Eddie Izzard gets his pirate on for Syfy’s “Treasure Island”

By Kate O’Hare

Over a glass of wine at a busy restaurant bar adjacent to a mall cinema on the west side of Los Angeles, British comic and actor Eddie Izzard shares his longstanding desire to be bald — not permanently, mind you, but just for a role.

“I’ve been trying to shave my head in some role for eight years,” he says. “I just thought it’d be an interesting take. … To keep a comedic thing going and a dramatic thing, it’s a tricky thing to do. If you can break a look, if you can make it so one is over there and one is, ‘Oh, God, you look so different,’ that really helps.”

Izzard is at the cinema for a screening of the first half of his latest project, a new version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic Treasure Island on Syfy. Steve Barron (1998’s Merlin, Arabian Nights) directs from a screenplay by Stewart Harcourt (Hearts and Bones, Marple).

Izzard plays Long John Silver (complete with tattooed bald head and missing leg), with Elijah Wood as Ben Gunn, Donald Sutherland as Capt. Flint, Philip Glenister as Capt. Smollett, Daniel Mays as Dr. Livesey, and Rupert Penry-Jones as Squire Trelawney.

Asked if he’s trying to rescue the image of pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean, Izzard says, “I said, ‘I’ll only do it if it’s edgy, if it tracks all the way down to real lives and real people.’ What would you do in the 1700s with that kind of money? How bleak was it?

“Everyone was just fighting and scrabbling and the greed. In the end it’s a story of Jim’s soul. Which way is he going to go?”

The production was challenging.

“It was freezing in Dublin and boiling in Puerto Rico,” says Izzard, “a couple of months apart.”

But that hasn’t deterred Izzard from being willing to shave his head and pick up Long John Silver’s crutch once again.

“I’m already working on a new script,” he says. “We’re talking out different stories. It’s the idea — can you take a classic and go and do another one? It’s a bit tricky to do this. But the essence of it is greed and your soul and money. These are eternal stories.

“And being a pirate … it’s like the Millennium Falcon [in Star Wars]. Han Solo was a pirate. We had our ship; they had the Millennium Falcon. It was great. I was playing a pirate, like when I was 8 years old.”

The two-part, four-hour Treasure Island airs May 5 at 7pm ET/PT on Syfy.


© 2010 RHI Entertainment. Credit: Patrick Redmon