Haysbert, Izzard tackle 'Race' on and off stage
NEW YORK — Eddie Izzard finds it bizarre that no one has ever gone to war over eye color.
"It's probably because you can't actually see the eyes until you're about here," he says while gesturing with his hand next to his face. "So that would make it impractical."
Izzard laughs but is serious about what prompted the comment: the delicate topic of race. Now he gets to explore it eight times a week on Broadway in the appropriately titled David Mamet play, "Race."
Dennis Haysbert, who played the president of the United States on "24," makes his Broadway debut, replacing the Tony-nominated David Alan Grier as Henry Brown.
Izzard, no stranger to Mamet (he originated the role of Del in the 1994 London production of "The Cryptogram,") takes over the James Spader role of Jack Lawson. Izzard admits to being a little intimidated following Spader.
"Race" concerns black and white law firm partners and their associate (played by Afton C. Williamson, who replaced Kerry Washington) debate the merits of representing a wealthy white client accused of raping a young black woman. The play tackles the subject from various perspectives, including each attorney's view on ethnicity, public perception and the media's influence.
"I think David put his finger on the pulse of what race is in this country," Haysbert said.
As a result, the audience response changes nightly. That comes as no surprise to Haysbert. Perspective in the matter depends on where you come from, and that extends to the other side of the Atlantic, from where Izzard hails.
According to Haysbert, tension between blacks and whites in America comes mostly from slavery but takes on a different hue in England.
"It's about nationality," he says. "They have a lot of Pakistani; they have Indian and people from different countries."
Izzard doesn't completely agree with the distinction.
"That is more where the hot button issue of racism comes from, but I still think it ends up in the same place," Izzard said. "We got rid of slavery only 50 years before America did."
Regardless of the cause and the sprawl of race-related issues around the world, Izzard thinks the problem may be narrowing. He cites the election of Barack Obama as America's first African-American president as a step in the right direction.
That's not enough, says Izzard, who dreams of a world reminiscent of how the astronauts viewed Earth from space.
"They saw no frontiers or borders," he says.
"If people come from another planet, they'll say, 'You're all humans.' And are we going to say, 'Oh no. He's a black man. He's a white man. This man's an Asian.'
"No," he says. "It's just all human."