SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Eddie Izzard, the widely admired and inventive comic and actor, was in a museum in Bexhill-on-Sea, where she spent much time as a child, when somebody showed her an old badge from the Augusta Victoria school for girls in the 1930s. There was a Union Jack on the crest and a Nazi swastika. It planted an idea that has become a film now, "Six Minutes To Midnight," starring Eddie Izzard, Dame Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Carla Juri. Eddie Izzard, who also co-wrote the script, which is directed by Andy Goddard, joins us now from London. Thanks so much for being with us.
EDDIE IZZARD: Great to be with you.
SIMON: This is a piece of history that had been just filed away?
IZZARD: I think so. It's - I mean, it was there from '32 to '39, a girls' school. It was a finishing school. Bexhill-on-Sea is a seaside resort, which was big in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And it was set up by members of the aristocracy, the Delaware family, the beginnings of the Delaware state in America. So they were linked to money and linked to royalty and ended up having 26 schools there, which is a bizarre number of schools for a small town.
One of them was a finishing school. German girls came over to learn English, get to know the British aristocracy. They were - it was a Nazi-leaning school. It had the Nazi swastika in their emblem, as you mentioned, as well as the Union Jack. And they were trying to make friends. Hitler was trying to make friends with the English 'cause some of the English were into the Nazis and his ideas, that they would be part of the Aryan super race and go on probably under his jurisdiction into some sort of future that was a Nazi world. And that's what we based our thriller on top. Our thriller is from our imagination, and there's artistic license. But the story of the school being there is absolutely true.
SIMON: And you play Thomas Miller, half German, half Englishman who takes a post at the school after something mysterious happens to his predecessor.
IZZARD: Yes, I do 'cause I think it's interesting, the idea that he's half British, half German, you know? The Germans don't trust him. He's half British. The British don't trust him. He's half German. He's kind of like a representative from the modern audience there, who just wants the world to work and not fall into this Armageddon that it's about to get into. Yeah, he comes into the school. He's a teacher. But then you find out things aren't exactly what they seem.
SIMON: You're known for brilliant and, if I may, sometimes blistering stand-up comedy. What's the challenge of writing a screenplay, which obviously is different and mostly for other voices?
IZZARD: It is quite different. And my stand-up I don't even write. I sort of develop it from ideas and kind of riff on it kind of in a jazz way until I've got a piece that works. And so story, structure, characters, how they interact - I knew I had to get on top of that and develop an ability in that. And I also needed to work with other writers. And working with my other collaborators - we pushed it to this place. And having the head of the school being a Nazi-sympathetic Englishwoman, the idea was - why don't you pitch it to Judi Dench? And Judi kind of wants to do roles that she's unexpected to do. So she was up for doing it. And that's how we got to that position.
SIMON: Eddie Izzard, I can't help but think that Nazis would be especially outraged by the thought that 80 years after these events, they're brought to the screen by a genderfluid British comedian.
IZZARD: Yes, I - hopefully, Hitler is revolving in some trench just above Hitler's bunker, in fact, simply because everything that he stands for I stand absolutely against. I'm absolutely against the extreme right-wing, who we thought had gone away in 1945. But, of course, those ideas stuck around and those people just went quiet. And then future generations - as you'll know in your country, my country, the extreme right still is around. And they have this simple thing of use lying as a tool of politics. And right-wing politicians use it all the time, and they seem to be back in fashion. So that's a scary type - it was scary back in the 1930s. And as we head towards the 2030s, I'm trying to encourage people head forwards. I am genderfluid. I am doing marathons and performing gigs in different languages and my stand-up.
SIMON: Yeah, I mean, this to me is extraordinary. You have made a point. And, look, there are famous American comedians and British comedians who do shows in continental Europe and other places around the world. And they do them in English, you know, because English is widely spoken. Or, sometimes, there's a translator. You perform in the language of the country in which you are.
IZZARD: Not all languages but, specifically, French, German and Spanish, yes. And I want to add Arabic - 'cause I was born in an Arabic country - and Russian. I want to add those, as well. I feel you won't get through the French unless you're performing in French, the Germans for the history, two World Wars when we were on the opposite side, Russian for the - to thank them for all the Russian - you know, it was the Russian people. It wasn't Stalin. It was Zhukov, General Zhukov and the Russian people who helped us. Without them, we wouldn't have won the Second World War. It's a completely difficult thing, but it's not impossible. It's not rocket science. You just - it's just hard work.
SIMON: Yeah. And why is it important to you?
IZZARD: Well, at a time when, you know, a number of right-wing politicians around the world are saying separate, nationalism, pull back. Let's go back to when everyone hated each other. Who do you want to hate? We'll come up with someone to fuel the hate with. I'm saying - no, the rest of us are saying, no, make more connections, even stronger connections than before. Go to other people in different countries and say, what do you do? Can we learn from you? Can you learn from us? And how could I put my money where my mouth is? Well, I'll do gigs in those languages and prove that humor is, in fact, human and not national.
SIMON: Eddie Izzard stars and is a co-writer of the film "Six Minutes To Midnight" in theaters and on-demand now. Thank you so much for being with us.
IZZARD: Thank you for having me.
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