Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Alan Matters - Catching Up With Mr. Cumming
Expanded Edition of the 3-7-07 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
The luminous Alan Cumming (Clockwise from left): in a studio portrait (couresty of Francis Hills Photography), at his wedding to Grant
Shaffer in England, a promotional poster for the revival of "Bent" in London, a saucy ad for his fragrance line, at the Gray Matters
New York city premiere with the film's star Heather Graham and taunting David Boreanaz in the upcoming Suffering Man's Charity
There’s a section of Alan Cumming’s website (www.alancumming.com) called “The Renaissance Man,” an apt description of all the
creative endeavors of the gay Scottish actor-film director-gay rights activist. Since January of this year alone he’s married his
partner, illustrator Grant Shaffer in a civil ceremony in London, finished up a sold-out run in a revival of the play “Bent,” and seen
Sweet Land, a film he produced and costars in win Best First Feature at the recent Independent Spirit awards. This Friday when
audiences in Chicago are watching him play a lovelorn New York cab driver in the lesbian themed romantic comedy, Gray Matters, his
sophomore directorial effort, the black comedy Suffering Man’s Charity will be premiering at Texas’ SXSW Festival (UPDATE, JANUARY
2009: The film was eventually retitled Ghost Writer and released on DVD this month. It's twisted fun!). All this and more while
promoting his line of fragrance products, suitably titled “Cumming.”
When we spoke, the actor was spending time with his new in-laws in San Francisco before heading to Lake Tahoe for his
honeymoon. Highlights from our conversation:
WINDY CITY TIMES (WCT): First of all, congratulations on your marriage to Grant.
ALAN CUMMING (AC): Thank you.
WCT: I’m hoping we can talk about that later but first to Gray Matters. I absolutely loved your character – a sweet taxi driver with
the soul of a poet. Is that what appealed to you about the part?
AC: Yes. I just liked how sweet he was and Sue (Kramer) the writer-director is an old friend of mine and she wrote this part for me.
It’s so nice when someone does that and I just thought it was kind of a lovely change for me. I used to be the cute boy; the sweet
boy and then all of a sudden I started being the more weirdy ones so it was kind of a nice change to go back to the parts I played in
my early 20s.
WCT: The ironies in that lovely picnic scene on the rooftop – my favorite in the movie – are so thick. There we have a gay man
playing a straight man romancing a straight woman playing a lesbian.
AC: I know, I know! I think as long as you’re believable it shouldn’t matter what you play actually. Because people say to me,
“Gosh, you know, what was it like playing a straight man?” and it’s not that big a stretch and I always say, “Well, you know I’ve
played murderers and I didn’t have to murder anyone to know what that felt like.”
WCT: Yes but Rupert Everett has said many, many times that he regrets coming out because it’s cost him in terms of roles. Have
you experienced anything like that?
AC: No and always I think that is an entirely hypothetical concept. I mean, how does he know really? Maybe those people didn’t
want them anyway and I think he’s done alright, actually (laughs). He’s not done too badly. I sort of look at it a more holistic way
that maybe some people might not get to play a big action hero if they came out and said they were gay but in a more holistic way
they would have a more satisfying life and be happier as a person and that would mean they would be able to bring that into the
work. I just think it’s such a dopey argument to say you don’t want to come out because it might affect the roles you get. If you’re
not happy with yourself how can you be happy in your work?
WCT: Well, “dopey” is the word. I love that word and I’m using that from now on. You’re spot on there.
AC: (laughs) Thank you.
WCT: Can you talk about working with Heather Graham who stars in Gray Matters for a moment?
AC: She’s just so lovely. We met years ago when I was out in L.A. doing something and someone said to me, “You know, Heather
Graham always wants to go out clubbing and doesn’t have any friends who want to go and she said she’d love to go out with you
sometime.” So we did. We went out to this club and that’s how we met and then she tried to set me up with this guy.
AC: Yes, I know. So then we all left this club and we were going back to someone’s house and we’re chatting and she says, “Okay,
I’m going now” and I’m like, “What?” and I knew what she was trying to do.
WCT: (laughs) It’s so easy to fix up the gay men, right? Because there are so many of us.
AC: (laughs) Yes!
WCT: But like all my straight single friends – the women – there are no straight men for them, sorry.
AC: And when you get to a certain age as well it’s either all the good ones are gay and all the available ones are divorced and
psychotic or just psychotic – that’s what I hear. Anyway, Heather is a really lovely girl and she just sort of flings herself into things
and she’s a real sweetheart.
WCT: There was nice chemistry in your scenes together. So tell me about your wedding with Grant.
AC: Oh, it was lovely. We rented this huge place called The Painted Hall outside London and it’s designed by Christopher Wren who
designed St. Paul’s Cathedral and it’s so huge and grand. Everyone came on a boat down the Thames and arrived and then we had
this string quartet and had them score all these pop songs we like, like “Ben” by Michael Jackson and “You’re the Best Thing That
Ever Happened to Me.”
WCT: By the Style Council. Great song – my friend Nancy sang that once at a wedding.
AC: So the string quartet is playing all these great songs and then we got married and then we rented an ice rink right outside and
everyone popped their skates on and skated for an hour. Then we had a big appetite for our dinner. It was just perfect; a lovely
thing because everyone was there – because they love us, of course – but it was such a great feeling of supporting what we were
doing and a political act as well.
WCT: I know you went out of the country to make this statement about the lack of support for gay marriage here in America. I’m
just curious – what’s the status of marriage in the state where you live Alan? You know here in Illinois one of our representatives –
who happens to be gay – just started the process of trying to make that a reality here.
AC: I live in New York and it’s not recognized at all.
WCT: It seems so crazy that New York would be on the list of “can’t do that here.”
AC: Yes. Shameful. Shameful. But I think in a way it’s got to be a federal thing because say you happen to be in a state that
recognizes your rights and then you get moved for your job to another state that doesn’t that’s going to be ridiculous – the fact that
you’re treated as an equal in one state and you cross the border and you’re not anymore. I believe it has to be done on the federal
level and an edict has to go saying that everyone recognizes this from on high. We’re obviously not going to get it with this one.
WCT: No, I don’t think so. Can we talk about Suffering Man’s Charity (eventually retitled Ghost Writer), your directorial follow-up to
The Anniversary Party? Any movie with you and David Boreanaz, Carrie Fisher, Anne Fisher, Henry Thomas, and Karen Black certainly
has my attention.
AC: That’s pretty intense, isn’t it? There’s a website you should go to as well. www.sufferingmanscharity.com is up.
WCT: I’ll check that out.
AC: I’m really, really excited about it because it was a huge labor of love and a really intense experience for me and after all the
shit of trying to get a queer film like this made on a tiny budget and finally it’s finished and it’s coming out. It’s a huge
commitment to direct and I’m also in it. I play this really crazy person so it was a very, very…disturbing (laughs) time for me making
the film. But I love it. It’s crazy and it’s hilarious and disturbing and it’s everything I wanted it to be. When I read the script I
couldn’t believe how bizarre it was and this guy I play is the nearest a man can get to a Tennessee Williams character. It’s really a
WCT: He’s a music teacher, isn’t he, who takes in a protégé or something?
AC: He has a history of obsessing over younger men with an artistic bent and David Boreanaz is the latest in a line of these people.
WCT: So it’s kind of like a Joe Orton “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” realized maybe.
AC: There is a lot of Joe Orton in it.
WCT: Are there any sex scenes between you and David Boreanaz, yes, yes yes?
AC: (laughs) No but there’s a very weirdly sexy moment when he’s tied up. I tie him up and torture him and there’s this bit where
we nearly have this kiss that turns into something…ugly. It’s sexy but you feel bad for feeling that. The whole movie is like that.
That’s why I like it so much – it’s hilarious and you feel bad for laughing. It’s whacked out. I want people to gasp and to laugh.
WCT: I have to ask – are you wearing Cumming right now? (laughs) And aren’t you lucky that’s your last name instead of
“Frankenstorckermeyer?” Imagine the smell of that fragrance.
AC: (laughs) Can you imagine?
WCT: So, how’s the fragrance like doing?
AC: Great. We’ve got the soaps and other things and it’s doing fine. It’s sort of less fun than it used to be because the promotion
– the commercial and ads and things – are done and now we just have to sell it. You can buy it off the website (www.
cummingthefragrance.com) and 20% of the sale goes to an organization that campaigns for equal rights for gay people. You can do
a good political act and smell nice.
WCT: And smell like Alan Cumming at the same time.
AC: Imagine that?! (laughs)