Friday night, IFC debuts its new black comedy series called Bullet in the Face. Starring Canadian actor Max Williams (Alyce) as psychopathic assassin Gunter Vogler, the show features Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie) and Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) as competing criminal bosses.
The series, created by Sledge Hammer’s Alan Spencer, involves assassins, cops, and, of course, a femme fatale at the core of the conflict. It’s very, very violent with random and not-so-random shootings, but the violence is so over-the-top, it’s cartoonish. But its violence is also pretty gratuitous at times, making the series pretty controversial. Originally conceived as a six-episode, 30-minute series, the show will instead air over two nights, each showing three episodes back-to-back.
I had the opportunity to speak by phone with legendary British comedian/dramatic actor Izzard last week along with two other journalists. Eddie Izzard plays crime boss Tannhauser, a man quite comfortable ordering the assassination of pretty much anyone, including his lover; he’s also agoraphobic, terrified of leaving his comfortable mansion. The actor spoke about his involvement with Bullet in the Face, performing at Edinburgh Fringe, and carrying the torch at the London Olympics as well as his new projects.
Although Izzard is a standup comic, his acting roles have for the most part been dramatic. He explained that being a standup comic, he preferred to go into a different place for his acting roles. “I thought maybe I should, you know, just allow [comic roles] bit more so I was intrigued by where [Spencer] was going [with Bullet in the Face]. It was kind of an unusual place. It is rather violent, and I just thought, ‘Why not?’ Let’s see what comes out.”
Tannhauser is a great part for Izzard; he simply drips evil nonchalance. “I felt it was a place where I could just thrive,” Izzard explained. “It was just a charm for me to be able to go out on a strange and unusual angle of someone who is a complete megalomaniac. [There weren’t] any holds barred on where I was going to go with the role. So I just sort of went for it and didn’t take very many prisoners and sort of tried out some different things.”
Hoping to rule the world from inside a spacious mansion—a mad and quite cruel puppet master, Izzard found inspiration in Tannhauser’s collection of snow globes, using them as a metaphor for his desire to control the world from within his rather confined world. “The globes were on the set,” he said. “I grabbed hold of them, and I tried to make that symbolic for a way this character would be. He would try to control the world, the entire world inside of a snow globe, and that’s what he did. He can’t get outside, so he tried to control everything in snow in those globes.”
Izzard is a busy actor and stand-up comedian, but he made time recently return to the Edinburgh Fringe festival for the first time in 19 years, doing his unique brand of standup. Izzard noted that it felt great to be back. “The timing was perfect. I was co-promoting a very big comedian in Germany, Michael Mittermeier, and a comedian called Trevor Noah who is very big in South Africa. I also did my show in French on Sunday night.”
The festival was going on at the same time as the London Olympics. Noting that some people criticized hosting the Olympics at a time of European economic troubles, Izzard said that it is “an intriguing time, with the Olympics happening, and, you know, people say this pomp is going on with the crisis that’s in Europe. But I actually think World War II was a crisis in Europe,” explaining that by comparison, the economic difficulties in Europe are much less of a challenge. “We’ll get through this. We got through World War II, so we’ll get through this. So I was very happy to be there.” Izzard was at the festival for two days, before heading back to London for the Olympics.
Speaking of the Olympics, Izzard had the special honor of carrying the Olympic torch as it made its way into London. “They let me carry the torch, one of 8,000 people,” he said with some pride. “That was a wonderful honor in my hometown (Bexhill in East Sussex). Three hundred meters to run, with the lit torch and then you light another torch.” He was thrilled to do it, noting that he got to keep the torch as a souvenir. “If you want to buy it,” he explained, “you can buy it, so I kept my torch.”
Of course, Izzard is most known for his stream-of-consciousness comedic monologues laced with historical references. It seems, Izzard agreed, more than in many years, people turn to comedy in these tougher times. “Well, I think that’s just it,” he said. “I think generally when times are tough, people just want to have a laugh and actually forget the ills and the old situation of financial situations. If you can articulate what [people] are actually feeling, then I think they quite like it. Particularly in the UK,” Izzard added, “we’ve all tried to develop into comic-philosophers that do standup. Where you can go out there and go, ‘this is my view on life and this is what I think might happen in the future,’ people seem to be very up for that. They want to know about your personality and your take on life, which is intriguing. But I think mainly in these times people just want to laugh and not worry about the social situation, the financial situation.”
This fall, Izzard will on American small screens again, starring in NBC’s new series Mockingbird Lane. The re-imagining of the ’60 situation comedy The Munsters, it was developed by Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller. Cast as Grandpa, the 50-year-old Izzard does not quite seem they type (or old enough) to play the iconic Al Lewis role. Originally, the actor didn’t really see himself in the part. “What happened was I was told of the idea and went, ‘No, it’s just not going to happen. That’s not my next move.’ But then [Fuller] put it to me and he told me what he was trying to do with it, and I thought, “Well, this could be intriguing.” This could be an interesting role to play, so I was persuaded by Bryan Fuller to do it, and-and that’s why I’m there.”
Izzard explained that the remake is not quite what many might expect of a Munsters remake. It will be, he noted as far from the ‘60s series as Tim Burton’s Batman was from the ‘60s television Batman.
In the meantime, you can catch Izzard this week on IFC as a cold-blooded, but deeply neurotic villain. Bullet in the Face premieres on IFC Thursday and Friday nights at 10 PM ET.