OneLan Cumming wants us to know that we got Robert Burns wrong. The Scottish poet, he explained, was not, “this constrained plowman sometimes writes a few wonderful poems, and then embarrasses people.” The truth is more complicated: “He is fragile, delicate, and a hot mess. Terrible things have happened to him,” he said, running a hand through his gray hair so it stood up like a question mark. This summer, the actor will turn the life of his nation’s hero into a dance performance for the Edinburgh International Festival. “And my motto remains: I dare!” Robert Burns said. It could be Cumming’s own.

Anyway, he made his choreography debut at the age of 57 – which most people consider quite daring. Burn was part of a dance theater choreographed by Steven Hoggett, who created the movement for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but that was Cumming’s idea. “It first started in 2015, when I finished Bar [for the second time],” he said, drawing out his words. “I just turned 50 and felt like I would never be the same again. I felt, ‘Oh my God, that’s it!’ – and yet I feel like I’m left with one more amazing thing. That was the beginning of it. I sent it out into space. I didn’t know it would be like this…”

He grinned widely. We’re talking about Zoom, but his warmth and humor fill the screen. The problem with talking to Cumming is that you ask him a question and he gives you the answer. That means conversations with him are always enjoyable, shooting in hundreds of directions as his quick mind considers the possibilities, even in the incredibly simple setting of a timed Zoom call. . He’s empty between serious and frivolous, as you’d expect from someone who’s worked with both Stanley Kubrick and the Spice Girls.

He is also fearless, with a courage that sends him into the unknown with giddy abandon. In his career to date, Cumming has played a flirtatious, dangerous Dionysus in a gilt kilt in Bacchusand presented a one-man version of Macbeth. He won an Olivier Award for his performance in The accidental death of an anarchistand a Tony in 1998 for his sexually ambiguous Emcee, both menacing and cheeky, in Sam Mendes’ dark, radical work of Bar. On television, he is Eli Gold in the legal series The good Wifeand was the first gay male protagonist in a US television series in Instinct.

Only in the last two months has he taken on the role of a reality TV presenter on the US version of a game show called TraitorsSet in a castle in Scotland and filmed the second season of the popular musical comedy series Schmigadoon! in Vancouver. It’s a dizzying trajectory in its eclecticism, characterized by a desire to try something new.

He was clearly happy with the idea of ​​presenting himself as a dancer. In Luggage: Stories from a fulfilling lifea book full of raucous anecdotes, he describes the night when he invited the great Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov out Bar audience to dance with him. Now he tells an even better story, about a later meeting when he wore one of Baryshnikov’s panthers as a joke – and discovered it was too tight for him. “I look like a lingerie commercial,” he says, his voice rising and falling with humorous emphasis. “It’s hilarious. There are always these embarrassing situations, but what can you do?”

In fact, most people can avoid them better than Cumming, but it’s part of the way he lives his life that he always puts himself in situations that end up as a great story.

He thought about Burns for a while. “I wanted to get people to put aside what I call his version of ‘tin biscuits’. I feel like dancing would be great for that, because the idea of ​​me doing something in a different medium than you often use to help you think differently about the content. I feel we don’t really know much about Burns. He is a mysterious person.”

What is known is contrary to the cleaned up version of the poet’s life. Burns spent most of his days in poverty, which affected his health and contributed to his death in 1796 at the age of 37. He was frequently unfaithful to his long-term wife. his long, Jean Armor; She bore him nine children, the youngest being born on the day of his funeral. He had four children with other women and had many affairs.

Burning Night: Alan Cumming as Scottish Poet

(Gian Andrea di Stefano)

“I have also been thinking about how men struggle with their desires. I think it’s very difficult for men to control our desires. I look at Burns and I see someone who can’t, and I look at my father and I see someone who can’t. I grew up thinking, ‘Oh, your wish is part of your life force and it’s wrong for you to suppress it.’

He stopped midway and rolled up his sleeve. “Shall I show you this?” he said, and put his arm in front of the camera to reveal a tattoo that reads “Just Connect”, EM Forster’s famous narration for his wonderful novel Howard’s End. Forster is a gay man who has concealed his gender identity; Cumming is an outspoken campaigner for LGBT+ rights.

“It’s not just about making sure you have a real connection with people, but connecting your desires with the way you live your life. That’s something Forster couldn’t do, and I think he wrote eloquently about the sadness of that. I’m fascinated by how men wrestle and mess around.”

The mention of his father takes us back to his upbringing, a story told in his first autobiography, the bestseller. Not my father’s child. The book, published in 2014, details the brutal abuse he and his brother Tom endured at the hands of their father, the head of the woods on a rural estate in Angus, Scotland . Years later, the brothers confronted him and demanded that he admit his behavior; he left. Remember the above moment Desert island discCumming recalls: “I faced my monster and felt so much more courageous than he was. That’s some achievement and comfort. ”



I’m fascinated by how men struggle and make it a little messy

Alan Cumming

Now he notes: “It was interesting, the difference between what my mother taught me and what my father taught me. My mother taught me that there is no situation in life that does not benefit from kindness, and that you should just be kind and thoughtful in the way you interact with people, even if you have to tell them something. something terrible, or even if you hate them. Be kind about how you communicate and be honest. It will be better because of that”.

His upbringing remains with him in all that he does. “I didn’t like the end of my life in Hollywood,” he said. “Injury will always be with you. It doesn’t go away just because you join a talk show or write a book about it. You just have to manage it better.”

He’s proud of both books. Sharing both sides of himself – the abused child and the confident, successful, lively man who runs a pub called Club Cumming – “changed the story a bit”.

“Both of those things exist, of course. Not a lie. But is not complete. Humorously speaking, it’s been a great thing for me to write these books, because I feel like people have a very holistic view of me now – that you can be a boy like that. fun partying or whatever, but also great darkness.

“I really have fun, but I choose to live in such a way that I don’t hide from life. I don’t sit in a dark room. I like the light. But I also have access to darkness.”

His life is now divided between America and Scotland. “I feel I am more connected to Scotland when I live away from it. Wanting to do a piece about a Scottish hero, with the Scottish National Theater at the Edinburgh Festival, was obviously a big deal for me. My Scottish side is very prominent in my makeup and is my pride.”

His US base was crucial to an extensive film and television career, including roles as Nightcrawler in Mutant 2 and the computer villain Boris Grishenko in Yellow eyes. Partial canopy in Package dedicated to creating X Men, especially the cast’s intervention when director Bryan Singer’s behavior became erratic during filming. The circumstances of that are very specific, but Cumming isn’t sure if he wants to be in a superhero movie again. “Never say never. But those movies go on forever, and in the end you have to act with a big screen and dots on top. It’s fun, but I like things where you have to. talk to more real people and wear realistic costumes.”

Alan Cumming with Halle Berry in ‘X-Men 2’

(Moviestore / Shutterstock)

He’s worried about how the Marvel Universe is taking over cinema. “I feel like it’s not my hobby, but then quite a few movies I’ve done aren’t my favorite as a viewer, but I do them because there’s a difference between being in into something and then choose to watch it,” he said, with another quick smile.

“I don’t understand Marvel at all. I find it confusing. I don’t know which one is which. I do not care. We are in a very exciting time, because cinema itself is changing. Maybe now we just go to the cinema to see those big luxuries for an experience, like a ride in an amusement park, and we probably just watch the normal stuff at home. ”

Lavishly speaking, he thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond in There’s no time to die. “I love every minute of it.” Does he have a view on who will succeed Craig as the next Bond? “Not really,” he said, then added: “I think it would be nice to have a person of color. We have to make things available to people they didn’t have before. It is the time now. It’s entirely possible that James Bond could be black. Being a woman is a bit more difficult, because it is written about cruelty. Write something else to have a female spy. Prefer New Year’s Eve Killing. It’s a very clever way to see a woman presented that way. ”



It’s entirely possible that James Bond could be black. Being a woman is a bit more difficult, because it is written about cruelty

We were almost out of date when I asked if marriage – to artist Grant Shaffer, whom he married in 2007 – would change him.

“Hold on. Not because it has lasted, but because inside it, it is growing, and we talk to each other, we listen and work things out. That’s what I think is successful: it’s the idea that I can be an independent person and still be in a very strong, very grounded and very protective relationship.”

It’s been a long way since that vulnerable childhood. “Someone asked Grant if he was worried about something I was doing.” He paused, then added: “I was literally gliding through the crowd while drunk in a monkey suit after one of my Club Cumming parties, and he said ‘Yes, of course that does. I’m worried, but Alan is a butterfly, and we have to let him fly.’”

‘Burn’ is at the Edinburgh International Festival from 4 to 10 August, followed by a tour: nationaltheatrescotland.com/burn