FX's new series The Riches (Mondays at 10 pm/ET) stars comic Eddie Izzard as Wayne Malloy, the silver-tongued patriarch of itinerant grifters who appropriate the identity of a dead couple, always living one step away from getting caught. Izzard talked to TV Guide about this unusual TV clan, his comedy and the art of the con.
TV Guide: Do you see a moral ambiguity in The Riches' setup, since the Malloys are appropriating a dead man's life?
Yeah, well, I don't find it so morally ambiguous in the fact that [the deceased] wasn't using it. [Wayne and his wife Dahlia, played by Minnie Driver] are jackals, they are scavengers, so it is a criminal waste to waste all that stuff that's in the car; someone else is only gonna get it. And from that point of view, they should take it. They didn't kill these people, it's just an accident that happened. I'm sure other people would see this as morally ambiguous, but Wayne sees this as logical, something you've just got to do because it's just sitting there.
TV Guide: How can a family like the Malloys, that's always living on this edge, relax and actually savor the American dream?
They've always lived life with that looking-over-the-shoulder edge thing going on. You've just really got to cover your tracks. But people get away with it. It kind of looks like surely someone's going to find out, but strange stuff goes on all the time [in real life]. I don't know if they can actually relax, but they can get away with it.
TV Guide: As a Briton, what is your impression of the American dream?
I think the American dream is a great dream. I think people define it in different ways. Some people say, "Make a lot of money, never work again," and that's a very pure, distilled version of it. I think [the dream is] to better your family's situation and get them into a safe place. It's a very human dream, and I think the American dream is an international dream. I don't think people in Asia or people in Europe or people in Africa all think, "Nah, I don't understand that thing of getting ahead, making a decent amount of money, getting everyone safe and in college and stuff." I think it comes down to being a human dream and because of the way a lot of people came into America through immigration, it has been distilled as the American dream.
TV Guide: Does being British allow you and Minnie Driver to approach these roles without any preconceptions about the nomadic Irish Travellers group and their lifestyle?
It gives us an outsider's view, which is what the Travellers have as well, even though they're American. They're outsiders trying to get in, and we're outsiders trying to get in. That nomadic existence is what everyone comes from. It's within us all.
TV Guide: Do you see The Riches as essentially about a family — albeit a novel one for TV — trying to survive?
Yeah, and we all hope that's what the families watching will identify with. This is a family trying to make a better situation for themselves. It's that struggle against quite high odds.
TV Guide: How do the Malloys keep from losing themselves as they negotiate the tricky waters of a dual identity?
That's a question we need to cover during the season. We were just nomadic travelers before we settled, juggling around, pulling off scams and pretending to be different people, so lying is part of the daily life. In fact, it's almost rewarded. But we still know at the center of it who we are.
TV Guide: Do you think you'd make a good con artist, like Wayne?
I think I would. As a stand-up comedian, and as an actor, you have to lie for a living, and that lends itself perfectly to being a con artist. You just have to get into that situation where you don't really care about who you're conning. The interesting thing about the Riches is we're actually trying to take on people who are worth bringing down, as opposed to quite a lot of the grifting that goes on where they take on people who are vulnerable and shouldn't be attacked.
TV Guide: Do you think you could suss out a con artist?
I've actually had experience with this and I tend to actually think the best of people. There were certain low-level scams that they started doing in London where they would say, "Look, my car's broken down, I have this ticket and I've lost this ticket and I need [money] to get back.... " And they'd come up with this very exact and precise and weird amount. This guy tried to do me twice in the same day in the underground station, and I realized he was obviously scamming everyone. Generally, I have a fairly good detector, but I will try to assume the best of people, so sometimes I'll be scammed. But if it's a big scam, I have a lot of detectors because I used to work as a street performer where you tend to judge people just by vibes.
TV Guide: Have you ever met a gypsy/Irish Traveller? If you did, what would you say to them?
We've done a lot of research on it, yet overtly I don't think we have [learned much] because they play very much to themselves and they don't really want to give out information.
TV Guide: You're known for performing in drag. Does Sam (the Malloys' transvestite kid) remind you of yourself at that age?
Well, yeah. I pitched it to the show that he should have my sexuality 'cause when I came on board he was already written as being a transvestite. I don't call it "drag," I call it wearing dresses. Basically Sam is like what I would've been. Hopefully his journey, particularly with his sexuality, would be what I would've worn if I was his age and allowed to wear whatever I wanted to at home. So that's what he's going to explore. Straight transvestite sexuality is sittin' here. I know it and you can keep checking with me where it should go.
TV Guide: How long does it take for you to put on your makeup?
Well, I've been in boy mode for a while now, but the fastest I've ever done it is 20 minutes. Depends on what you're getting ready for — as women know.
TV Guide: Did you really shoplift lipstick?
Yeah, I got caught and the police came 'round and searched my house and found a lot more. It was an honor badge to get caught stealing lipstick. It was good.
TV Guide: You've done stand-up, films, Broadway plays.... What else would you like to do?
Well, film or television is my big love. So this is the end point of where I was trying to get to all the time. Doing The Riches is perfect, and doing any other really good film roles is what I really want to do. I'm also very interested in European politics, so I'm actively involved in that all the time.
TV Guide: You're a big Monty Python fan. What was it like appearing with them in Aspen, and getting kicked off the stage?
It was wonderful to be kicked off the stage by Python. To be honest, it was like being a member of the England football team. It was like I was the substitute. They were all queuing up to go on and I was watching sketches of Python with them.... That was just amazing.
TV Guide: Who are some of your other influences?
Richard Pryor is a big influence in stand-up. A lot of my stand-up comes out of his, and Steve Martin's as well. My stuff is quite like Woody Allen and Bob Newhart, as well.
TV Guide: Whenever you see a commercial for Cesar dog food, does it remind you of James Mason? [In a famous routine, Izzard channels the British actor playing an affronted Julius Caesar.]
It is odd. And why do they spell it wrong? It is quite weird that Caesar, who was one of the most aggressive egomaniacs, ends up as a dog food... doesn't quite make sense.
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