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Alan Cumming on taking the theater world by storm 20 years ago

Alan Cumming
Photograph: Courtesy Interview Magazine

[Editor’s note: In this week’s cover story, five NYC icons look back on their first year in New York City. Here’s Tony-winning actor Alan Cumming on taking the his wild early days in the late ’90s.]

I came between Christmas and New Year. Rehearsals for Cabaret started on, like, the 30th of December. I remember being in the elevator with a guy who was carrying a trombone case and thinking to myself, You have no idea, but I’m going to have my hand on your genitals in a few days. Because I’d done the show before, and I knew what was going to happen.

When I arrived from the airport, I saw billboards with my name on them, and I was like, Gulp, this is a bigger deal than I thought! It was obviously an amazing year, but also it was really weird, because I had nothing to compare it to, and I didn’t really understand a lot of what was happening to me. I was overwhelmed by all the buzz. I used to go into the shower after a show and have a little cry. And there were stalkers: People would follow me home. My body was plastered across things, and there was a sensationalist aspect in terms of the freedom with sexuality that I was kind of representing. It was funny to be so objectified at age 33. You’d think it would happen  earlier.

There was an ancient window in my dressing room, and outside was this kind of enclosed area between buildings, filled with condoms and cigarette butts. And I thought: This would be a magical garden. So I brought in trees, and I cleaned it all up, with chairs and rugs to lie on and all these beautiful plants and lights. When we opened the show it was at Henry Miller’s Theatre—what’s now the Stephen Sondheim Theatre—and it was still a club on weekends: Club Expo. So after the show I would have drinks with people in my dressing room or my garden, and on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays we’d go down the stairs, and the theater would have been transformed into a club. I would be dancing on the stage we’d just performed the show on, and I loved it.

As told to Adam Feldman

Alan Cumming’s new club, Club Cumming (505 E 6th St; clubcummingnyc.com), recently opened in the East Village. His latest film is Battle of the Sexes, in theaters now.   

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