Over a glass of wine at a busy restaurant bar adjacent to a mall cinema on the west side of Los Angeles, British comic and actor Eddie Izzard shares his long-standing desire to be bald — not permanently, mind you, but just for a role.
“I’ve been trying to shave my head in some role for eight years,” he tells Zap2it. “I just thought it’d be an interesting take. … To keep a comedic thing going and a dramatic thing, it’s a tricky thing to do. If you can break a look, if you can make it so one is over there and one is, ‘Oh, God, you look so different,’ that really helps.”
Izzard is at the cinema for a screening of the first half of his latest project, a new, four-hour version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic “Treasure Island,” airing all in one night Saturday, May 5, on Syfy.
Steve Barron (“Merlin,” “Arabian Nights”) directs from a screenplay by Stewart Harcourt (“Hearts and Bones,” “Marple”).
Izzard plays Long John Silver (complete with tattooed bald head and missing leg), with Elijah Wood as Ben Gunn, Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint, Philip Glenister as Captain Smollett, Daniel Mays as Dr. Livesey and Rupert Penry-Jones as Squire Trelawney.
As to whether if he’s trying to rescue the image of pirates from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Izzard says, “I said, ‘I’ll only do it if it’s edgy, if it tracks all the way down to real lives and real people.’ What would you do in the 1700s with that kind of money? How bleak was it?
“Everyone was just fighting and scrabbling and the greed. In the end it’s a story of Jim’s soul. Which way is he going to go?”
The production was challenging.
“It was freezing in Dublin and boiling in Puerto Rico,” says Izzard, “a couple of months apart.”
He also managed to injure himself along the way.
“I did,” he says, “quite early. “I knocked my chest in, which I didn’t think would be much of a problem. I put a heat pad on it, though, and I burned a hole in myself. I fell over, hit my chest. I thought, ‘I have fallen over before, hurt my leg, my chest, my head, my this, my that.’ You fall over in life. But this thing turned into a bit of agony.
“I put a heat pad on it to make it better, then I foolishly put the crutch in there, not realizing that the crutch pushing against the thing actually caused it to burn.”
Based on a period design, Long John Silver’s crutch wasn’t exactly ergonomic.
“It was a very difficult crutch,” says Izzard. “Normally, you have a cross strap to put your weight on, but there’s no cross strap. It has a ball of rope there, a knot, and that is the only thing you can grab hold of, the only thing you can push down on. It was quite tricky. But we were going on designs from the 1700s.
“I was practicing on one medical crutch, and I said, ‘This is not like the other one. I need to practice with the real one.’ I was trying to walk on it all the time. I eased into it until I could pick it up. I was always standing on the left foot only, so I had to rest on the right foot and go back to the left foot.”
But that hasn’t deterred Izzard from being willing to shave his head and pick up Long John Silver’s crutch once again.
“I’m already working on a new script,” he says. “We’re talking out different stories. It’s the idea – can you take a classic and go and do another one? It’s a bit tricky to do this. But the essence of it is greed and your soul and money. These are eternal stories.
“And being a pirate … it’s like the Millennium Falcon (in ‘Star Wars‘). Han Solo was a pirate. We had our ship; they had the Millennium Falcon. It was great. I was playing a pirate, like when I was 8 years old.”
Besides, back in Long John Silver’s time, for a man not born into the upper classes, piracy was one way to improve one’s station in life.
“Villainy,” Izzard says, “maybe it’s a smart move. Since it wasn’t a meritocracy, since it was the class system, you could get as much money as some of these posh kids. That’s the only way in.
“You have your Millennium Falcon equivalent, the Hispaniola. You have your own boat, master of the seas, wine, women and song, sexual diseases. You could be a villain in Britain where the summers are rainy and the winters are cold, or you could be in the Caribbean, where it’s warm.”