There's a section of Alan Cumming's Web site ( www.alancumming.com ) called The Renaissance Man, an apt description of the gay Scottish actor/film director/gay-rights activist. Since January alone he's married his partner, illustrator Grant Shaffer, in a civil ceremony in London; finished a sold-out run in a revival of the play Bent; and seen Sweet Land, a film he produced and co-stars in, win Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit awards. This Friday, at the same time that he will be playing a lovelorn New York cab driver in the lesbian-themed romantic comedy Gray Matters, the black comedy Suffering Man's Charity—his sophomore directorial effort—will be premiering at Texas' SXSW Festival. All this will happen while he's promoting his line of fragrance products, suitably titled Cumming.
When we spoke, the actor was spending time with his new in-laws in San Francisco before heading to Lake Tahoe for his honeymoon.
Windy City Times: First of all, congratulations on your marriage to Grant.
Alan Cumming: Thank you.
WCT: Now to Gray Matters. I absolutely loved your character—a sweet taxi driver with the soul of a poet. Is that what appealed to you about the part?
AC: Yes. I just liked how sweet he was, and Sue [ Kramer, who wrote the film ] is an old friend of mine and she wrote this part for me. It's so nice when someone does that and I just thought it was kind of a lovely change for me. It was nice to go back to the parts I played in my early 20s.
WCT: The ironies in that charming picnic scene on the rooftop are so thick. There we have a gay man playing a straight man romancing a straight woman playing a lesbian.
AC: I know, I know! I think as long as you're believable it shouldn't matter what you play. Because people say to me, 'Gosh, you know, what was it like playing a straight man?' and it's not that big a stretch and I always say, 'Well, you know I've played murderers and I didn't have to murder anyone to know what that felt like.'
WCT: Yes, but Rupert Everett has said many, many times that he regrets coming out because it's cost him in terms of roles. Have you experienced anything like that?
AC: No, and I always think that is an entirely hypothetical concept. I mean, how does he know, really? Maybe those people didn't want him anyway and I think he's done alright, actually. [ Laughs ] I sort of look at it in a more holistic way—that maybe some people might not get to play a big action hero if they came out, but they would have a more satisfying life and be happier as a person and [ they could ] bring that into the work. I just think it's such a dopey argument to say you don't want to come out because it might affect the roles you get.
WCT: Well, 'dopey' is the word. Can you talk about working with Heather Graham, who stars in Gray Matters?
AC: She's just so lovely. We met years ago when I was out in L.A. doing something and someone said to me, 'You know, Heather Graham always wants to go out clubbing and doesn't have any friends who want to go.' So we went out to this club and she tried to set me up with this guy.
AC: Yes, I know. We all left this club and we were going back to someone's house and we're chatting and she says, 'Okay, I'm going now.' I'm like, 'What?' I knew what she was trying to do.
WCT: [ Laughs ] It's so easy to fix up the gay men, right? Because there are so many of us.
AC: [ Laughs ] Yes!
WCT: But like all my straight single friends—the women—there are no straight men for them, sorry.
AC: And when you get to a certain age it's either that all the good ones are gay and all the available ones are divorced or psychotic; that's what I hear. Anyway, Heather is a really lovely girl and she just sort of flings herself into things and she's a real sweetheart.
WCT: There was nice chemistry in your scenes together. Now, tell me about your wedding with Grant.
AC: Oh, it was lovely. We rented this huge place called The Painted Hall outside London and it's so huge and grand. Everyone came on a boat down the Thames. We had this string quartet and had them score all these pop songs we like, like Ben by Michael Jackson and You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.
WCT: By the Style Council. Great song.
AC: So the string quartet is playing all these great songs. Then, we got married. We rented an ice rink right outside and everyone popped their skates on and skated for an hour; then, we had a big appetite for our dinner. It was just perfect; [ it was ] a lovely thing because everyone was there—because they love us, of course. It was such a great feeling of supporting what we were doing and [ it was ] a political act as well.
WCT: I know you went out of the country to make this statement about the lack of support for gay marriage here in America. What's the status of marriage in the state where you live, Alan? Here in Illinois, one of our representatives just started the process of trying to make that a reality.
AC: I live in New York and it's not recognized at all.
WCT: It seems so crazy that New York would be on the list of 'can't do that here.'
AC: Yes. Shameful. Shameful. But I think in a way it has to be done on the federal level and an edict has to go saying that everyone recognizes this from on high. We're obviously not going to get it with this one.
WCT: No, I don't think so. Can we talk about Suffering Man's Charity, your directorial follow-up to The Anniversary Party? Any movie with you and David Boreanaz, Carrie Fisher, Anne Heche, Henry Thomas and Karen Black certainly has my attention.
AC: That's pretty intense, isn't it? There's a Web site you should go to as well ( www.sufferingmanscharity.com ) .
WCT: I'll check that out.
AC: I'm really, really excited about it because it was a huge labor of love and a really intense experience for me. After all the shit of trying to get a queer film like this made on a tiny budget, it's finally finished and it's coming out. I play this really crazy person so it was a very, very…disturbing [ laughs ] time for me making the film. But I love it. When I read the script I couldn't believe how bizarre it was. This guy I play is the nearest a man can get to a Tennessee Williams character. It's really a stunning role.
WCT: He's a music teacher who takes in a protégé or something?
AC: He has a history of obsessing over younger men with an artistic bent and David Boreanaz is the latest in a line of these people.
WCT: Are there any sex scenes between you two—yes, yes yes?
AC: [ Laughs ] No, but there's a very weirdly sexy moment when he's tied up. It's sexy but you feel bad for feeling that. The whole movie is like that. It's whacked out. I want people to gasp and to laugh.
WCT: I have to ask—are you wearing Cumming right now? [ Laughs ] And aren't you lucky that's your last name instead of 'Frankenstorckermeyer?' Imagine the smell of that fragrance.
AC: [ Laughs ] Can you imagine?
WCT: So, how's the line doing?
AC: Great. It's sort of less fun than it used to be because the commercial and ads and things are done and now we just have to sell it. If you buy it off the Web site ( www.cummingthefragrance.com ) , 20 percent of the sale goes to an organization that campaigns for equal rights for gay people. You can do a good political act and smell nice.
WCT: And smell like Alan Cumming at the same time.
AC: Imagine that?! [ Laughs ]