Tuesday 26 September 2017

Alan Cumming has conquered Hollywood, Broadway and US TV

'I like to think I've a "give it a go" attitude, it's very Scottish'

Alan Cumming, who recently collaborated with Jay Z and Liza Minelli
Alan Cumming, who recently collaborated with Jay Z and Liza Minelli

Stephen Milton

Scottish actor Alan Cumming has conquered Hollywood, Broadway and US TV and says he owes it all to an Irish film.

If recent collaborations with two highly contrasting megastar icons are anything to go by, Alan Cumming is a man who likes to mix it up. The first, a fabulous one-off stage spectacular with Liza Minnelli earlier this year, would hardly raise an eyebrow given their close ties with classic musical Cabaret – she on the big screen, he on Broadway.

The other however, is a far more confounding alliance, one that even left the charismatic Scot scratching his noggin in disbelief.

"Fucking Jay Z! Don't think anyone saw that coming," laughs the star, who appears in a music video for the rap mogul's latest track, Picasso Baby.

Filmed at a Manhattan gallery, the glossy promo was shot as part of live installation by artist Marina Abramovic, also featuring comedy kingpin Judd Apatow and slouchy Girls actress, Jemima Kirke.

"Sitting on a bench, embracing his performance. It's all very sedate. I wasn't exactly getting my Beyonce on," the 48-year-old chuckles.

"I was initially invited as a patron of the gallery to watch the performance from the sides and I had a friend visiting at the time so you know, 'What a cool thing to bring your visiting friend to.' Very New York.

"The night before, I get a call explaining to me that Jay Z actually wanted me to be in the video itself.

"I swear, you've never seen a man laugh as hard as my mate when I told him. It wasn't 'that' hard to believe."

Since his break as Minnie Driver's slithering suitor in Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends, Cumming has always liked to keep them guessing.

Singer, board-treader, author, LGBT campaigner and more recently, foreskin advocator; he suffers from a professional ADHD, bouncing from one vaulting project to the next.

The past 12 months have been a typical mélange – a lauded run as Macbeth on Broadway, vocal duties in The Smurfs 2 and a new tome, May the Foreskin Be With You: Why Circumcision Makes No Sense and What You Can Do About It.

He's in the middle of shooting a new series of CBS smash, The Good Wife and amongst the chaos, maintains a happy home with husband of five years, graphic artist Grant Schaffer, and their pooches, Honey and Leon.

You'd really hate him if he wasn't so damn likeable.

"I span many genres, and it's nice that when people think of me, I'm not boxed in. That's who I am as a person and I like to think I've a 'give it a go' attitude, it's very Scottish."

As a verbal crusader for gay rights, his latest release, Any Day Now, holds personal significance.

Loosely based on events in the Seventies, a synthetic wearing, wigged-out Cumming is Rudy, a down on his luck LA drag queen who takes in Marco, a teen with Down Syndrome after his mother's arrested for drug possession.

Rather than let Marco disappear into foster care system, Rudy tries to adopt him with his closeted attorney partner (Garrett Dillahunt) and inevitably faces against a prejudicial system unwilling to accept their parental bonds through a mire of sexuality.

For Alan, portraying the role was a social responsibility. "It was a story that needed to be told," he explains, speaking to Day and Night from his Manhattan loft. A periodical yelp from a pup frequently claims his attention.

"I think everyone connects with the fact that this horrible, sad situation occurs again and again. These people want to give their love. Rudy and Paul are really good for this boy and he's really good for them.

"But that's not allowed to happen just because of prejudice that still exists. We're all complicit in it because we're a part of the society that makes it."

Surely with the dismantling of the Stateside DOMA legislation and the relaxation of gay adoption laws, steps have been made.

"True, I know many couples now who've adopted but I wouldn't have said the same 10, 15 years ago.

"But gay people are still treated this way in some places in America. And let's be realistic, two men adopting a child is not commonplace. It can still, sometimes, attract attention and bigotry."

Have Alan and Grant considered children and the possibility of adoption? "He talks about it a lot. I used to, a long time ago, before we were married. I thought kids were part of my happy ever after.

"At this stage, I'm very content with my life, though I think I should have the right to adopt kids, of course. I just don't see myself doing so."

Raised in the Scots wilds of Perthshire, Cumming quickly made his mark on Hollywood in the mid-Nineties with memorable turns in Goldeneye, Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma and as geek deity, Sandy Frink in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion.

He attributes this success to his breakthrough in Circle of Friends, filmed amongst the green glens of Inistioge, Co Kilkenny. We can claim him because of that, right?

"There'd be no Macbeth on Broadway, or The Good Wife or videos with Jay Z if it hadn't been for Circle of Friends. That film introduced me to America. Doing press for the film was the first time I ever went there so I'm eternally grateful.

"And I made so many close friends; Minnie [Driver] and Saffron [Burrows], whom I'm very tight with today. It was a special film, it changed my life."

He enjoyed a two-year relationship with co-star Burrows following the end of his eight-year marriage to actress Hilary Lyons.

Considering himself bisexual, although once claiming, 'the pendulum has definitely swung,' does it irk to be then noted as one of Hollywood's pre-eminent 'power gays'?

"It is what it is," the actor glibly remarks. "It neither offends nor excites me really."

Contemporaries like Rupert Everett have long claimed a negative effect on his career after the admission of his sexuality. But with the recent coming out of stars Wentworth Miller and Jodie Foster, is that even an applicable grievance anymore? Or does Hollywood remain a largely closeted arena?

"I don't agree with Rupert and I never have. Telling people to not come out is a terrible thing. Stay in a place of fear and hiding, it horrifies me.

"This is Hollywood, where your demeanour, character and looks get you ahead. It's your ability to adapt. If you can't, it's going to work against you and that's why you won't get the work.

"I think Rupert should let it go. If you remind people of your sexuality, then it's always going to be an issue."

While shooting the new series of The Good Wife with Julianna Margulies – his performances as political campaigner Eli Gold earning him two deserved Emmy noms – Cumming, naturally, has many fingers in many other pies including a proposed biopic of Salvador Dali and another planned Cabaret spectacular with Liza at the end of the year.

And could there possibly, maybe, potentially be a gap in the schedule for a return of X2's Nightcrawler in Bryan Singer's X Men: Days of Future Past?

"Definitely not! At one point, there was 'talk' and we were looking at the schedules to see if it would work. But honestly, I wasn't too into the idea. I loved X2 but didn't enjoy shooting it. It was all harnesses and stunts and I'm not really a comic book kind of guy. But I can't wait to see it."

Least it will free up some time for a third edition of his celebrity fragrance, Cumming and follow-up, 2nd Cumming?

He laughs: "Well there are no plans for it but if it happens, I'm think I'm going with the name, Cumming Again."

Any Day Now is in selected cinemas today (September 6)

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