Actor and comedian Eddie Izzard steps into the classic role of Long John Silver in the new remake of Treasure Island, airing Saturday, May 5 at 7pm on Syfy.
In a special, one night only movie event, Syfy will present a fresh, new spin on the classic tale, Treasure Island, featuring an all-star cast led by Eddie Izzard, Elijah Wood and Donald Sutherland. After his critically acclaimed role in The Riches, Izzard stars as Long John Silver, Wood (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) plays Ben Gunn and Sutherland (Pride and Prejudice, Ordinary People) portrays the dasdardly Captain Flint.
Distributed by RHI Entertainment, Treasure Island also stars Toby Regbo (Harry Potter) as young Jim Hawkins, who is unexpectedly drawn into the world of piracy when he discovers a treasure map and finds himself battling Silver for the treasure and his life.
Ahead of the Syfy premiere of Treasure Island, The Deadbolt spent some time with Eddie Izzard to learn more about how he got into the role of Long John Silver, his inspiration for the character, and how Izzard’s acting goals have changed after a career in comedy.
THE DEADBOLT: You’ve mentioned Winston Churchill as an inspiration. Can you elaborate on why that worked for you in understanding who John Silver was?
EDDIE IZZARD: Yes. Well, it’s all about the indomitable spirit. These lines from Invictus written by the character who he was based on. I am the captain of my soul, the master of my destiny – captain of my destiny, master of soul. It’s about just not giving in, which is a trait of Churchill, which is a trait of Lincoln in America, a trait of Washington, a number of people that I respect and I think that the vast majority of people respect if you’ve got a good heart.
The interesting thing about John Silver is that he has a mixed heart. He will blow different weathers. He’s kind with Jim, and he supports Jim, and he says he will be as good a buccaneer as anyone. And there’s no real proof of that in the story.
I had to base this upon Toby Regbo, the actual actor, who is a very feisty young actor. He kept throwing himself on the ground when I was tripping him up. I tripped him about 16 times in that cold weather where kids were getting frostbite. So I took that and added that into the character of Jim Hawkins.
So Silver’s heart is not there. He is a greedy man or a man who has worked hard to steal a lot money and he feels he deserves his $500 million, or at least his share of the $500 million. So that is how I portrayed him.
And Churchill for me, if you look at the history of Churchill, it’s all over the place; he was against India getting its freedom; he kept changing parties. He was on the wrong side of the right decision many times. Like in World War II, he was in the right decision. In the end with Long John Silver, you do think, “Well, I think I’d be okay having a beer with this guy. I think I like him. I’m not sure, don’t really trust, but I think I like him.”
THE DEADBOLT: After doing so much comedy in your career, how have your goals as an actor changed in recent years with projects like this?
IZZARD: Well, I don’t know if my goals have changed in the recent years, I think my opportunities have changed. Now I’m being offered Treasure Island, Long John Silver. I was offered a film called Lost Christmas in the U.K., which hopefully will come out this year and I’m really pleased about. I’ve just been offered Mockingbird Lane, the pilot is coming out from Brian Singer and Brian Fuller in America.
So I wanted to be an actor when I was 7, a dramatic actor. That’s all I wanted to do. I don’t think I really knew that comedy existed at 7, I just thought you laughed. But I worked out that acting existed, and then I realized films existed, so I just wanted to do that.
I’ve always been driving to that, but I went the big curvy route through comedy. As the comedy started taking off, I started saying, “I want to do dramatic roles.” So it’s almost like a schizophrenic career, which drives agents and managers nuts. But I refuse to do a lot of comedy things, I just want to do dramas.
THE DEADBOLT: How has that changed certain perceptions to open you up for dramatic roles?
IZZARD: Now people are sort of believing me and sort of trusting me and I’ve got better at my dramatic craft. And they are different; drama and comedy are different. You need to know what the differences are, which I now do know. The bottom line of comedy is to be funny, the bottom line of drama is to be truthful.
And you can be truthful and funny, but if you’re not truthful in a drama than the audience leaves you. They go, “I don’t believe in what he’s doing.” And you try to do that in every scene.
With Treasure Island, I’m very happy with it. There are a few scenes in there which I go, “I didn’t land that like I should have.” But there are some which I think, “I’m very happy with what I did.” And to be working up against these other actors is great.
Dr. Livesey, Danny Mays, British actor, what he does, the arc that was built in, it’s not in the story. He plays a man of low moral fiber. If he did have moral fiber, he’s lost it. His wife died in childbirth, he thinks he’s to blame for it. He lost his wife and his child and he’s addicted to drink. And when he finds the center of his courage, he’s like the Tin Man who finds his courage in there. A lot of people can travel on that story, and it becomes quite beautiful.
When he says that line to Rupert Penry-Jones, “I will go hunting,” says Squire, and then [the doctor] says, “But we will not follow you.” You know he’s got metal back in there and it’s great. To be working up against that, that is beautiful.
So the change recently is that I’ve got better at my game. I know what I’m doing now. Now I can start to really grow dramatically. And people are sort of, hopefully seeing and sensing this. Some are actually giving me the chance to do that, too.