980s. Izzard identifies as transgender, but describes having both a “boy and girl mode.”

As his book hits shelves Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to the British comedian and actor about his take on transgender issues in Hollywood today, Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox as role models, and what it was like to work with Robin Williams.

How did coming out years ago help you with other challenges in your career and personal life?

If you are coming out as transgender or gay or lesbian, it’s such a tough rite of passage and quest. It assaults your senses because, back in ‘85, everyone said, “No, no. Hide about it.” I just thought they were all wrong. The humiliation period, the initial period, is so tough. If you keep at it, it gets better.

What do you find most difficult about using a women’s restroom today and where do you stand on the gender-neutral bathroom debate?

If you just take out urinals, then everyone can use them. You can solve it right now. Just rip them all out. Lets share so everyone is equal. It gets rid of so many things in one fell swoop.

You write of people possibly being more accepting of you because of your charitable marathons and acting career. What role do you think fame plays in the acceptance of transgender people?

Fame does make it easier for me. But then again, I am quite well known in America, but I can find you a lot of places where they wouldn’t know me and I am just some transgender guy going into the loo or shops. But fame can also help some young kid, because he can say, “I am like that person there.” As a positive role model, that’s where I see fame helping. Like Caitlyn Jenner. Now, her politics are not so good. She’s very slow on getting onto gay marriage — but still, a lot of people in America can now talk about it because it’s further out there in the public domain, so that has to be a good thing. One of the greatest activists is an African-American woman who is on Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox. What she had to go through has been very tough. We do what we can, we soldier on, and we try to find positives in the negatives.

What is your take on cisgender actors playing transgender roles? You have years of experience in the opposite position: a transgender actor playing cisgender roles. How would you like to see the transgender community accepted more in and out of Hollywood?

Hollywood will be that way until money is made. I am trying to have my cake and eat it, because I am essentially transgender. I have boy mode and girl mode. I do feel I have boy genetics and girl genetics. I have played one transgender character. I will play hopefully more transgender roles in the future, but there are a lot of boy genetics in me so I am happy to play boy roles. It would be great if more transgender actors can play more transgender characters. But the trouble with Hollywood is they have to see money, or some financial incentive in doing it. It would be driven to make a profit first because it is show business. But remember when gay and lesbian characters didn’t even exist, they couldn’t kiss? We have come a long way, so let’s keep forging our way forward.

You credit much of your success to “self-belief.” How did that lead you to some of your movie and TV gigs?

My self-belief has helped me get things going in these two careers. I am now doing Victoria and Abdul with Judi Dench, and I am also touring as a stand-up comic in France, speaking French, and Germany, speaking in German. I am about to perform in Spanish in Central and South America.

What acting experience stands out to you?

It was wonderful to do a small cameo in Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen. Hanging out with those guys was a wonderful thing. In Ocean’s Thirteen, we had all these scenes of just me, George [Clooney] and Brad [Pitt]. It was nice to be included. I love film.

You made your big-screen debut with Robin Williams in 1996’s The Secret Agent. What do you treasure most about that experience?

Yes! Just to hang out with Robin was such a crazy thing. So sad about Robin. That very first moment, to walk up to this guy that you have studied in a stand-up workshop and say, “Mr. Robin Williams,” and hear him say, “Mr. Eddie Izzard” back to me, was quite a moment. I think we have a number of things that were similar in the way we worked, but I just liked the guy. I am sorry he was being tormented at the end and I didn’t know. But that was a beautiful moment, just to hang out with him there. I went to his house and hung out with him and his family. I would not have expected him to know my name. I don’t know how he knew, he must have looked at the cast list and found out one of them was a stand-up. Crazy.

Courtesy of Blue Rider Press