From running marathons to running for political office, this comedian and actor is pushing forward to "do good and positive things", writes Nadia Neophytou
It was right around this time last year that Eddie Izzard set about doing the hardest thing he's ever done.
For someone whose life has been filled with hard things - the loss of his mother to cancer when he was five, coming out as a transvestite in his 20s, struggling with dyslexia - it was always going to be a feat among feats.
But when Izzard completed 27 marathons in 27 days in March 2016 to honour the spirit of Nelson Mandela, he'd raised £1-million (about R16-million) for Sport Relief.
Lending his talent, then, to an animated film is perhaps one of the easier things Izzard's done in recent times, but it doesn't mean the Emmy-winning comedian and actor has let up the pace. (In Rock Dog, he voices a cool cat named Angus Scattergood, a washed-up rock star in the story of a feisty young mongrel who leaves his village in the mountains of Tibet to become a musician.)
Izzard is currently in the middle of a marathon of a different kind - his most extensive comedy tour to date, Force Majeure, which began in 2013 and has taken him from Cardiff to Cape Town via Nepal and the Far East, covering 30 countries. When we speak over the phone, it's the day of his 55th birthday, and he's making his way from Spain to India.
"My autobiography is coming out in June and that covers a lot about how early on I knew this was what I wanted to do," he says. "At age seven, I knew I wanted to act, but I didn't know if it would work." Having an accountant for a father and a nurse for a mother meant Izzard had no idea it would be a viable path to follow in life.
"It's not like growing up in a family where your parents were actors and so they gave credibility to the idea, or having it be a genetic thing, or whatever. I didn't have that. So I do believe some of it is built in, and if you're motivated, you'll be determined."
WATCH the trailer for Izzard's latest film Rock Dog
Born in Aden, a British colony in South Yemen, Izzard became used to travelling around a lot from a young age, and figuring out how to pursue his acting dreams along the way.
Building upon roles in films such as Ocean's Twelve and Valkyrie, he recently appeared opposite South African actor Sharlto Copley in the PlayStation series Powers, and will be seen in the Stephen Frears film Victoria and Abdul.
It's natural to wonder how he fits it all in around his stand-up global crisscrossing.
"Oh, but it's the other way around," he says. "I make time for the drama - the film and TV work. That is more important to me because that is what I first wanted to do." Izzard feels he's only just started making strides in this part of his career, having got into drama after he'd become a comedian.
"I want lead roles in big meaty dramas with great directors," he says, with a smile you can hear beaming through the phone line.
He's also just finished co-writing a script he's been working on with a friend. "I'd say it took my whole life to write because it's an idea I've had for ages. I didn't quite believe in my ability as a scriptwriter, so I needed someone to tell me I was on the right track, and believe in me too."
For someone who's been tested by running marathon after marathon for days on end, surely he'd be convinced of his capabilities by now? He laughs before explaining how he views his accomplishment in hindsight.
"There are hard things in the world and they don't get easier. But just to think about how Madiba stayed with it - the cause that he was fighting for - even without being absolutely sure it would work out, is something that really left an impression on me. I'm going into politics in four years' time, and I have Madiba and Abraham Lincoln as my guiding lights."
Izzard has made his political inclinations well known and was outspoken against Brexit or "Brexhate" as he calls it. He hasn't let losing his bid for a spot on the Labour Party's executive committee last year deter him, and still aims to run for London mayor in 2020, buoyed by all he's learnt about Mandela's life.
"He was a very thoughtful person - not a saint, but an incredible man. That he only wanted to do one term of office, and wanted to be alive to see someone else rule as president, and that he left prison without resentment - these are incredible feats. The fact that he learnt Afrikaans too. I'm on my fourth language for this stand-up tour that I'm doing, and it's not easy at all."
"To do good and positive things, that's what I want to do." And to do those good and positive things with flair. "I ran through South Africa with painted nails," he says. "I hope Africa will chill the hell out about LGBT people."
Looking at the situation in the US and the UK, he feels disappointed. "We've either gone back to the '80s or the '30s," he says. "We do this as human beings. We keep making decisions emotionally." But he keeps in mind the lesson he picked up from conquering all those kilometres: "We've got to keep pushing forward. That's all we can do."
•'Rock Dog' is in cinemas.