Starting next week on IFC, the six episode series Bullet In The Face will be broadcast in two, hour-and-a-half chunks over two nights. Though fans will be excited to know the series marks a return for SledgeHammer creator Alan Spencer to TV, the even bigger draw is probably actor/comedian Eddie Izzard. He’s no stranger to TV, or weirder, geek friendly fare like Bullet in the Face, but this marks his, if not full-time return, his recommitment to the Boob Tube after taking time off for a successful stand-up special and a few movies.
We chatted with Izzard on the phone in advance of the Bullet in the Face premier, talking about his approach to weirdo crime boss Tannhauser, what draws him to geekier fare, and even a little bit about upcoming Munsters reboot “Mockingbird Lane.” Oh, and we refrained from asking him if he preferred Cake or Death, so yay for us.
“I was trying not to do comedy roles, but ever since My Super Ex-Girlfriend, I’ve been trying to relax that as long as the character is going to be approachable from a dramatic way, instead of a broad thing,” said Izzard, referring to his choice to take on Bullet in the Face. “This was potentially dramatic, potentially melodramatic... A place where one could go around and play.”
Helping that along was the idea that Izzard’s character was agoraphobic - a detail he added in during rehearsals - so he can “control everything, put everything in his snow globes... Someone who can be a megalomaniac,” added Izzard. He also noted he drew on famous dictators for his performance, and even Peter Sellars Dr. Strangelove. “It was written in a certain way, and I added from that,” continued Izzard. “I dragged it in certain directions, Alan [Spencer] gave me leeway... He even wrote around it if I found certain things that he liked.”
Now, we’re imagining most of you haven’t seen Bullet in the Face yet - we got a sneak peak at the series from IFC before chatting with Izzard - but the tone is far beyond even an action comedy parody, almost at the level of farce, without the specific jokes about the tropes. For an actor like Izzard, who is trying to bring drama to comedy, we were wondering how he balances the two ideas when approaching a piece like this. Izzard thought for a moment, and then gave us a metaphor.
“I wanted him to be the weird kid at school who was at the side of the class,” said Izzard. “Not the back with the cool kids, not the front with the smart kids, but the side, who does go off, but is kind of brilliant and can work things out... He does get to run this thing from a cracked perspective. And if I can root him down, and give him some ballast there? That’s what I wanted to do. Then I could... Allow him to say bizarre things. I could let certain lines be comedic, certain things he would do would be comedic, or twisted, or odd. I do like things that are dramatic, but then can be quirky, or surly, or weird, or bonkers.”
We then noted that much of Izzard’s delivery is non-stop; he doesn’t allow Tannhauser to pause for more than a second at any point, which ends up making most of his lines pretty hilarious. “I do have an engine in my brain that sort of unleashes... Stuff,” said Izzard. “But as a megalomaniac I didn’t feel he needed to take anyone else’s opinion in. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s what came out.”
Moving on, we then talked a bit about the controversy surrounding the series... Because it is very, very violent. And America, don’t know if you know, dear reader, loves and hates its violence. “I don’t do any of the violence, if you think about it!” said Izzard with a laugh. “I just encourage other people to do it, so no one can blame me. Unfortunately, sometimes things in America, and things in Europe, like the Norwegian Fascists a few years ago... There’s real life violence. I don’t know how we process it, but all we’re doing is a comedy. A drama, thriller, comedy thing, and it’s going to be quite bonkers.”
So given that Izzard has so many other successful careers, why keep coming back to TV? “I can get smaller roles in bigger films, and bigger roles in smaller films, this is the way of thing,” said Izzard, adding that he’s just trying to figure out what his place is as an actor. “I’m just the crazy guy going through the forest with a machete. I hacked my way to Hollywood.”
Similarly, it’s not necessarily about geek or genre fare that draws Izzard, despite starring in several sci-fi and fantasy projects. “I like playing determined characters,” said Izzard. “And then it’s what people bring to my table, and what’s out there, as opposed to, I’m going to be doing them in this genre, or that genre. I wanted to be a dramatic actor at seven... I didn’t get any roles at school, had a crap agent - I didn’t have an agent, I was at school. Then I discovered comedy, but there’s a big heavy root all the way back to drama.”
That doesn’t mean Izzard isn’t about to get deeper into genre fare, as he’s taken a starring role in the reimagined Munsters from Bryan Fuller, jumping into the Grandpa character’s shoes... With some large differences. “It’s going to be probably as different from the original Batman, to Tim Burton’s Batman,” said Izzard. “We don’t have the action and the budget of that, but we do have quite an elegant, weird, twisted, dramatic, but dark and comedic pilot that we’ve just shot. We will see where that goes in the wide wide world of everything, but that’s where it is. And the Grandpa role is not quite the same as the original Grandpa role. He is just the patriarch.”
And with that, we said our goodbyes, and got a big slice of death. Cake! We got some cake.
Bullet in the Face premieres on IFC on August 16th and 17th.