Alan Cumming talks Cabaret & The Good Wife

Photography by Kevin Thomas Garcia – Interview by Ryan Brinson


Broadway Throwback: Alan Cumming


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Alan Cumming has done it all. He has faced off with James Bond in “Goldeneye.” He has dressed Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City.” He’s been in cult classics like “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and “Spice World.” He’s hosted SNL. He’s starred in multiple Broadway shows and won a Tony Award for his role in Cabaret. He’s been nominated for Emmys and SAG Awards, wrote a novel, “Tommy’s Tale,” and even squared off against Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in “X2.” For a guy who first came to the United States in 1995 to do press for an Irish film, “Circle of Friends,” he’s left an indelible mark on the entertainment landscape.

Alan continues to be one of the most versatile actors working today, starring as fan favorite Eli Gold on the hit CBS show, “The Good Wife.”

“I had no point of reference from my own life,” he says of crafting the character of Gold. “I just trusted the writing. He was this guy they were going to use as the political advisor but had a reputation for losing his temper and being very ruthless. There was a lot of information about the character and I just trusted the writing during those first few episodes while I got the hang of it.”

It’s fair to say he got the hang of it. Now in its sixth season, “The Good Wife” has become a Sunday night mainstay for millions of Americans.

“The writing on that show is so great and I think the best thing about it is that it doesn’t tell you what to think. So much of American culture tells you what to think. It guides you to a place where you know what you’re supposed to think and what to root for. But this is one of the only shows, certainly on network television, where the leading woman does something where you think, ‘Why the fuck are you staying with this guy?’ and then you’re thinking, ‘Why are we feeling sorry for this guy now?’ The writing is just so good.”

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Beyond the fulfillment of being on a show with writing he admires, filming “The Good Wife” in New York has allowed Alan to stay in one place long enough to settle down, a perk of the job he relishes in the city he loves.

“For years, if I wasn’t doing a play in New York, I would most likely be flying around the world to do films,” he said. “That sounds nice, and it was nice, but after a while, when you look at how many flights you’re taking in a year and how little time you’re spending at home, I reached a point when I thought I wanted to have a life I’ve chosen to live. And the other part is a life I’ve chosen to live too, but this has been a really settling thing.”

Being planted in New York has allowed Alan the freedom of spending more time on the stage. His celebrated run of Macbeth, a production that originated in Glasgow and made its way to New York, ended in July of 2013. Looking back at the show’s journey, Alan talked about what it taught him about his own level of commitment, and about the endurance required to maintain such a heavy character over the length of a run without missing a performance.

“I really prepared and trained for it,” he explained. “I trained for doing it in Glasgow and after that was over, I kinda knew we were going to do it again so I kept training. So it taught me how committed I am. When I say I’m going to do something, I am going to do it.”

In the spring of 2014, he returned to Broadway, and the role that won in a Tony Award in 1998, in the much heralded revival of Cabaret. It had been fifteen years since he last portrayed the role of “the Master of Ceremonies,” but for Alan, this is a unique role in which age isn’t a factor.AC1

“I think it’s really interesting that you can come back to certain roles at different times in your life and there are other things to say and the production becomes something else,” he said when we talked a few months before Cabaret opened. “For me, returning to that role [Emcee], I first did it when I was 28 and I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown, and then I did it when I was 33 and I felt sexy, confident and in my prime. Now I’m going back to it at 48 and I still feel sexy, confident and in my prime, but I’m older and wiser and I think it’ll have different layers to it. It’s one of those roles that’s not really a part. It’s not really a fully formed character and you have to make it what you will.”

The original Broadway production debuted in 1966 but Alan feels the show is just as relevant today as it was when it first premiered.

“When we did it in New York the first time, it was when the Clinton impeachment and Monica Lewinsky scandal was happening and I remember being so appalled by this sort of puritanical, shameful society [the scandal] was revealing to me. I thought it was interesting that Cabaret was a celebration of diverse sexuality in a way,” he said. “Now, I think it’s interesting with everything that’s happening in Russia. We are living in a time when a huge superpower is actively trying to suppress people for being gay and for being themselves. I think it will be fascinating to do the show and press buttons in this time because of that.”

Perhaps it’s because he’s leading by example that he is an inspiration to so many other actors. Alan Cumming is a man who commits and jumps in and the result, whether on stage or on screen, is something not to be missed.


Originally printed in BLEEP Issue 309


Photography by Kevin Thomas Garcia
Photo assistance by Erik Christensen

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