Huffington Post

This is an article I wrote for the Huffington Post during the US Presidential election 2008...

Hillary is mean!

I have just been lying by the pool in a hotel near Stratford-upon-Avon, jetlagged and trying to sleep. But I can't! And the reason?  An image of Hillary Clinton is haunting me.  There she is, captured mid-tirade, her eyes steely and cold, her mouth distorted like a Francis Bacon painting, and I am scared.  I can't sleep. Hillary is haunting me! I don't like Hillary! Hillary is mean!


I used to like her a lot.  But she lost me when she voted for the war. She knew what she was doing and, unluckily for her, she got it wrong.  Nowadays thankfully, we admire the people who stood up against Bush and the WMD lies instead of those, like her, who voted with him to prove that they had the balls to run a country.  Baby, you should know more than most women that it takes more balls to stand up for what you believe in and not cave to what the word thinks or what you think the world wants you to do.  

But hang on, did I maybe stop liking her in 2005 when she started cuddling up to Newt Gingrich in a transparent attempt to begin the wooing of wavering Republicans in this presidential race? (He, like me, has changed his tune, recently calling her a 'nasty woman' who runs an 'endlessly ruthless' campaign. Wow, I never thought I would have anything in common with Newt Gingrich.)


But I have decided my tossing and turning on my sun lounger downstairs in the spa will not be for naught.


Here are my reasons why I think Hillary is mean, by Alan Cumming, aged 43:


1. She tries to tell us that we are stupid to believe in the power of words.  That hope doesn't get things done, that inspiration is futile.  That is so mean. That is actually the meanest and most stupid thing she has ever said.  Because in addition to it being wrong, she has totally underestimated the need and desire of the American people for precisely what Obama can give them - hope, inspiration, words that make them believe that the world can change, and the old style politicking and fear-mongering that she has aligned herself with can be turned around and America can have a new beginning. Call it a fairy tale if you like, but this is what people want to hear. Because this is what people want.


2.  She has failed to make us believe in her for her own merits so she now has to make us believe that we should vote for her because of her opponents alleged demerits. On so many levels that is mean.  And stupid. And duh, not true.  Which brings me to...


3. The fear factor.  Who would we rather have pick up the phone at 3am?  Well, actually Hillary, Barack Obama! Not an hysterical person who tries to make us vote for her by scaring us, and even stooping so low as to use footage of Osama Bin Landen and 9/11 in her own political broadcasts, something which she has spoken out against in the past when the same semiotics were used by the Republicans, her true rivals. (Remember those days when we thought they were the enemy?)


4. The race card. Oh this is a doozie, as you Americans would say.  In her pursuit of stopping a black man become president, she has conveniently forgotten that she is actually married to the first ever black man to have held that office. Yeah, right, how utterly patronizing that whole Bill being black thing now seems.  But then Bill has conveniently forgotten his popularity among the black population, but that's because, er, he doesn't have it any more after a series of race blunders that made him look condescending, out of touch, and yes, mean.  So now that she does not have to court the black vote so avidly it seems Hillary has no qualms about using the race issue to churn up ancient and disgusting bigoted ill will that only her opponent seems willing to discuss and analyze. How ironic that Obama, shortly after one of the most amazing speeches about race ever, should have to defend the notion that race is still an issue in the campaign, and indeed American life.  Don’t you know, Hillary?  Why don't you ask your formerly black husband and see how he feels about it?  


5. And talking of race, and Obama's speech about Jeremiah Wright's comments - why should he leave his church?  Did every Catholic ex-communicate themselves when it became apparent that there was wide-spread abuse of children by priests? Like Barack said, we all have people around us who say and do things we don’t agree with but we don’t kick them out of our lives. We all know there are many things that Bill did that were an abuse of his power, a violation of his office, to say nothing of a mockery of his marriage, and yet we respect Hillary’s decision not to leave him.  Yeah, that's right, you know what I'm talking about.  So why is it inappropriate for students to bring up that whole deal, yet fine for Hillary and her team to endlessly whip the dead horse issue that is Rev Wright?  It's just mean.


5. The flag thing.  Oh shut up!  This reminds me of being in the schoolyard and being taunted for not having the cool sneakers.  Patriotism is not about wearing a pin.  Patriotism is about saying you love your country and what it stands for, and you are willing to do whatever you can to get it back on track and to make it what it once was, and to make people believe that they really do live in the land of the free once more.  Flag waving is a scary business, Hillary, as of course you have so cleverly realized. But there is a very fine line between patriotism and nationalism.  And duh, you weren't even wearing a flag on that debate, so shut up again, you're just mean.


6.  Elitism.  Ok, this is the last one and then I am going to stop and try to sleep again.  But this just takes the biscuit.  Obama is elitist? Uh, hello? Please don’t confuse serving the public with being one of them.  When is the last time you had to worry about a mortgage payment?  I'll tell you what is elitist: being a member of one of the two families who could potentially rule America for seven terms! America is only a couple of hundred years old, it's supposed to be the land of opportunity, where anything is possible for anyone, yet we could have nearly thirty years of the presidency sliced up between two wealthy, powerful political dynasties.  Uh, that's elitist


And finally, she lies!! Big ones! She says she got shot at by enemies when she just didn't.  And then she tries to say that she 'misspoke".  Uh no, Hillary, you lied.  That makes you a liar.  And not only that but a stupid liar because there was a film crew a few feet away from you when this supposedly happened.  Stupid and mean.


The reason I am here in Straford-upon-Avon is for the celebrations for Shakespeare's birthday. Here is one of my favorite passages of his, from ‘Hamlet’,and it seems really appropriate right now..


This above all — to thine ownself be true;

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man



But you can be mean! I'm going to sleep now.


Alan Cumming.

The Tempest

The Tempest is a beautiful play, Julie Taymor has a truly unique aesthetic, and Helen Mirren taking the role of Prospera (normally played by a man as Prospero) was a combination I really wanted to be a part of. I also got to work with really amazing actors like Chris Cooper and David Strathairn, and did I mention that we shot for a couple of months in Hawaii?

I play Sebastian, one of the noblemen who is shipwrecked on Prospera's isle. Julie wanted to use Hawaii because of all the lavic landscapes, and indeed it felt like we shot on practically every piece of remote lava they had. But is is a stunning backdrop to the story, and Helen playing Prospero brings a more healing, Mother Earth sensibility to the character, making the story more about reconciliation than vengeance.

Tom Conti, Ben Wishaw, Reeve Carney, Felicity Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Alfred Molina and Russell Brand completed the cast, and what a rare old time we had.  We moved islands a couple of times and each time we were given a blessing ceremony by one of the locals. My favourite time was when we were doing a shot  coming out of the water, so we could only do it once, and the sun was going down fast.  Julie and the 1st AD's faces were hilarious as they were looking at the ebbing light and willing the blessing man to get on with it.

We were indeed blessed to be a part of The Tempest. 

Reefer Madness CD Launch

Four years after the movie came out the Reefer Madness CD is finally in stores!
In late October we did a CD launch party at Joe's Pub in NYC and it was such fun to see everyone again and to sing the songs with a great band.  Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy, the writers of the show, fought really hard to get all the rights and permissions and money together to release the CD, so thanks to them we now have a record of not just the movie but the original LA stage productions too.

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.


I did a reading of a play directed by David Brind, when he told me he was in pre-production for a movie he had written, Dare. The reading went really well, David and I got on like a house on fire and kept in touch. Over the next while, he emailed me telling me how it was going with the film preparation, in particular with the casting. There is one character of an actress who comes back to her alma mater and bitch slaps the main character played by Emmy Rossum. He had been having trouble casting it, and in one of the meetings someone said, “why don’t we make it a man, and get Alan Cumming to play it.” Everyone laughed, but then they actually did it. And I was offered the role. 

So I popped down to Philadelphia for a few days and had a really great time. The script is really clever and surprising. It’s about three friends at high school, finding themselves and each other, but it’s not at all your usual right-of-passage teenage flick. I think David is a really great writer, I enjoyed working with Adam Salky, the director. And poor Emmy, who had to stand a whole day of me being so mean to her.

Masterpiece Mystery: Season 1

PBS asked me to be the host of their Masterpiece Mystery series.  I love PBS, and since the previous hosts include Vincent Price and Diana Rigg, I was rather honored to be asked. Basically I come out of the shadows and introduce some British TV mystery show.  I love being a host.  I feel I ought to come out of the shadows with a tray of sandwiches.

Celebrity Big Brother Hijack

I have always been a rabid fan of the UK version of Big Brother, so when I was asked to take part in Celebrity Big Brother Hijack, I leapt at the chance.
The format differed from previous years in that the celebs were Big Brother rather than the housemates, with a different person 'hijacking' the show each day.  And also the housemates were all young and excelled in their various fields. So it made for a very interesting and unusual take on the normal way of things.
 I was just so excited to get to say 'This is Big Brother'  over the house speakers, and to ask people to come into the diary room.

The Seagull

I love Chekhov, but this was the first time I had ever done any of his plays. However I thought of The Seagull often, and had even toyed with the idea of making a film of it set in a country estate in Scotland. I always thought that the Scottish temperament would be a good fit with the Russian one, and also we really understand what it feels like to be isolated in the sticks, longing to get away to the big city.

So I was thrilled to be asked to play Trigorin opposite Dianne Wiest's Arkadina for the Classic Stage Company in New York City. Dianne is a brilliant actor and my first meeting with her showed me what an amazing person she is too. At our next meeting I met the director, Viacheslav Dolgachev, formerly of the Moscow Arts Theatre and I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary experience.

The thing I have always felt about Chekhov is that everyone is a drama queen. Really. Every singly character moans, complains, is self-absorbed and selfish. And I think that in the UK and the US we get Chekhov wrong, and make all the characters very tortured and internal, thereby losing any hope of making them the comedies they are supposed to be. So I was really interested to work with a real live Russian, as well as a Chekhov expert, to get a chance to experience how Russians actually go about doing it themselves.

It was fascinating.  First of all Slava asked us all to be bold in our interpretations but at the same time was incredibly detailed in his direction, down to the tiniest movement sometimes. Best of all was having several Russians in the room (interpreters mostly), and feeling the Russian temperament close at hand. There was no leap necessary to see how these characters operate when you watched and listened to the dramas and elaborate stories and the sheer volume going on in that room!

For me it finally made sense, and although the production had some problems, it certainly made people sit up and notice.


Here's a little interview I did for the NY Observer about the play..

Alan Cumming was excited to play a “real man” in the Classic Stage Company’s production of Chekov’s The Seagull. Mr. Cumming, the Tony Award-winning Scot with saucer-size blue eyes and a sly grin, recently played Dorothy’s scarecrow Glitch in the TV miniseries Tin Manand, um, a spacey scientist called Fegan Floop in thoseSpy Kids movies. (He also had a delightfully sleazy role as a gay nightlife impresario on The L Word.) But in The Seagull, he appears as Trigorin, a broody famous writer who woos Dianne Wiest’s character Arkadina and seduces a budding actress (played by Kelli Garner). “He just seems like a real man,” Mr. Cumming said over the phone, walking to Prana Power Yoga for his regular stretch after a recent play rehearsal. “He’s got everything, but he wants to destroy it. I’ve never played anyone like him.”

Mr. Cumming decided to take the part last year when the writers’ strike loomed and his agent was pushing him to sign movie projects. “All the films I was looking at, I was like, iiillck,” he said. Plus, Mr. Cumming, 43, had longed to appear in Chekov’s study of impossible love and creative torture—though he hoped to play the much younger, avant-garde playwright Konstantin (that role went, appropriately, to Ryan O’Nan). “The years have gone by and I missed my chance,” sighed Mr. Cumming.


B&w photo by Yelena Yemchuk for The New Yorker, others by Joan Marcus.