ALAN CUMMING IS IN GOOD COMPANY
Broadway and recording artist on sappy songs, bisexuality and his proudest moments
As a child, Alan Cumming cried as his older brother sang “Danny Boy” to him from across the bedroom they shared.
“He would do it to make me cry,” Cumming says, recalling his reaction to the Irish staple. “It’s just the emotion of the song. I’m Scottish, so the ‘pipes’ are kind of a direct route to my tear ducts.”
“Danny Boy” was the first song to break the singer-actor into pieces - but it wouldn’t be the last. There’d be Annie Lennox’s “Why” and Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” all of which are among the tear-inducing tunes on the performer’s latest release, “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs: Live at the Cafe Carlyle.”
And when Cumming cries, it’s no act. Those are real tears. After all, this is not Broadway, where the actor has appeared in a mélange of shows including “Macbeth” and “Cabaret,” for which he won a Tony. Nor is this “The Good Wife” (he plays Eli Gold on the CBS show, which wraps in May). It’s also not “Spy Kids” or “The Smurfs” or his U.S. film debut, 1997’s “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” On that Carlyle stage, Cumming is only one person: himself.
“I’ve always been attracted to both sexes, and whether I act on it or not is not anyone’s business, really. I’m not going to close myself off to the possibility of experience just because society says we must stick within these rigid boundaries.” —Alan Cumming
How do you explain your appreciation for music that makes you cry?
For me it’s about connecting personally. These songs are songs that have things in them that I can really understand. I feel my singing them makes people listen to them in a different way, maybe. But, really, they’re all songs that I felt compelled to sing because I connect to them in an emotional way.
Your résumé is expansive. When a gay guy stops you on the street, which career endeavor of yours are they most likely to compliment you on?
It’s very difficult to tell nowadays – it really is. You know, some mention the “Romy and Michele” thing. But now it’s really hard to tell. It may be my book (“Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir”); it’s a variety of things. With lesbians, I know it’s always gonna be “The L Word.”
As a bisexual person yourself, you’re known for being outspoken on bisexuality and gender fluidity. How do you explain bisexuality to people who still don’t get it?
I’m not here to change people’s minds about whether they believe in bisexuality. All I’m saying is that I think my sexuality and most people’s sexuality is gray. And yeah, I like cock. I love cock. But I also feel that I have an attraction to women. I’ve never lost it, actually. I’ve always been attracted to both sexes, and whether I act on it or not is not anyone’s business, really. I’m not going to close myself off to the possibility of experience just because society says we must stick within these rigid boundaries. I find it really self-hating that the gay community, which has been so bullied, are especially the ones who might be chiding people about their bisexuality. I think, let everyone be who they are.
It seems particularly galling that that would be coming from a fellow LGBT person. I really do believe people today, especially young people, have a much more fluid idea about sexuality and gender, and I should think we’re in a really great place with the youth of today. It’s people who are a bit older who are still struggling with it.
Reflecting on your early days as an activist: Why was it so important for you to start speaking out on LGBT issues?
I have a voice. I have a platform. I have a great life. I have a really great life, and I live the way I want to live. I am the person I want to be, and I feel like it’s my duty to take care of people who don’t have those opportunities. I have a personal connection to people who have been prejudiced against who are gay or bisexual or transgender. I’m Scottish and I grew up with fairness and justice. Where I come from, it’s very important that we adhere to making sure that everyone is looking after each other. So, it’s partly my genetic makeup (laughs), but also in the privileged position that I am in, I feel it’s my duty to give back and help other people along. Being an artist is understanding other people and wanting to reach and connect with other people, so helping other people is absolutely a part of that. When there’s injustice and persecution, I can’t really live in a society with that going on and not do something about it.
Alan Cumming won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical as the Emcee in ‘Cabaret’ in 1998. (Photos by Steve Vaccariell)