Eddie Izzard is a modern Renaissance man. He regularly tours the world performing stand-up comedy. He ran 43 marathons in 51 days without any previous long-distance running experience. He regularly steals scenes on NBC’s Hannibal, a show packed full of scene-stealing actors. In 2020, he will run to become the mayor of London. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In short, his dance card is full, but that hasn’t stopped Izzard from hitting the interview circuit to talk about his starring role in the excellent new TV series Powers, the adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s long-running comic book series, which debuts tomorrow on the PlayStation Network.
Although his part in the Powers pilot is relatively small, Eddie Izzard looms large over the new superhero series, chewing the scenery as the villainous Wolfe. Much like his startling turn on Hannibal, Izzard’s Wolfe is a hyperintelligent, high-functioning pyschopath with one thing on this mind: vengeance. Throw in a tortured history with Sharlto Copley’s Detective Christian Walker and a truly terrifying array of superpowers and Wolfe is one of the most dangerous–and fascinating–characters on the show. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Izzard at a Los Angeles-based press day in order to pick his brain about where a show like Powers fits in the modern superhero landscape, what we can look forward to this season, and how his work on the show could influence his mayoral run.
Nerdist: So first and foremost, I really liked your character, what little we saw of him in the pilot.
Eddie Izzard: Is it thirty seconds, or a minute?
N: I’d say a minute. I think it’s definitely–maybe 30 seconds of actually on-screen, but the sequence, I feel like, was a minute. I feel like you’ve been doing such a bang-up job of playing these sort of very charismatic but twisted evil gents.
EI: When I first started doing drama, 22 years–yeah, 22 years ago now–I got separate agents for the drama work. I felt that there was a link between the twisted nature of comedy, the hanky, twisting around for you, and twisted around for you psychotic character. Then I sort of moved away from that, because it was like, actually, no, that’s not so interesting. And then I realized that if you play a twisted character, they can be very interestingly three-dimensional, and very curious.
And so I sort of swung around to it, I suppose, through Abel Gideon. So yes, it’s an intriguing place to go. I feel really ready now to do as much dramatic work as I can. I’ve got five years before I go into politics. I love the fact that I’m just about to go on Saturday to Australia, New Zealand, and I’ll be back, and I’ve got Spanish to learn, and I can get South America and the rest of Central America, the Caribbean, Cuba–all this is going on, and it’s sort of in my control. It’s not perfect. The beginning of your theory is just waiting for someone to say “You can do this,” but now to come back and to say, “You can’t do that.”
And then the drama got really interesting, the offers coming in were really interesting. Charlie Huston said “This is the script, you have to read this!” “OK.” They’re coming to me, and they’re decent roles, and I’m grabbing them, and I think I’m doing–I’m fairly happy with what I’m doing. Sometimes I’m really happy, “Oh, this is good!” Other times it’s, “Oh, that’s not quite what I planned to do.” But yeah, it took me a long fucking time to get here, but I’m happy to be here.
N: Well, I’m glad that you are here.
EI: Thank you.
N: Do you prefer playing some of these roles with more of a villainous streak?
EI: Compared to a different type of dramatic role?
EI: No, it’s–there’s a danger. You can grab a tension with it, but you can pull it into a two-dimensional place, or–yeah, the trouble is falling into two-dimensions. Umm–look, I like playing driven characters. I’m a very driven character myself, and I find that intriguing. And so I’m happy to play these twisted characters, but I played Robert Watson-Watt in Castles in the Sky, who was trying to develop radar in Word War II, and that was great to play, but he wasn’t twisted. He was just overworked and under pressure, and finally got there, and he could, and he helped save the world, and he hadn’t been recognized.
N: Well, with a character like Wolfe–obviously we didn’t see a whole lot of him in the pilot, but you get the sense that he is definitely sort of the linchpin of a lot of what’s going to happen. What can we look forward to?
EI: I think he’s the maypole. Everything just sort of spins around. This is where all the other action has happened, but he’s just the maypole with the ribbons twisting around him. So what can we take from him?
He has been incarcerated for 10 years and cannot get out, but he works out how he can get out. Mayhem ensues. It all builds up to a denouement with Johnny Royale and Christian Walker and Wolfe and the Powers kids. And there’s a lot of fighting, there’s a lot of blood, and I hope it’s an intriguing ride.
N: The pilot feels like a clever inversion of a lot of the superhero tropes we’ve been seeing lately, feels like a fresh take on the modern superhero genre, at least.
EI: Yeah, well, I was intrigued by this because this is just the same, screwed-up world that we have, but some of us can fly, some of us can–what would that be? As soon as I think about flying, I was just saying in an interview, if somebody said “Hey, Retro Girl is outside, she’s just flying around outside, battling someone.” You’d say, “Come on,” and you all go to the window. And you just know you would.
It’s just like Apache helicopters going around. We would all–kids or adults–just go “Wow.” The flying one, in particular. Which is not one of my powers, actually. Because I have four powers: super strength, super speed, power absorption so I can take their powers, and regeneration. But you would have thought that I could have eaten a flyer or something, because then I’m better flying, baby. Actually, I should tell that to Charlie. That should be the one. That’s the one thing–to be able to fly. But then I am putting myself into a lot of flying things.
N: Yeah, all that fun harness work. How would you handle the emergence of Powers in your role as the mayor of London?
EI: If they happened?
EI: To be honest, it could be some hellishly similar thing if you talk about religious extremism that happened. We did have the whole IRA thing going on before. We had the riots in London. Things that extreme and can happen when you’re mayor of London, and I will try to act–react fast, use common sense, and not overreact. There’s an overreaction problem that can happen, but it was great to see France and the rest of the world thinking after what happened at Charlie Hebdo, and the very strong reaction from secular thinking, caring people. And the insanity when I tweeted out “This is not Islam, this is just murder.” Hidden in that shuffle it was part of Islam, you can rewrite them, which is what Muhammad said.
N: I feel like a course of moderation, removing yourself from the extreme knee-jerk reactions is crucial, whether you’re dealing with something as fanciful as super powers, or something as tragic as what happened in Paris.
EI: Yeah, yeah. People are being empowered. I like the idea that people have power, some are just greedy idiots, or insane, or on drugs, or whatever, or twisted. That’s fantastic.
N: Yeah, I really enjoyed the dichotomy in the series. There’s the question of what do you do if you’re an ordinary mortal when the extraordinary is possible? It’s fascinating.
EI: It is. And it’s supposed to be an analogy for being a celebrity, and having a certain amount of it, I do realize the grubby nature of it, and some people will do things just to increase, “Hey, look, another Instagram of my breasts –surely that will help.”
N: Thank you very much. I appreciated the time to talk.
EI: Thank you.
Powers debuts on Tuesday, March 10. Be sure to read our review of the pilot.