Interview: Alan Cumming The Master Of Any Ceremony

Alan Cumming Legal Immigrant Seattle interview on Equality 365

Alan Cumming is one of the most versatile performers of today’s entertainment world. He’s achieved great accolades from his performance as the Master of Ceremonies in the London/Broadway revivals of Cabaret. His film, television, and writing credits have earned him nominations and wins for Emmy, Golden Globes, Olivier Awards and a Golden Raspberry Award. Other works include notice and distinguished praise from the Matthew Shepard Foundation, The Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD Media Awards. His new television show Instinct recently started on CBS, so there’s no telling what will happen next. This Scottish born man is constantly reinventing himself and, much like a phoenix returns even more brilliantly than before.

Cumming is bringing his new show Legal Immigrant to Seattle’s Benaroya Hall for one night only on May 3, 2018. Billboard raves, “[Alan Cumming] is both quiet and uproarious, adorable and sensual, flippant and emotional, otherworldly and inviting … he is unapologetically himself, and with a talent like that, he has no need to apologize.” Get tickets and info here.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Alan Cumming: I never know what to say to this question. Really, I’m not a very good person when it comes to having role models, so I’ve always been a little leary of that one. I think you should find your own way, your own part and do it from your own soul. I had an English teacher when I was in school that encouraged me to be in plays and in a theatre group. That gave me confidence. When I first started acting it was the first thing I was ever really good at. I didn’t grow up in a theatre type of family or anything. A girl, a few years older than me, went to an acting school in Scotland. I thought that was cool. 

Alan Cumming in Seattle on equality365.comAndrews-Katz: Cabaret transferred from London’s West End to reopen Broadway’s Studio 54. What were your highlights and your low points of playing this iconic role?
Cumming: Actually, the show first started in the U.S. at [what is now] the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on 43rd Street. The high points were when we first performed it at the small theatre [at Studio 54]. It was the perfect storm. The show was going well and everyone loved it. The theatre itself was a tacky mess. It got cleaned up and everything. In my tiny dressing room there was a window, and I saw an outside closed-in area. I made it into a little garden. I would have these parties outside my dressing room window. When I went outside on weekends, I would go downstairs and be in the club, on the dance floor. I could be in my dressing room, just go down and be in a dance club. It was the perfect venue. It was a magical time. I think the low point would be a time when I banged my head on a light fixture and had to go to hospital. It was kind of funny because there was a lady in the audience that got overly excited and fainted. It turns out she was in the next room at hospital. Since she was feeling bad about missing the second half of the show (I missed it too), I was wheeled in on a gurney and did a few lines and a song for her.

Andrews-Katz: Do you ever feel intimidation about a role you’re playing or someone you’re co-starring with?
Cumming: Yes. I did feel intimidated sometimes just by the sheer amount of work that I was doing or needed to be done. I did Macbeth and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do all this and learn the entire play. How am I going to do this?’ In a way it’s a good thing to be a little intimidated, but people are always amazed when I say I get nervous. It’s good to be nervous; it means you care about what you’re doing. Occasionally, people I meet intimidate me. Once you start acting with them, it’s like getting into the sandbox and playing. I’m less intimidated now than by the projects I take on.

Alan Cummiing interview on equality365Andrews-Katz: You’ve played comedy and tragedy, lighter roles and darker ones. What attracts you to a particular role?
Cumming: It’s a variety of things, sometimes they are circumstantial. Sometimes I think, ‘there’s a film already out there and it’ll be fun. It won’t be too challenging.’ Then there are times I want to be challenged or want to work with a particular person. It’s a holistic thing. There are different fascets. It’s great to get a job that you enjoy and keep you in the lifestyle with a good job, nice people, and the work helps to change people’s minds and/or doing some good in the world as well.

Andrews-Katz: By 2002 you’d already written screenplays. Then came you’re first novel titled Tommy’s Tale. What made you decide to write this book?
Cumming: I’d been writing for a while. In the [film] The Anniversary Party there was a copy of the book. I really wanted to tell that story. I wanted to talk about what I was feeling, the desire to be a father and not be in a relationship that was ‘appropriate’ for that to happen. How do you deal with that sort of thing? This was long before gay adoption or marriage equality, so the idea of a single, queer man being able to acquire a baby was kind of an impossibility. It’s interesting how things have changed. That’s the story I wanted to tell. I like writing. I really like writing books. Whenever I get time from my new show Instinct, I think, ‘now I can finish my book’. My new one is sort of a memoir; it’s about my relationship with America.

Andrews-Katz: In 2006 you stared as Mack the Knife in an all new production of The Three Penny Opera with Cyndi Lauper, Jim Dale and Ana Gasteyer. How come it was never recorded and/or released on CD?
Cumming: Good question. I don’t know. It was recorded. We didn’t go into a studio to record it, but… I don’t know actually. It’s a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe it didn’t do so well, or the Roundabout Company was strapped for cash. It doesn’t cost that much to record something, though. It’s on YouTube. It’s a bit weird.

Andrews-Katz: You’re second book entitled Not My Father’s Son took you through an emotional journey of physical abuse and self-discovery. Was the research you did for the memoir worth the results you achieved in writing it?
Cumming: The experience of the book for me is an entirely positive one. It was very cathartic and scary to do so much revealing about my life. People have no idea. It was something I felt I needed to do. The biggest thing is that I still get, almost daily, thank you notes from people saying how much it meant to them. They were inspired to talk to other family members about abuse or some similar situation. When you stand up and speak about something taboo, it helps so many people. I didn’t factor that in when I wrote it. I was wrapped up about how my mom and brother would react, and the reaction from others. In all ways, it was a very incredibly positive thing. I felt triumphant about it afterwards.

Andrews-Katz: You’ve performed in every media form: film, stage, television, print and cabaret clubs. Which is your favorite to perform?
Cumming: No. I kind of do them all for that reason. I like variety. I enjoy all the different types. If I had to choose one, I would choose the cabaret shows. If not, definitely theatre. I love the connection with the audience. Being so vulnerable and open, it’s just you and them, talking, singing about yourself and getting that connection is an incredible feeling. It’s a different thing than acting. You’re not trying to hide things. It’s just spontaneously there. It is much more a direct kind of vulnerability.

Alan Cumming Andrews-Katz: Has coming out as “Bisexual” hindered getting work or held you back in any way?
Cumming: I think that is a difficult question to answer. I don’t think I’ve done too badly. There is nothing that I wanted to do that I haven’t done. It’s kind of impossible to answer.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of music will you be sharing in your current concert tour?
Cumming: An eclectic mix of music. I start off with a mash-up of Kander & Ebb songs with some Sondheim thrown in. I do some Peggy Lee, some Scottish songs, Marlene Dietrich, and even a Disney Princess medley. There’s some Edith Piaf. It’s a very eclectic mix. But they are all songs that I feel I can bring something to. I do mash-ups because I love mash-ups. They are all [songs] I connect with. I even ask the audience to sing-a-long with the encore. (Be warned audience!)

Andrews-Katz: What kind of music do you personally enjoy?
Cumming: Again, it’s very eclectic. That’s what I like about concert work; it’s something you can think of, and then it’s there. You can completely access any musical form these days. My head is full of the songs I sing in the show currently, so I don’t get a chance to listen to too much else. I listen to those songs all the time, singing them and getting into them.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of limitations – what would it be and why?
Cumming: Ok. The reason I’m saying what I’m going to say is because I’m kind of pushing it right now. John Tiffany (who directed me in Macbeth) is on it. It’s a role that looks at things – if you are going to do an old play, think about why you want to do it and what you can bring to it that is different. I’ll be playing the lead in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It’s much more brutal than what we are used to. The new adaptation is not quite what we’re used to. It’s more cutting and not quite so sort of a caricature, because we think we know what these characters are. This is a woman that was a fascist and she is teaching young girls (in Scotland) about fascism. She is just a crazy person, I mean really mentally crazy. They say there is a crazy person in every room with more than 20 people in it. Here you can see it, and I totally understand what it means. They are the one I got my eye on. We’ve done a reading about it and are currently talking about Daniel Kramer to direct it.

Alan Cumming won his first Olivier Award in 1991 for Accidental Death of an Anarchist, and was nominated for a second one in 1994 for Cabaret. When the show transferred to New York, he won the 1998 Tony Award for his performance as the M.C. His film credits include GoldenEye, The Spy Kids trilogy, The Anniversary Party (which he co-wrote with co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh), Eyes Wide Shut, Titus, and many others. His books include Tommy’s Tale, and Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir. Television credits include: HBO’s Sex and the City, The L Word, and his twice Emmy nominated role on The Good Wife. His cds include I Bought a Blue Car Today (2009) and Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs (2016).

Cumming is bringing his new show Legal Immigrant to Seattle’s Benaroya Hall for one night only on May 3, 2018. Get tickets and more info here.

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About Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

2 thoughts on “Interview: Alan Cumming The Master Of Any Ceremony

  1. Babette

    Great review! I had no idea of how talented and diversified Mr. Cumming is. He was a strong character in The Good wife. I wanted to punch him sometimes when watching the program. Am looking forward to reading his book.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Review: Alan Cumming Never Fails to Delight

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