Moment of Truth: Eddie Izzard Now Available In Convenient Doc Form

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Welcome back to Moment of Truth, Movieline's new weekly spotlight on the best in nonfiction cinema. This week, we hear from the director of Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, which was released this week on DVD.

The cross-dressing comic and actor Eddie Izzard wasn't always the "cross-dressing comic and actor Eddie Izzard." Sarah Townsend knew him back when he was just another struggling performer desperate for a break, working round the clock and riding a unicycle for whatever spare change passers-by on the street might have in their pockets. And since 2003, Townsend has been piecing those days -- and the rest in between -- together for her debut feature documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. I know, I know: "Why does Eddie Izzard need his own documentary?" You'd be surprised. It's quite the inspiration, really -- motivational substance for people who hate that kind of stuff. It's also a fascinating glimpse at just how comedy is conceived and delivered. Townsend talked to Movieline about this and much more for this week's Moment of Truth.

How did you meet Eddie?

I was running a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was still a student, and I was directing theater then, but it's very expensive because you have to pay for your slots. Then I discovered that if you actually took over a venue and collected the money from other individuals, than it would be easier to put on my own show there. So there's this forum every year, and everyone who's running a venue meets all the performers who want to go up there; there's only a limited number of venues. And that's how we met. He said, "Please can I perform at your venue?"

When was this?

Oh, God, it was years ago. It was 1989.

At what point in your relationship with Eddie over the years did you decide to make a documentary about him?

We actually worked together for years in parallel; he was doing his stuff, and I was doing mine. I'd started in theater but I ended up in moving to music -- not intentionally -- but I ended up doing a lot of things in a production studio. It seemed very natural to bring a lot of drama into the music, and then suddenly it seemed like the logical place for this to go was making films. But I also knew I'd have to start from the beginning again. So I said, "We'll do DVD extras, and we'll do them cheaper than anybody else."

After we'd done a few of those, Eddie said, "Why don't you guys come down and film the show?" I said there was no way I was ready for that, but I thought about it for six months and said, "Well, I don't want to do that, but I'll do a doc." We did it in dribs and drabs; we didn't have a budget, really, to start with. So I was being economical to start with. It was a huge learning experience for me. You also have to find a team, which is a hard thing even for people who really, really know how do this. So I'm coming out the other side of it saying, "Wow, I didn't know I could do this." But there's no substitute for the years it took. I feel good about it now.

That's interesting, because it virtually mirrors the ways Eddie struggled to launch his comedy career. In a kind of cosmic sense, do you feel like the documentary had to go this way?

You know, I found this wonderful editor who helped me put this together, and we were laughing about exactly the same thing. But there were four different cuts of this. It started off being one story and then it changed completely to something else. Then it was something more personal, which wasn't right; that was kind of what the UK market wanted, but I thought, "No, it's got to be something that everyone can relate to." It doesn't mean you have to know this person or be a fan to get it. But the biggest story -- and this is where we got the laugh -- is to not give up. Don't give up. Even if all the odds are against you, you've got no budget left and you don't know what the hell you're going to do. But we were doing what the documentary's about! We were living it! It was so funny.

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