Interview: Alan Cumming on ALAN CUMMING IS NOT ACTING HIS AGE at Charlie McCombs Empire Theatre

Saturday March 9, 2024

By: Feb. 26, 2024
Interview: Alan Cumming on ALAN CUMMING IS NOT ACTING HIS AGE at Charlie McCombs Empire Theatre
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.




Existing user? Just click login.

Interview: Alan Cumming on ALAN CUMMING IS NOT ACTING HIS AGE at Charlie McCombs Empire Theatre

I almost canceled this interview. I have never interviewed any type of celebrity, much less someone as versatilely accomplished as Alan Cumming. I thought, “what am I even doing?” This man has won a Tony, among a giant list of other prestigious awards. He’s the host of the No. 1 reality television series across the county, The Traitors, and he was Fegan Floop! My kids and I watched Spy Kids over and over again as they grew up, and he was our favorite part! I felt a little star struck and nervous, so I thought maybe I just shouldn’t bother him, you know? He is such a major star. Ironically, he spent most of our time together talking about how important it is to say yes to things and not to close off opportunities. I'm glad I stayed open to this -what a beautiful human! His joyful approach to life was inspiring! He shared so openly, and I left with several new quotes to post around my office, as well as just so much to think about.

On March 9, he will bring his show, Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age, to the Charlie McCombs Empire Theatre in San Antonio.

Here’s a look at our delightful conversation:

I see that you have shows coming up in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Have you spent any time in Texas before? 

Yes, I’ve visited Dallas quite a few times for the Two by Two for Aids and Art event at the Dallas art museum. I performed there several times. And then also, years ago in Austin, the Spy Kids trilogy. I did those in Austin, and I was there for SXSW a few times--so yes!

Will you perform Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age anymore after March, or will this be the last chance for audiences to see it?

There will be some more dates later in the year. I developed and started another show, called Alan Cumming: Uncut, whilst still doing this one.  And I’m also doing a show with Ari Shapiro from NPR, called Och & Oy, so I’ve actually got three cabaret shows touring this year.

Your huge success in all the genres must keep you busy; you are a star of stage, TV, film, you have a podcast, you own a bar, and you are a renowned philanthropist--what are some ways that you find help you stay focused and balanced with all of that?

Spending time in upstate New York is my sanctuary. I carve out time where I can look at beautiful scenery and have quiet time with my husband and dog. It’s sort of a balance, but I’m quite good at keeping those sort of islands of time for myself.

I loved something you said in regards to the “Not Acting Your Age” show: “I still feel like I’m at an age where I can dance till dawn but also be able to dole out some wisdom to my fellow revelers!” I wondered where you got such a fun life philosophy? 

I think as an adult I’ve sort of done that, and in a funny sort of way I’ve lived my life backwards. When I was very little I had to be quite adult and had to deal with quite adult things because of the violence in my childhood. When I became emancipated from that, from angry people that I was trying to fix, since then I’ve really embraced the idea of life being about staying open to possibilities and being curious and having fun and finding joy. I have a lot of darkness and understand it, but I choose to stand in the light. And it is a conscious decision.

As a former teacher, I love to hear stories about how young people decide to pursue an acting career.  What made you decide to go for it?

We didn’t have Drama as a subject at my high school, but we did have a Drama club. I had a really good English teacher, and we read plays in her class, like Shakespeare and others. She invited me to the Theatre club, so I started to do plays there because of her, and she really encouraged me, and then I started to do them at the local theatre club. And then when I was only 17, I went to Drama school. It’s kind of boring, my story, because sometimes when you do these interviews people ask what it was like when you were a struggling actor. But I never really was! I never was a waiter or a caterer. I enjoy bartending, but I thought I could just buy my own bar and become a bartender. I just sort of thought acting was a good thing to do, but I didn’t realize you could be one, or study to be one.  And then someone I knew had gone to The Academy in Scotland, and I went there, and I’ve just done it ever since. And there are lots of other things I do. It’s full of potential insecurity, but I feel like staying open to the possibility of life--that’s the sort of message I see. Be curious. Stay open. Don’t close off. Don’t let other people tell you how to live your life just because you’re a certain age. 

There’s no rhyme or reason why my life should have gone the way it has, and for me to be where I am--even geographically. I think the one sort of thing I can think of is that I did say yes to things. I took a chance, even going to another country. I never thought, “no that’s not for me, I can’t do that.” That is a sort of self-perpetuating thing because you are in motion and other things come to you…like The Traitors. The thought of doing that at first was nuts! And it seemed so weird, and I couldn’t understand what it was about or why they would want me. And when I understood that they really wanted me to play a character, it sounded quite fun, and so I said, “alright I’ll do it.” And now it’s this phenomenon, so that’s an example of what can happen when you stay open and say yes. Several times that has happened to me where I started to say no to something, and then said, “alright, I’ll give it a go.” It has changed my life. 

Other than winning a Tony for being in the musical by the same name, what calls you to the cabaret-style of live theatre? 

I enjoy the form of cabaret because it’s sort of a buffet or smorgasbord where you can be having a laugh one minute and the next you’re telling a really serious story and then you’re singing a song. It can change on a sixpence, and I love that. I really love that. I think that’s a great ability, like when I’m on a film set, and I’m having a laugh with the crew, and then-boom! Right there the scene starts, and I’m in a different moment. I think that’s really important for an actor to be able to do that, to not have to sort of crank up. In cabaret, you have to be very in the moment and very authentic because you’ve got to be able to get there-to drop it and go on to the next thing. That, to me, is very exciting, and I’ve always really liked that about the form of cabaret. Really, the first sort of success I had as a performer was in cabaret. It was a double act I did with my friend in Drama school for a college cabaret night where we played these different characters, and then all of a sudden people really liked it, and we started doing it outside of the college. That form, getting up at the piano, with the scariness, and the energy, and the connection with the audience--I really have been sort of addicted to that. There were many years when I didn’t do it, but it was in 2009 when I did my first solo show. It took me years to get up the courage to do it, but I’m so glad I did because it has actually changed me in many ways. I’m much more confident about doing things like hosting things and speaking in public because I’m not scared. I would be mortified and terrified about having to sing a song at a gala or something before, and especially a song that wasn’t in character. Now, I have quite literally found my voice.

What should San Antonians expect from Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age? What are you hoping they leave with? 

They can expect an old fashioned cabaret. I sing songs, I have a band. I tell funny stories. It’s all under the theme of getting older and aging. I tell some vulnerable stories about my life, people I’ve lost. I tell bad stories about parts of my body that are sagging. Songs about time passing. All changing on a sixpence.

I hope that what they’ll take away from it, is that not acting your age is about staying open and being curious and letting yourself be open to the possibility of life and not closing down and thinking, “I’m too old for that,” or “this is not for me.” And not letting other people control your experience. And also, trying to find beauty in growing older. Why have we all decided that aging is the worst possible thing that could happen to us? 

San Antonio, I would highly encourage you to take this opportunity to go see Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age on Saturday, March 9 from 7-8:30 pm at the Charlie McCombs Empire Theatre. Alan says he hopes you’ll all go away feeling positive, and hopefully, you’ll all go away thinking “I'm not going to act my age.” 

Photo credit: Francis Hills






 




Videos