I was the narrator for the first season of the UK version of Playing it Straight, a dating competition show where half the male contestants were gay and half were straight.
I recorded the audiobook of Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
This picture was taken one day in late October of last year. I was doing a trek along the Great wall of China for AmfAR (the American foundation for AIDS Research) and we had just arrived at our camp for the night and I had just dumped my stuff in my tent and was about to walk back up to where the dinner tent was and have a beer when I decided to put on this coat. I had bought it the night before off a wee soldier man who worked at an army base near to where we'd spent the night. It was absolutely freezing and it was our first night camping out and we were all a bit shell shocked about the temperature and even the roaring fire wasn't enough, and then all of a sudden this little man appears in a van selling these quilted Red Army coats and I remember seeing him appear and realized what he was doing and I thought he was like an angel from heaven. The fact that angels don’t hand out stinky old coats worn by commie soldiers or charge for the pleasure didn't seem to matter at the time because I was really cold and underdressed and had been drinking. Anyway, my boyfriend had given me one of those packets of funny stick on moustaches and I decided to get them out and spice things up a bit. The hat I had bought from a farming supply shop in the middle of Minnesota, where I’d been making a film right before coming to China. I felt like Charlie Chaplin in the Great Dictator. I think I alarmed a few of my fellow trekkers, but as there was little other entertainment on the side of a hill in the middle of China they laughed and indulged me. I remember this night so well because it was the first night that I managed to plant the seed of doubt in one of the trekkers who was going to vote Republican in the election, which would take place the day we arrived back in the US. I was gobsmacked that anyone who cared enough to travel half way round the world to go camping with a bunch of strangers and raise ten grand for people with AIDS would be a Republican, just because I think people who care that much have got to be Democrat. He was one of those annoying Republicans too who said “I know, you’re right” after every negative thing you said about Bush, but still was going to vote for him for some bizarre, mystical reason. I told him that night that I thought he was lazy and that his vote for the status quo represented all that was wrong with America. He didn’t like that but I could tell he was affected by it. I’d pierced the chink in his armour. Two nights later he told me he was going to vote Democrat, not because I had worn him down, but because he had thought things through and that mine and my fellow trekkers’ arguments were solid and made sense. I was elated. I flew back to New York on November 2nd with real hope in my heart. At least I still have the fabulous coat.
I was sent a script by writer Tom Gallagher called Suffering Man's Charity in 2004 and I immediately wanted to do it.
I think I was in a bit of a funk about screenplays and movies, and the formulaic nature of them. Even those perceived as wacky still have a certain mandatory structure and tradition that I was beginning to feel very stifling. So I think that was one of the reasons I fell in love with Suffering Man's Charity. It is absolutely nuts and shifts between many genres and each time some new crazy thing happened I remember audibly gasping and marveling about where the script was going to go.
So I directed and starred in Ghost Writer, as it came to be known. We shot it in LA in November and December 2006. It had its world premiere at the SXSW festival in Austin in March 2007. The film also stars David Boreanaz, Henry Thomas, Anne Heche, Karen Black, Jane Lynch and Carre Fisher.
Here's what Salon.com had to say about its opening...
Protean Scottish actor-director Alan Cumming has premiered his new film, an outrageous horror-comedy carefully designed to offend the entire population of the planet. Those who didn't show up missed seeing Cumming himself as a queeny, middle-aged music teacher who winds up imprisoning and torturing a young hustler played by David Boreanaz (of "Angel" and "Buffy" fame), who is wearing women's underwear and tied up with Christmas lights and duct tape (oh, and heavily medicated with sleeping pills). "Suffering Man's Charity" is just that kind of movie: It opens as if it's going to be a sad-sack gay comedy in a lesser Tennessee Williams mode. And then it goes completely insane. Even before we get to Boreanaz and the Christmas lighting, we've already had Anne Heche as a femme fatale New York editor and Karen Black (Karen Black!) as a drunken, slutty hag stumbling around in her underwear and making obscene promises to Boreanaz's rent-boy character. Later in the film, there's a significant splatter quotient, an appalling vehicular accident, a vindictive ghost and a truly horrible New York literary party. This film is all genres at once, and a few that don't yet exist. Given Cumming's far-reaching showbiz as a Shakespearean actor, kiddie-film villain (in "Garfield" and the "Spy Kids" series), novelist, indie director ("The Anniversary Party") and outspoken activist on gay issues, I have no doubt he can find a distributor for this willfully grotesque picture eventually. It's either a total disaster or a midnight movie cult hit in the making, and on first viewing I'm not sure which. As I told myself while I stumbled out into the steamy streets of Austin, for better or worse there was nothing like that at Sundance.
Below is the introduction I wrote for the book Self Exposure - The Male Nude Self Portait...
I think everyone secretly wants to take nude self-portraits. To be able to see ourselves as others see us - either passive or in the throws of passion – is always illuminating, but isn’t it also erotic just to have in our possession an image that captured a moment in our lives when we were at our barest?
Baring it all has many connotations, of course. Sometimes the look in an eye is more revealing than an entire naked body. And sometimes a close-up of an erection speaks volumes about the subject, and what he wants us to think and/or think of him.
I have taken my clothes off for many photographers over the years, several times for some of those you will see in these pages. But I have never allowed (or indeed been asked) for a nude self-portrait to be published before.
Actors are asked to reveal a lot about ourselves all the time (if, like me, you believe letting parts of yourself be revealed through a character is what acting is all about). But when I am asked to pose nude for a photo I realize that I am allowing myself to be revealed in a more titillating way: here is Alan Cumming, that actor, with his arse out; here he is again, oops, we can nearly see his cock etc. In a way, the more I show in a photograph, the more I am throwing you off the scent.
These photographers are all choosing to see what it feels like being on the other side. The hunters are becoming the hunted - or at least pretending to be willing to be hunted. What I find fascinating is trying to guess how much they too are really revealing, or how much they – intentionally - are trying to throw us off the scent. It’s harder, of course, because we don’t know them, we haven’t seen their films or heard them on talk shows. We do not know the mask they are dropping. We only have these images to glean a very complex series of attributes, desires and foibles.
Unlike the nudes of me that have been published, my self-portraits are not beautifully lit, there is no powder brushed across my buttocks, and I am certainly showing a lot more than I would ever feel comfortable showing in a studio with a whole slew of crew present.
If I weren’t famous I think I would have shown you an altogether different picture. I initially cursed the internet and the gossip industry for denying me artistic freedom and complete inhibition. But then I looked through the artists’ work again and realized that what this book is really about is intimacy – and just like baring it all, intimacy can come in many forms.
This is a very intimate self-portrait, and I hope the route it took me to decide upon it will serve as a good prism for your enjoyment of the rest of this collection.
I have a cameo as a disgruntled ex-employer of a theme park in Florida in this movie, Full Grown Men, directed by David Munro, and I was also a co-producer.
I hitch a lift from two friends hang a reconciliation road trip, played by Matt McGrath and Judah Friedlander, and they get more than they bargained for. The movie also stars Amy Sedaris and Deborah Harry. It premiered at the Tribeca Film festival in 2006 and was released in 2007 after winning the 2007 indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems audience award.
Sundance Channel asked me to take over as host of their film series Midnight Snack. The scenario was that I was at home talking about a film I was about to watch, with a midnight snack I was about to eat. So I suggested that, for reasons of accuracy, I should co-host with my dog, Honey
A star is born.
I was asked to go into Showtime's hit series The L Word for half a season to play Billie Blaikie, a really fun character who worked for Pam Grier and generally caused havoc.
It was fun to be in something that was so sexually provocative and ground-breaking.When you do a TV show in America they usually just have one script to show you and you have to sign on for the rest based purely on a conversation about your storyline.
So I said I would do this part only if I could have a sex scene with a lesbian. I thought it would be really interesting to shake things up and confound people's expectations about the black and white notions of sexuality. (I believe things are more grey).
I did finally have sex with a lesbian, but it wasn't really the scenario I had imagined! Daniela Sea who played Max is a sweetheart and a great kisser and it's great to have someone as sensitive and lovely as her to do scenes like this with.
Here is a scene that was actually cut from one of the episodes. It's always really annoying to have a sex scene cut, because they are very embarrassing and exposing to do - even though this one was with my very good friend Paul Anthony and so we were able to have a laugh about putting the hot hot dog in the bun.
Gray Matters was written and directed by my friend Sue Kramer. It stars Heather Graham, Tom Cavanagh, Bridget Moynihan, Molly Shannon, Sissy Spasek and me as a Scottish taxi driver in New York who falls for Heather, but she only has eyes for another...woman.
My character, Gordy, is the nicest man in the world: he falls in love with Heather, she rejects him, he tells her she's gay and it's ok, he takes her in when her brother chucks her out, he takes her to her first lesbian bar and when they won't let him in because he's male he goes home and gets into drag so he can still accompany her. He is pathologically nice! I want what he's having!
The whole idea behind Cumming was about having fun and being provocative.
I have worn Christopher’s scents for years and they always made me feel earthy and sexy, so I knew that whatever he came up with would be something I would love and would feel proud to endorse.
That then gave me the confidence and freedom to have some fun with the whole notion of celebrity endorsement, especially in terms of fragrances. That’s how the images for the marketing campaign (and also the interiors of each product’s packaging) came about, with me in various homages to old fragrance ads, and the commercial on the website that is lampooning itself whilst at the same time saying things that I really believe in.
And finally there’s the matter of my name! After forty years of bad jokes about it, it feels great to have been able to turn the tables and make it work for me!
I just love that we have been able to create something that people feel good about wearing and also get the wit and satire behind it.
Most of all, I love that we are making the world feel sexy.
It was never my ambition to have my own fragrance and range of body products, but sometimes these things are just thrust upon us!
It actually started as a bit of a joke between Christopher Brosius - a really amazing perfumer whose stuff I had admired and worn and had become friends with - and Jason Schell, who had the original idea.
All my life I have had to endure jokes about my name so obviously having the tables turned in this way really appalled to me. I also thought it would be great to shake things up a bit and challenge people's perceptions of celebrity endorsement AND to put my name to something that i think is great and I use every day.
It is still pretty weird when someone comes up to me and instead of saying they have seen me in a movie or a play they say they have my fragrance. Or when I look through a goody bag on the way home from some event and find one of my own products there!
The photos that we shot for the ad campaign were great fun to do and created quite a storm. They are all based on old fragrance ads. Christopher and Jason went to the Fragrance Foundation (yes there is such a thing) and scoured their archives and then we took the ads they found to photographer Steve Vacciarello and we worked on recreating the lighting and feel of each one. I love them. I also love that people might not know what they are at first. I love a slow burn.
My friend Joe Mantegna made the commercial. There are two versions, 45 and 90 seconds. Again we wanted to both make a sexy, provocative commercial but also at the same time take the piss out of all those ads with people rolling around in beds looking dreamy. I tried to channel those Calvin Klein Obsession ads, which I always thought were hilarious.
With this whole project I loved how we were able to produce something that is really good and also make people question what they think of celebrities selling them stuff. And we also had a real laugh. A lot of people didn't get it, or were annoyed because they weren't sure what they were supposed to think. I like that.
And I like Cumming. I love washing my hands with a bar of soap that has my name on it and is called Cumming in a Bar. I love showering with Cumming Clean and scrubbing with Cumming Off Buff and smearing myself in Cumming All Over.
Once when I was doing The Seagull I reached up to get something from a shelf in my dressing room and a bottle of Cumming fell and just missed my head. I thought it would be hilarious to have been killed by a bottle of my own signature fragrance!
Find out more, and even maybe buy it here!
Here's an article I wrote for OUT Traveler about a trek I did along the Great Wall Of China
March/April 2005 | The Great Walk
By Alan Cumming | FROM THE MARCH/APRIL 2005 ISSUE OF THE OUT TRAVELER
Alan Cumming treks China's Great Wall in the name of charity
I've never thought of myself as a trekker.
Trekkers, I've always assumed, are people who spurn room
service and give each other Swiss Army knives for Christmas. Their rosy cheeks
are caused not by martini consumption but icy mountain air or bug bites, and
their favorite labels are Birkenstock and North Face.
Imagine my surprise then, when I found myself marching along
in the bracing mountain air, sucking down water from the tube connected to my
rucksack's built-in bladder, looking forward to a lunch of a boiled egg and
nuts while sitting astride a rock and secretly hoping it would rain so that
I could make use of my orange waterproof two-piece ensemble. And this wasn't
one of those TV shows that seem so popular these days in which hapless celebrities
are thrown into circumstances beyond their ken and comfort zone and the rest
of us get a healthy dose of schadenfreude. Oh, no. This was real life, and I
was there willingly. I even liked it! Hell, I'd do it again!
"How did this happen?" I hear you cry.
It was actually one of those weird, fateful kismety things.
One night at dinner I had been telling my friends how I felt such a fraud for
being publicly lauded for the work I do with AIDS organizations and charities,
when really all I was doing was going to parties and shouting my mouth off.
Of course, I understand that when you're famous, people take your picture when
you go to parties and people listen to what you have to say and, good or bad,
celebrities have the public's eyes and ears. Nonetheless, perhaps because of
some Protestant work ethic element in my upbringing, I felt that I wanted to
actually do something.
Cut to the next day, when an American Foundation for AIDS
Research brochure detailing the first-ever fund-raising trek popped up in my
letter box! And so that was how I, and 24 others like me, found myself schlepping
along the Great Wall in October 2004.
The trek trip was a fund-raiser for AmfAR's TREAT Asia program,
an initiative to promote HIV prevention education, training, and research in
Asia. During our visit to China, we had several talks and meetings with AIDS
specialists and were horrified by both the scale of the problem and the many
cultural and social issues involved that make dealing with it so difficult.
Although under the auspices of AmfAR, the trek was organized
by a British-based company called Across the Divide, which regularly leads treks
and expeditions all over the world, often in conjunction with charities like
AmfAR. We all had to raise a minimum of $10,000 to participate, and so by the
end of the trek TREAT Asia's coffers were better off by over $275,000. Aside
from my epiphany about trekking, there are many reasons why I would thoroughly
recommend a trip of this kind. First of all, raising such a large sum is a feat
that requires the help and support of friends and family, so before you've even
left home you're in contact with a whole slew of people you normally only hear
from at Christmas, weddings, or funerals. Second, by doing something that takes
you way out of your normal routine--let alone comfort level--you really do inspire
people and make them think that if you feel strongly enough about an issue to
fly to the other side of the world and go camping with a bunch of strangers,
then it must be something worth thinking about.
We started in Beijing, and before setting off on the trek
proper we had a chance to see some touristy sights like Tiananmen Square, where
we chanced upon teams of people in blue overalls peeling chewing gum off the
pave stones. Sadly, Chairman Mao's tomb was not open. I was gutted, since I
love seeing dead world leaders with lots of makeup on. The Forbidden City was
amazing but very rainy and cold, so when I saw a Starbucks hidden behind a Chinesey
facade I suppressed my rage at American imperialism exporting its filthy drug
habits to the East and popped in for a grande soy misto.
Then we were packed aboard a bus for three hours into the
mountains to the Beijing Convalescent and Holiday Centre for Cadre, where we
spent the night preparing for the coming assault on our senses and sensitivities.
And the next morning it was on to the Wall! The Wall! Or
Chang Cheng, as it's called here. It is actually a bit of an eye-opener to realize
that the literal translation of what we know as the Great Wall is "the long
city!" Go figure. But it is both great and long, and we were all blown away
by the sight of it wiggling off through the mountains into the horizon.
We were actually on the wall before we realized it. In parts
it is so run-down and crumbling that you only realize you're on it when you
go off and look back. In other parts it has been maintained and is very grand.
It is, it has to be said, hilly. The eight-day trek was like a marathon session
on a StairMaster. So, yes, I have buns of steel.
Walking for six or seven hours a day allows you to get to
know people pretty well. And my fellow trekkers were quite an eclectic bunch
from all across the country. Some had lost family or loved ones to AIDS, some
were HIV-positive themselves, and some, like me, just wanted to raise some money
and do something. There were grannies, socialites, and students. We were
all exhausted by the end of each day, and when we arrived at our camp each night
we were delighted to see our tents set up for us and the kitchen tent bustling
with preparations for our dinner. Also delightful was the fact that we could
buy beer and wine; we had much fun around the campfire after a few beers. And,
boy, did we need a campfire because as soon as the sun went down it got really,
really cold. One night a van pulled up and a man from the army base we had passed
on our way down from the wall got out and started to sell us Red Army quilted
coats. They were a bit smelly, but I got one and--remember where you heard it
first--everyone will be wearing them next year.
The best part of the trip was when our camp for the night
was the playground of a rural elementary school, where the kids swarmed around
us all evening and we watched them swear their allegiance to the modernization
of the motherland at the following morning's assembly. I taped their laughter
on my Dictaphone, the perfect antidote to future blues. Seeing them and remembering
the statistics about the spread of the disease in rural areas made the cold
mornings, not showering for four days, and the snoring of fellow trekkers all
pale in significance. These kids were why we were there.
The night after my 40th birthday party I had to get up and go on Tony Danza's show to promote Son of the Mask. I am very hungover.
I also went on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, ostensibly promoting Son of the Mask but mostly we just laugh about Cumming the fragrance. And then I popped in to see Carson Daly.
Later in the year I went onto Daily Download on Fuse to plug Reefer Madness. Also here's a Conan too.
I appeared again on Dinner For Five with Jon Favreau, Frank Darabont, Harry Shearer and Fred Willard.
I voice Gordon the goat, the sidekick to Sean Connery's Sir Billi in this animated Highland extravaganza from Glasgow Animation.
At the 2005 Sundance festival I hosted Festival Dailies for Sundance Channel, interviewing many of the film-makers whose films were screening. Here is a picture of me probing Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Here is some raw footage of the interviews I did.
I play Margaret Cho's love interest, Eugene, in Bam Bam and Celeste, which Margaret also wrote. She and Bruce Daniels are the eponymous heroes, who leave their life in the sticks to make it in NYC on a make-over show where my character works as a producer (and a total English geek). The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005.
I shot the film in a week in Los Angeles at the beginning of 2005. The scene in which Margaret and I have a disastrous dinner is supposed to be at the Cloister Cafe in the East Village, near where I live, but was actually shot downtown LA in some apartment building courtyard. Showbiz!