Photo: Mark Seliger for Vanity Fair

Full bio

Alan Cumming is beyond eclectic. He was an award-winning Hamlet, and he had his own talk show. He was a tour de force solo Macbeth and he voiced a Smurf, twice. He shot a video portrait with Robert Wilson, and recorded a duet with Liza Minnelli. He made back to back films with Stanley Kubrick and the Spice Girls. He appeared in a Jay Z video and he wrote a #1 New York Times best selling memoir. He had a photo exhibition named Alan Cumming Snaps! and an award-winning fragrance named Cumming. He has played Dionysus, the Devil, God, the Pope and was shot by Herb Ritts for Vanity Fair as Pan. He was on a stamp. He was a teleporting Superhero, a Lee Jeans model and hosted the Tony awards. He is a Tony and Olivier award winning theatre actor, and a multiple Golden Globe, Emmy and SAG award nominated television actor. His portrait was hung in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the spot previously occupied by the Queen, who made him an O.B.E. (Officer of the British Empire) in her 2009 Honours List for both his work and his commitment to the progression of LGBT rights in Britain and the United States of America. He switched on the lights of the Empire State Building. He is an Independent Spirit award-winning producer and National Board of Review winning director. He has sung at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the London Palladium and the Sydney Opera House. He is a Doctor, of Arts, thrice. He was named Icon of Scotland in 2005 and is a vociferous campaigner for Scottish Independence. He has designed wallpaper. He owns a bar. Time Magazine called him one of the three most fun people in show business. The New York Times described him as a bawdy counter-cultural sprite.  The Guardian called him European, weird and sexually ambiguous. He isn’t nearly done yet. 

Alan Cumming trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. After leaving the Academy he quickly found himself celebrated in his homeland for both his television work (including the Scottish soap Take The High Road) and his stand-up comedy (the legendary Victor and Barry, which he wrote and performed with drama school pal Forbes Masson). But it was the theatre that gave him his biggest break when, in 1998, he appeared in Manfred Karge’s Conquest of the South Pole at the Traverse in Edinburgh. The play transferred to the Royal Court in London’s West End and Alan was nominated for the Most Promising Newcomer Olivier Award. 

He went on to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Royal National Theatre where he won an Olivier award for his performance in Dario Fo’s Accidental Death Of An Anarchist. For the National Theatre Studio he directed Michel Tremblay’s Bonjour La, Bonjour and played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. He was nominated for Olivier Awards for La Bête and Cabaret, and his sensational Hamlet at the Donmar Warehouse in London won him a TMA Best Actor award and a Shakespeare Globe nomination. 

He made his feature film debut in Ian Sellar’s Prague opposite Bruno Ganz and Sandrine Bonnaire, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992. His introduction to American audiences came with Circle of Friends, followed shortly by Goldeneye and Emma. His first movie shot in Hollywood was Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and since then he has alternated between blockbusters such as X2:X Men United, the Spy Kids Trilogy, and smaller independent films like Titus (opposite Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange) and (which he also produced and earned an Independent Spirit award). With Jennifer Jason Leigh he wrote, produced, directed and acted in The Anniversary Party, which won them a National Board of Review award and two Independent Spirit nominations. More recently he appeared in George Lucas' Strange Magic, Travis Fine's Any Day Now (for which he won great acclaim and numerous Best Actor awards around the globe),  Battle of the Sexes opposite Emma Stone and Steve Carrell and starred in After Louie.

In 1998, Cabaret opened on Broadway and Alan was instantly embraced by New York City, and heralded for his stunning performance as the Master of Ceremonies. He won The Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics’ Circle,  NY Press, Theater World, FANY and New York Public Advocate’s awards for his work, but for him the biggest prize was finding his new home.

He has continued to work on Broadway in Noel Coward's Design For LivingThe Threepenny Opera opposite Cyndi Lauper, Off Broadway in Jean Genet’s Elle (which he also adapted) and The Seagull, opposite Dianne Wiest. He returned to the British stage in 2006 with the West End production of Martin Sherman’s Bent, closely followed by the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Euripides’ The Bacchae, which opened the 2007 Edinburgh International Festival and toured Scotland, before transferring to London and New York. His next collaboration with the NTS and director John Tiffany was a radical reimagining of Macbethwhich premiered at the Tramway in Glasgow in 2012 and the following year Alan's tour de force performance of all the play's roles stormed Broadway. He returned to Broadway, Studio 54 and Cabaret once more in 2014-15, recreating his now legendary performance opposite the Sally Bowles of Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Sienna Miller.

His many UK television appearances include The High Life (written and performed with his Victor and Barry cohort Forbes Masson), Bernard and the Genie (British Comedy Award), Mark Cousins' Heavenly  and more recently the miniseries The RunawayQueers, the series of monologues curated by Mark Gatiss to mark the decriminalization of homosexuality and a highly acclaimed turn as King James in Doctor Who.  In the US he has appeared in Broad City, Sex In The City, FrasierThe L Word,  Web Therapy and is also the host of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery. He played Eli Gold in seven seasons of the CBS series The Good Wife, for which he has received multiple Golden Globe, Emmy, SAG, Critics' Circle and Satellite Awards nominations, and starred in the CBS series Instinct, which premiered in March 2018 and made history by being the first ever US network drama to have a gay leading character.

In 2015 he premiered his cabaret show Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs at the legendary Cafe Carlyle in New York City.  The show was described by the New York Times as an 'emotional firestorm' and has since toured all over America, Canada, Australia, England and was the hit of the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival - a particular source of pride for Alan as this was where he first performed in cabaret, with Victor and Barry, 32 years earlier! The show was filmed for a PBS special and a live album of the same name was released in February 2016, to coincide with his sold out debut at NYC's Carnegie Hall. His next cabaret show Legal Immigrant debuted in 2018 and was recorded for Audible, and his most recent show with NPR’s Ari Shapiro, Och and Oy: A Considered Cabaret debuted in August, 2019.

As an author Alan made his debut with a novel, Tommy's Tale, and in 2014 released a memoir Not My Father's Son, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller and the recipient of the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Award, two Audible awards, an Audie award and a Lambda Literary award nomination. In 2016 Rizzoli published his book of stories and photographs You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, and in 2017 he released a children's picture book, a collaboration with his illustrator husband Grant Shaffer about their beloved dogs, The Adventures of Honey and Leon. The sequel, Honey and Leon Take The High Road, followed in 2019. An animated TV series of the books is currently in development.

For an overview of Alan's entire career, click here

Alan’s activism and passion for various civil rights, sex education and social justice causes has earned him over forty  humanitarian awards. To see the full list of his awards and honours click here.

He lives in New York City with his husband, Grant Shaffer, and their two dogs, Jerry and Lala.  Twitter:@alancumming  Instagram:@alancummingsnaps