Eddie Izzard on Learning to How to Be an Actor

“The bottom line of drama is to be truthful, the bottom line of comedy is to be funny, and they are different.” – Eddie Izzard

For a lot of us, acting involves learning a wide range of skills, and bringing those to a variety of genres. It’s fair to say that the majority learn how to tackle drama, romance, action, comedy, and so on, and while we may choose to focus on one genre over others, we still practice and hone our craft across the board.

Not so for Eddie Izzard. The British actor started out as a stand-up comic, before stepping into acting roles. Most of those were comedy-centered, though, but  in recent years Izzard has gravitated more and more towards drama. His latest movie, Victoria and Abdul, in which he plays Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Bertie, is evidence of this. Perhaps somewhat unusually, Izzard says that when he takes on a dramatic role, he has to shut down any thoughts of comedy completely, in order to succeed in his role:

“It’s interesting to me, when I came into dramatic acting twenty-four years ago, which was what I wanted to do when I was a kid, but when I got an agent and said, ‘I want to just go for dramatic roles’, I did actively switch off all my comedy muscles. I actively turned them down to zero, and that, I think, is unusual. I don’t think anyone would analyse it that much to realize that they should do that. But in doing that I switched off all instinct, so my early work is not good, because if you watch – and I think it would be interesting, I’d quite like to take people through, acting students maybe, my early work, my not good work, where I go, ‘this is me being bad, and why am I being bad? Because I’m not doing anything, I’ve just switched everything off.’ But I had to switch everything off, because I would have had comedy muscles bleeding into my dramatic instinct. The bottom line of drama is to be truthful, the bottom line of comedy is to be funny, and they are different.”

Becoming a dramatic actor wasn’t an easy process for Izzard, either. The actor admits it’s something he had to work at, and cites his role in Circus as his turning point:

“I learned, there’s a film called Circus, I was offered this rather flash character. It was a great script, which I don’t think we landed, I don’t think it was handled right, and came out not as good as it went in. David Logan wrote it. Everyone was lying to each other, there was so much lying going on, I loved it. My character had four scenes, one of which was cut out, and of the three scenes, I filmed one of them, and that was bad, I did a bad job of that. I did the second scene, which I was OK in, I think, and I went back and they did an assembly, and they showed the assembly to cast and crew, I saw my first scene and I thought, ‘I don’t believe me, I’m not doing anything, I’m not committed to anything, there’s no attitude, I’m not driving anywhere, I’d better get it right’.

So the third scene I did, which I think comes out – might have come out second or first, it might be the first scene that you see – that’s where I learned how to act. That’s where I began to turn. And after that, The Riches really helped me, because it was 45 minutes of drama shot every seven days, that’s an incredible speed, so you’ve just got to get on the rails and do it, and in the end, for most things, the more we do something, the better we get at it. So I just had to keep going back when some reviewers, logically, I haven’t read them all, but I assume they would have been – I think I read some of them – going ‘this is not so good’. I do know somebody said “Why is he trying to be a so-so actor when he’s a brilliant comedian?” That was an interesting quote, and the answer is because I used to be a so-so comedian.

I’m so-so at everything that I start, most people are, but if you have enough stamina, you can get to be OK, and you go ‘ah, that’s OK’, and then you go, ‘ah, quite good’, and then ‘good’, and now I’m happy with what I did as Bertie, I’m happy with what I bought to the table.”

Via Den of Geek