Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Alan Cumming
March 7, 2011 10:00 AM
By Patricia Sheridan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tony award-winning actor, writer, producer and director Alan Cumming stars on the CBS drama "The Good Wife." He won a Tony for the Broadway revival of "Cabaret." The multi-talented Scotsman also wrote the 2003 novel "Tommy's Tale." Mr. Cumming, 46, is a citizen of both Great Britain and the U.S. Once married to a woman -- he's now with a man -- Mr. Cumming has described himself as bisexual and is outspoken about gay rights issues. He will be in Pittsburgh March 16 for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force benefit at the O'Reilly Theater. Call the task force at 412-345-0593 for tickets.
You have dual citizenship in Britain and the U.S. Why become a U.S. citizen?
I wanted to become a U.S. citizen so that I could vote for [Barack] Obama, that was really why. I had a green card for many years, and I lived here, I paid taxes here and I owned property here, but the only thing you can't do with a green card is vote. I wanted to take part fully in the political process instead of just mouthing off as I do.
So what do you get out of acting other than a paycheck?
Um, I sort of see it as a very childlike sort of thing. I like it -- It's just like play acting. I mean, you just pretend to be someone else and fool people. It's just very, very simple. The more you overcomplicate it, the worse it gets.
It wasn't your first choice as a career?
I mean it sort of was. I toyed with the idea of being a vet to please my parents, you know, stuff like that. Then I wasn't allowed to take biology, which sort of spoiled my plans somewhat.
Do you define yourself by what you do?
I guess if they say, "What do you do?" I say, "I'm an actor." My work is my work. My work is my job. I do my job and I have a life. I think if I wasn't able to act tomorrow I would do something else, and I would be just as happy, I think. I don't let it control me in that way. I mean, I really like it. I like being an artist of all sorts. I think I would say I was an artist. That can cover a wide range of things.
Did you ever hesitate about coming out publicly as bisexual?
[Laughing.] Well, it was one of these things in my life that just sort of happened. There is an interesting thing about when you are famous and when you get gradually famous over a number of years you don't feel you should have to release a press release every time you have sex with someone. It became an issue. People were really intrigued, and people really wanted to know. So I didn't hesitate, but I wanted to do it in the way that I felt would be in the right medium, in the right form, in the right environment that I could talk about it and it would be discussed in the proper way. And there's a gray area, I think, sexuality. It's not black and white.
I didn't hesitate in terms of social stigma at all. I was going along, living my life kind of having quite a florid time, and then all of a sudden I thought I should really stop all this dopey stuff that's being written and seize control of it. You know there are no lessons on how to deal with celebrity and all that stuff at drama school. I think most people would agree that seizing control of it is the way to go. Inevitably because everyone can see you all the time, that means you are being completely open. I think that is the way the world is going. All this new technology means that everyone has to be transparent. With these WikiLeaks and things, I think that is actually a great way forward in terms of everyone should be accountable all the time for everything. If you want to do something that you don't want anyone else to see, make sure they don't see it.
What has changed the most about you since you became an established actor?
Oh, I don't know. That is such a difficult question to answer. [Laughing.] I suppose it is how you define established. All my adult life I've been kind of in the public eye in some form. Just out of drama school in Scotland, I was kind of famous there. It's obviously grown in terms of how many people around the world know you, but it's not been something that suddenly happened. It's been a gradual thing. So I hope my core values have stayed the same, and I think they have. Circumstances have obviously changed. Mostly I would say I've realized how important it is to have some order and calm at the center of my life because there's such a storm going on all around it.
Have you ever played a character you like better than yourself?
[Laughing.] Um, ah -- gosh, what a crazy question. No, I don't think so. I quite like being me. I mean, I've played characters I've really liked, but I don't think there was any that I would think I would like to stay in this person, no. No.
As far as gay rights are concerned, how do you compare the U.S. to Britain?
Well the U.S. is sagging and lagging and quite far behind. In Britain there are equal rights for gay people. There are protections, and you can get married, and you can do all those things that we're fighting for here. Also, as well as it being actual legal things, there is a difference in the societies' attitudes, and I think for a long time now the difference has been more visible and more appreciated.
So the British tend to be more tolerant?
I would say so, yeah. I think America is such a young country, and it is a country built by Puritans who came from Britain because it wasn't religious and puritanical enough for them [laughing.] I think there are still remnants of that in our culture, definitely. There's still a lot of shame attached to all forms of sexuality. That's the root of all kinds of prejudice. There's a way to go, but I mean, there's a way to go in Britain, of course, as well.
You seem fearless. Were you always that way?
I think I've grown more fearless as I've gotten older. I just feel like what is there to lose? Do you know what I mean? You take a chance -- the world still turns. Taking chances and doing things that scare you only make you stronger. Usually you do things like that for good reasons. I don't think I was always like that. I was always kind of ballsy. Now I realize, sometimes, in retrospect I say things and do things and I read about how they are perceived and I think, "Oh, I see. I see why they think that's a brave or a courageous thing to do for someone in my position. But I don't actually at the time think of them in that way.