House and Garden article

I wrote this article for House and Garden, But sadly the magazine folded before it could be published!

This may sound a bit odd, but whenever I think of my home in upstate New York, I think of how much I admire the French.

Not just because they wouldn’t go to war with Iraq, or their healthy attitude towards sex, or white burgundy, or Johnny Hallyday or Jeanne Moreau, or crème fraiche, but because of how they think about missing

You see, I love my Catskills eyrie.  Every time I go there I take a deep breath of the clean, woody air and look up though the trees to the star-spangled sky and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have something this beautiful in my life.

And so when I’m away, as I am often, I miss that feeling. I miss the peace and the view and the fact that there’s a gate at the bottom of the hill that you need to know a code to make open.  I miss the weekends when I have friends up and I feel I am really seeing them, because we’re doing things we never do in the city: we’re cooking and swimming and trampolining and laughing together, and at the end of the night they stumble down the hill to their cabins and sleep a sleep so deep and thick that by the time they climb back up the hill for a very late breakfast, they look younger and feel more rested than they have in years, and, best of all, they don’t mind there is no signal for theirPDAs.

It’s so hard to be away from all that. But here’s where the French come in, and their missing. You see, we make missing all about ourselves: I miss you.  They - yes, perhaps rather dramatically and with a little soupcon of passive aggression - say 'tu me manque' (you, to me, are missing).  So, the missing is not done by us, but by the person or thing that we miss.

I really like that.

It makes the missing not so painful somehow, and yet at the same time it expresses much more yearning and gallic angst than our way.

I miss my house in the Catskills.  It is missing to me.  I think maybe it even misses me.

I am one of those people who, when I moved to New York City, suddenly saw everything in my life making sense: the overwhelming welcome, the relief of no longer being an outsider, that amazing feeling that the energy on the streets wasn’t just something I was entering into but more something long dormant that was actually gurgling up from deep within me, so powerfully I wanted to perpetually hiccup.

Once I had experienced it, I only left the city when I absolutely had to, for work almost always. And whilst the drive from any of the airports back onto the island of Manhattan is for me as exciting and magical as Dorothy and co’s advance towards the Emerald City, conversely, the journey out to JFK is the most dreary- emotionally as well as aesthetically- that I know.

Even on the hottest, sweatiest, slowest, beastliest of nights when no ceiling fan or clanky air conditioner could bring succour, I still couldn’t imagine anywhere on earth I’d rather be, and thought the complaints of my acquaintances who yearned ‘to get our of this city’ were just a phase, a fad, no doubt influenced by the seemingly endless media coverage of the haute polloi’s life in the Hamptons. 

I went to the Hamptons once for a party. It was full of all the people I tried to avoid in New York at parties. They stay in houses all crushed together and - worse in my eyes, considering the whole idea of going to the beach is to get away from it all - they are in traffic jams all the way there, all the way back AND at any time they try to venture out of their little picket houses (with their redundant widows’ walks, unless you’re looking for your husband’s helicopter coming through the fog after a late meeting in Manhattan)) to go to a nearby toney hostelry full of people they don’t want to see, if theycan even get a table.  I’d so much rather stay in New York.

But I suppose the newness of something, whether a person or a city, is always romantic. Not that I have ever doubted my passion for Manhattan, but as time goes on and circumstances change and we get a little older, we naturally start to take our love a little for granted. It’s a given. And sometimes things happen that jolt us into a new way of thinking.

Like so many others, for me that was September 11th, 2001.

Now don’t get me wrong. My love affair with NYC has only increased since that horrible day.  The way the city bounced back, the way it rallied and blossomed and lived (Aunite Mame would be so proud) only increased my desire to be a citizen of that weird little island floating off the coast of America, and even, more weirdly, proud to have been there when the awfulness happened.

But the change for me came a few days later, the Saturday after the Tuesday, when the bridges and tunnels were all open again, and my friend Grant invited me to drive with him to his place upstate. I jumped at the chance.  Suddenly, not being allowed to leave Manhattan had made me want to scream to get out of it. (I am an Aquarian after all).

We set off, knocked sideways and dazed, amazed at the ever increasing number of signs the further we got out of the city proclaiming revenge and death to those who had dared to shake America from its slumber. Maybe because we’d been there when it happened, maybe because we were still in shock, we hadn’t worked out our feelings yet. But anyway, these public declarations of violence outside churches and fire stations and schools just didn’t tally with what was going on inside our heads and hearts. We just wanted some peace.

And we got it. I had never been to Grant’s place before.  My crazy schedule combined with my lack of desire to leave the city had prevented me.  So this was my first time, and, lucky for me, I couldn’t have lost my virginity at a better time or in a better place.

First of all it was the silence. I hadn’t realised how insanely noisy New York had been.  Post 9/11 there were endless bomb scares and the streets ranged from being utterly empty to being full of people screaming and running in every direction.  The Empire State building is about to be blown up! There’s a chemical attack on the subway! Don’t drink the water! Get a gas mask before stocks run out!

To be away from it all - in this quiet, balmy, beautiful, leafy wilderness - was shocking, and forced me to deal with everything I’d been merely experiencing for the last five days.  A tidal wave of feeling rose up and drenched me. I wept and grieved. I looked around me and for the first time understood what those people meant when they said they had to get out of my beloved city.

And guess what? The land next to Grant’s was for sale! Yep, just as quickly as my love affair with NYC had begun, the ease with which I slipped into being a town and country man did too.  12 acres in the middle of a forest with a little wooden hunting lodge was mine by Tuesday morning, one week after the twin towers fell.

A couple of years later I had a housewarming party for the new cabins I’d built.  (Years of visiting friends in their country piles had taught me some good lessons and I had arranged my guest houses around the forest to ensure my visiting friends’ and my own privacy.)

I stood on the spanking new deck looking out across the Catskills. It was a beautiful warm evening. I could hear laughter and splashing coming from the spanking new pool. Someone had started grilling the fish we’d bought at the farmers’ market on the spanking new barbeque. As I turned to raise my glass in a toast to my new home, I felt the glow you only feel when you’re truly happy. And then I looked into the eyes of a friend and something magical happened. He is now my husband.

I write this alone on a train going from Glasgow to London. He’s back in America. I miss him. I miss our country haven. Both he and it are missing to me.

But in a month we’ll be together: him, me, the dogs, a group of friends old and new, all sitting on the deck or round the fire pit or lying in hammocks, drinking and laughing and looking up at the stars. And knowing how good that feels will tide me over till then.

GLAAD: The F Word

I felt that the gay community needed to stop using the 'f' word.  (It rhymes with maggot!) Just as the black community has taken responsibility about using the 'n' word, we need to with the 'f' one. For how can we expect the rest of the world to stop using it if we still use it ourselves? Even in jest, even if we think we have reclaimed it and made it something else, it is still a word of hatred and is often the last word people hear before they are beaten or even killed.
So I spoke to GLAAD and my friend Joe Mantegna, and we shot this PSA which premiered at the GLAAD awards in 2008.


At the end of 2007 I went and shot a couple of little films with the director George Hickenlooper in support of the WGA strike that was in full swing at the time. George made loads of these films with various actors under the banner Speechless.
I was really happy to be able to do something to support the strike, and I loved the angle that George took. I am also delighted to be on screen alongside the voice of Mr Moviefone!
The T-shirt in the first one was given to me by Bianca, my publicist.  Little did she know it would be immortalized!

Out Traveler Disney

Here is an article I did for Out Traveler magazine

Spring 2007 | Of Mice and Men

By Alan Cumming | FROM THE SPRING 2007 ISSUE

Actor and out bon vivant Alan Cumming kicks off his quarterly travel journal with a joyride through Disneyland Resort Paris.

I recently took three of my boyfriends, five Nazis, and a 60-something to the Disneyland Resort Paris. No, really! And we had the time of our lives.

You see, I recently spent four months in London playing Max in the play Bent by Martin Sherman (he turned 68 on December 22, by the way, and I'm sure delighted that I have revealed his age to you, but, hey, I hope I'm going to be riding roller coasters with hot men young enough to be my grandchildren when I'm his age, don't you?).

The play is about two gay men (played by Kevin and me) who, after being on the run for two years, are caught by the Nazis (played by Charlie, Ricky, Matt, Larry, and Ben?who, incidentally, bashfully confessed to me on day 2 of rehearsals that I am the first boy he's ever kissed). On the train to Dachau, we meet a gay prisoner (Chris) who helps me survive, and in the second act I fall in love with him. If you know the play, you know how intense and powerful it is, and so as a cast we bonded in a very intimate way.

That's how 10 grown men (my real-life boyfriend, Grant, came along too) were able to let down their barriers and whoop, scream, coo, and have the time of their lives one foggy Sunday last October.

We hopped on the Eurostar from Waterloo station in London around 9:30 a.m., and less than three hours later we were entering the park. Incidentally, disgruntled employees at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., call their headquarters Mouschwitz or Duckau. I remembered that just as we were approaching the iron gates, having just disembarked from a train. But enough of all that?we're in the happiest place on earth!

We actually started at the Walt Disney Studios Park (next door to the Disneyland Paris Theme Park). Our first ride was the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. This involves going from zero to about 80 miles an hour in a nanosecond, so by the time the ride is over, it takes your teeth and the contents of your stomach several seconds to catch up. But the scariest thing about this ride is that Aerosmith is blasted through the speakers conveniently placed next to your captive ears. The boys were suddenly transformed into beaming 5-year-olds. Everyone was laughing and screaming so much that we immediately went on the ride again. (We had one of those guides who takes you to the front of the line, you see, so this was easily facilitated. His name was Gabor, and he was Hungarian, cute, studying geography in Paris, and angling for a career as a TV weatherman.)

We achieved so much more without the queuing. And, boy, were we achievers! We alternated between the scary rides (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, Space Mountain Mission 2) and the fun, sweet ones (Peter Pan's Flight, the Mad Hatter's Tea Cups), and then branched out into some hybrids like Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, where you travel around on little space carts shooting lasers at brightly colored drawings on the walls. I thought for sure I was going to be onto a good thing here as I was sharing a ride with Charlie, an officer in the army for more than 10 years and therefore, one might imagine, handy with a laser. However, get this: Buzz always wins. Quel dommage.

We saw the parade, we ate fish and chips at Toad Hall restaurant, Ricky got chased by Captain Hook, we went on Space Mountain again, we laughed, we screamed, we hugged, and as night fell we raced round the near-empty park trying to cram as much into the remaining minutes as we could. We ended on the carousel, and as I looked around at the beaming smiles on everyone's faces I felt happy that what I'd wished for had come true: The Bent boyz had opened their hearts to Disney and had the time of their lives.

There's no room for cynicism at chez Mickey et Minnie. Going with a group is a great way to do Disney, and I defy the most jaded queen not to have a blast. And, because we were in France, the fast food's a bit better, you can get beer, the employees are hotter, and when we went back to our rooms at the Sequoia Lodge there was French soft-core porn on TV! What's not to like? We all slept thickly, dreaming of the next time we could all return.

The Bacchae

Even before its inception in 2005 I had been talking with the National Theatre of Scotland's artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, about going back to Scotland to work with the company.
It is very exciting when any theatre company is formed, especially these days, but for national government to found one is a really amazing thing. Also the NTS really benefits in not having a base building. It is a theatre without walls, and therefore it is not bound by the normal confines of where performances take place and where art can flourish.
It's opening piece Home was performed in ten different locations around Scotland including down the side of a high rise building in Glasgow. Obviously it performs in theatres of all sizes but also village halls, forests, on ferries and in airports.
Another thing that excited me was the breadth and scope of the actual work. Too often in the past Scottish theatre has been defined by its obsession with itself: a parochial approach that only rarely lights the spark that turns heads and ignites spirits. More often it merely reinforces national cliches and encourages self-absorption and jingoism.
So here is a company that is looking out to the world instead of into its own navel, challenging and inspiring, confident in itself and knowing it is only as good and will only suceed as much as it wants to. You could say it is a manifestation of Scotland itself, or the new Scotland that has emerged since it was granted devolution from the London parliament in 1997.
So, as you'll have guessed, I was very excited to work with the NTS. I had long admired both Vicky and her associate John Tiffany's work.
We toyed with a couple of ideas which didn't work either logistically or artistically and then they came to me with The Bacchae. I had never performed Greek tragedy apart from a few exercises at drama school but I have always been fascinated by it, both in how it has influenced drama through the ages, and also in how primal and basic and bawdy it is. I find that with Shakespeare too: it's easy to get florid and fancy with him but you're never far from a fart joke.
So the idea of playing the god Dionysus really appealed to me. John was directing; David Greig, an amazing Scottish playwright whose version of Casanova I had almost done in NYC with the Art Party was on board to do the adaptation. Also the production was to open the Edinburgh International Festival.
I had spent many Augusts in my youth performing at the festival, but at the much bigger and egalitarian fringe festival, never the official, posh, international festival! Victor and Barry cut their teeth there and came back to the Assembly Rooms many times. I also did a play at the Traverse in 1988, The Conquest of the South Pole which transferred to the Royal Court in London and was kind of my first big break. Also the first film I ever appeared in (Passing Glory), my first film as director (the short film Butter) and The Anniversary Party all had their UK premieres at the film festival (which used to take place at the same time as the other festivals) so I have great memories and connections.

The Bacchae turned out to be a really amazing experience, both in terms of me going back home but also in terms of the process of working with John and the cast, and feeling really excited about making something which is ostensibly perceived as ancient and with little to say today into something dynamic and contemporary.

Rick & Steve Series 1

Rick & Steve, the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World! is an animated series for the LOGO channel in which I voice the character of Chuck, an HIV+, paralyzed fifty something, with a lot of attitude and a nineteen year old boyfriend (played by Wilson Cruz).

I was really pleased that the show got picked up for a second series. I think it is very healthy that LOGO is willing to show such edgy, bitingly funny and politically incorrect stuff.  And I love playing Chuck. I think of him as a sort of a gay Jerry Stiller.

Boogie Woogie

The initial reason I was attracted to Boogie Woogie was Charlotte Rampling. I have admired her for a very long time. And so before I even read the script, the fact that the accompanying letter had her name attached as one of the actors made me quiver! When I read the script, I was hooked. It’s a really dark look at the London art world, a world that I’ve been fascinated by and have dipped my toe in from time to time as I know various people I know who are at the very heart of it.

It’s a true ensemble piece revolving around a painting by Mondrian called ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie,’ which is owned by the Rhinegolds, played by Christopher Lee and Joanna Lumley. Danny Huston’s character, art dealer Art Spindle, wants to buy it so he can sell it to a pair of avid collectors, the Maclestones, played by Stellen Skarsgard and Gillian Anderson. I play Dewey Dalamanotousis who is trying to set up a show at Art’s gallery of his friend Elaine’s (Jaime Winstone) work, and is being helped initially by Art’s associate Beth (Heather Graham). Other characters are played by Jack Huston, Amanda Seyfried, and Simon McBurney.

I play the nicest person in this film, in fact, the only nice person in the film. That’s really why I like the script so much – everyone is awful, there is no moral compass. I shot my last scene on the first day (which happens so often in film) and I’m really glad I did because it meant that I went through the shoot with a sense memory of where the character was going. I think that made him all the more poignant. I am sporting a geek-chic look too.

The film is based on a novel by Danny Moynihan who was around all the time on the set. It’s directed by Duncan Ward who I really liked and hope to work with again.

Tin Man

I was offered Tin Man whilst I was still performing Bent in London and the idea of running around the forest of British Columbia being chased by flying monkeys after spending months watching my lover die and being abused by nazis every night was very appealing!!

I'm always slightly worried about "reinventions" and "adaptations" of already successful films as the obvious response sometimes is why? When the original is so good, why do we have to reinvent it? But what I really liked about Tin Man was the way that it used elements from the original book and film but it was something completely of its own. I also think that the idea of people going on a journey to a destination where they think they will find something they think they lack, and on the way realizing that they have had it all along, is a story that we have told in various forms for generations. You could say as far back as The Iliad.

I spoke to Nick Willing, the director, on the phone and I was really smitten with him and his energy, and I came on board. The shoot in British Columbia was pretty arduous as we were making three feature length episodes in the time it can sometimes take to do one feature. So there was no mucking about! I really had a lot of fun. The Vancouver crew was amazing and my fellow travellers in the O.Z., Zooey Deschanel, Neal McDonough, and Raoul Trujillo, were a great group to work with. We are all very different but I think difference is very healthy when you have to spend a lot of time with people in a variety of forests!

I tried to infuse the character of Glitch with a little of the physicality of Ray Bolger's Scarecrow in the original film, the Wizard of Oz.