Alan Cumming on I Bought a Blue Car Today | Interview

The Scot becomes a U.S. citizen, avoids a bomb and responds to hateful British journos.

Photograph: Frederic Aranda; Photo illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay

At a café in his home base of New York, his two dogs in tow, Alan Cumming’s speaking into his cell while eating a mixed salad and brown rice. Through the munching, his thick Scottish accent comes as a jolt; on the Chicago-set CBS drama The Good Wife, he nails a gleefully ruthless American campaign manager. (His character, Eli Gold, was modeled after our new mayor: “tightly wound, angry, Jewish,” Cumming says with a laugh, adding that he’s found it shocking to learn how Chicago “kind of prides itself on its corruption.”) On May 28 at the Harris Theater, the actor-singer will perform his solo cabaret show, I Bought a Blue Car Today.

You blogged that you were just on vacation in Marrakech during the café bombing. What happened?
My husband and I arrived the night before, and we went and ate at the Café Argana, and then the next morning we saw that it had been bombed. We saw the table we’d sat at, and it had blood all over it and we would totally have been dead had we—luckily the food wasn’t very good, or we may have gone back.

Fortunately, you’re still with us.
I’m aliiive!

The title of your solo show, I Bought a Blue Car Today, came from a sentence you had to recite during your 2008 application for U.S. citizenship. Why that sentence?
You have to prove your prowess of English. You have to read something. That was the sentence they gave me.

Did you point out to them that, as a Scot, you’re familiar with English?
Ah, ha ha, no. What was quite funny was when I got sworn in, Obama had just been elected, but when the video message from the President came on during the ceremony, it was still Bush, and you could feel this whole roomful of people longing to boo. You can’t really boo the President of the country you’re just becoming a citizen of. [Laughs]

You’ve said you wanted to become a U.S. citizen so you could vote for Obama, but last fall you were pretty upset with him. You said he’d done “diddly squat” for gay rights.
I did feel he had either some very bad PR bungles or just was not living up to the promise he had made the LGBT community. I since feel that with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” being repealed and with the decision not to [defend] the Defense of Marriage Act, the tide has changed. I was pissed off he hadn’t done enough for the LGBT community, but I still would’ve voted for him. My God—what would be the alternative?

There’s an almost manic, breathless quality to your press bio as it lists all your credits. A recent Guardian article asked, “Does Alan Cumming ever regret saying yes?” So, do you?
Oh, absolutely not. You know, most of the films I’m in, I wouldn’t go and see them. It’s like, I bet you don’t read every magazine about popular culture that’s out there. You’d be bored of that.

But I would read my own articles.
What I mean is I do see the films I’m in because you have to go to the premieres, but if it was just a film that was on that I wasn’t in, I probably wouldn’t go and see most of them just because of the genre. I’m talking about the more mainstreamy films you’re referring to. It’s not my cup of tea. But still I have fun doing them and I made a good living and I met lots of interesting people, so no, I don’t regret them. Do I regret doing The Smurfs? Absolutely not. It’s maybe a week out of my life and—

And it’s a good paycheck.
And it’s a good paycheck, and I’m able to do other things. I will be laughing all the way to my artistic bank.… I have to say I found that Guardian article really snidey, and it just really reminded me of why I don’t miss living in Britain: [Pretentious voice] “Oh, he’s actually a much better actor than you’d think by the things he’s been in.” You think, Fuck you. How dare you? When you interview some trashy celebrity, do I think that demeans you? It’s just snide artistic snobbery. It’s really English.

And the article asked that question, but the interviewer didn’t seem to ask it of you.
Thank you. Yes, exactly. And I just think, Whatever, I get it—that’s showbiz. There’s a really good saying in Scotland: It’s tomorrow’s chip paper. Tomorrow that article’s gonna be wrapped around a sausage.

You’re working on a memoir. What’s the hardest thing to write about?
My father died at the end of last year. He’d been estranged from our family.

Did you reconcile before his death?
No. No. I did talk to him last summer because of this bombshell he dropped.

What was the bombshell?
That would spoil the surprise. The whole thing with my father has been sensationalized, and the press has pushed it along. If anyone’s going to sensationalize it, I want it to be me.

Alan Cumming performs at the Harris Theater May 28 at 7:30pm.

Comments

0 comments