Believe: Eddie IzzardThis month, Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, about the cult-fave stand-up comedian and actor, was released on DVD. The documentary explores Izzard‘s comic talents as well as his upbringing, revealing a very complete portrait of the man. And that’s going to mean a lot to some of us who are huge Izzard fans. And it won’t mean too much to the rest of us. I have to say I am more in the latter camp: I always find myself wanting him to be more funny or more entertaining (as is the case with his answers to my questions: proving he’s no trained monkey, his replies are direct and thoughtful). I feel like I should love this guy — he’s got a great shtick, I dig his whole gender-bending thing — but somehow his acts just don’t connect with me. But what I do love about this film is how it gets behind the scenes and shows Izzard fine-tuning his act during a series of warm-up gigs.

I know there are many people — as you’ll see going ga-ga in this film — who consider Izzard the greatest comic of our time. So, it is for them that I post the following Q & A with Believe director Sarah Townshend and Mr. Izzard himself. Who knew he was a World War II doc fan?  

Doc Soup: Please tell me a little about how your relationship with Eddie evolved from the beginning.

Sarah Townshend: I met Eddie [about 20 years ago] when I was running a theatre at the Edinburgh Festival and he was looking to perform there. I was immediately engaged by his quirky sense of humour, which then turned into a lasting friendship. Over the years we developed a mutual understanding of each other and each other’s work, which I think shows in Believe. I felt there was a side to Eddie that people would not see unless it was told in a forum such as this. The side of him which is hard working, resilient, and which never slows down. It is the side which isn’t often shown and which I think many people will relate to.

How did your relationship change while you made the film?

Townsend: In the course of any filmmaking process (whether it be a feature film, a documentary, a short film, etc.), the relationships of those working together will change. You learn things about people while under pressure that you would have never expected to. My relationship with everyone on this project altered over the course of the process; they became stronger, more versatile and I gained a greater understanding and respect for everyone involved. With Eddie, I became more in tune with his path, and with his struggles. It made me realize the greater connection we all have to one another as human beings.

What sort of an editing process did you go through with Eddie — did you show him cuts of the film, and did he give you notes? If so, what sort of notes did he give you?

Townsend I have an absolutely wonderful editor (Angela Vargos) whom I worked with on this project for Halyon Films. She and I fine-tuned the piece over many months to what you see in its final product. And of course, we included Eddie on all the relevant parts. He seemed very happy with the progress of the documentary and did not have much critique except the occasional correction of dates. He trusted the process, and more importantly trusted Angela and myself. I could not have been happier with the way it worked out.

Still from Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story

Still from Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present…Mister Eddie Izzard!

What was it like to have Sarah around you shooting the doc?

Eddie Izzard: I knew Sarah Townsend was a good director, so I was fine having her there filming the documentary. She always seemed to know what she was after — filming wise — and so I could just let her get on with it and see where it led us to. I wanted to see what sort of story came out of the project.

You are used to digging into your own life for material, but what was it like letting someone else do the same?

Izzard: I was happy to have someone I knew and trusted artistically digging around into my life as I wanted the doc to explain and reveal but still be entertaining. I have tried hard to do things during my life to make myself more interesting or diverse and it was good to see in Believe all those efforts turn into a story.

Are you a fan of documentaries? If so, what sort do you like and what are some of your favorites?

Izzard: I do like documentaries and I watch a lot of them. A good deal of them are TV documentaries about history and archaeology and a massive amount are on the subject of WWII. This is because I think if you study the past and work out what we keep repeating as humans, you can get a handle on the future.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen