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Thursday 22 June 2006, by Webmaster
Alan Cumming will do almost anything to shock or amaze
Alan Cumming is seen at Studio 54 in New York. Cumming’s current project is a modern interpretation of the cynical musical The Threepenny Opera.
NEW YORK — Quietly, stealthily - likely while you weren’t completely paying attention - Alan Cumming took over show business.
You can find him on Broadway. You can see him in movies, from Spy Kids to The Anniversary Party. You can play one of his characters in a video game. He hosts his own TV show and has written a book.
You can even smell like him - courtesy of a line of beauty products that bears his name and wit. His body lotion is called Cumming All Over.
"I think I work better when I’m multi-tasking," he says during an interview, between bites of salad and performances of The Threepenny Opera on Broadway. "I think I focus more."
Howard Stern, the so-called King of All Media, should give up his crown to this Scottish-born performer who seems to pop up when you least expect it - usually winking like a demented Puck.
"Some people will say, ’Oh, Alan Cumming does this and that - I don’t get it,’ or ’Why does he do that?’ " says Opera director Scott Elliot. "But it’s not for them to get or to figure out. It’s to enjoy."
That may be a tad difficult with his current project - a modern interpretation of a German expressionist musical that’s always irked people. In The Threepenny Opera, Cumming plays Macheath, a vicious mohawk-wearing street thug who occasionally breaks into song.
The fact that the musical - by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill - is on Broadway stuns Cumming, the 41-year-old product of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama who won a Tony Award in 1998 for playing the master of ceremonies in Cabaret.
"It’s sort of a weird thing that you’d normally find off- off-Broadway," he says. "Broadway is now a code word for a certain type of experience - and we’re not giving that experience."
So provocative is the material that the audience is usually shell-shocked at the end of performances. "You’re not supposed to know what to make of it. All these songs suddenly appear for no reason and there’s no actual narrative," he says.
"If you came for a trip to New York and went to Tarzan last night, Beauty and the Beast tomorrow, and have us in the middle, you’d absolutely be on crack. You wouldn’t know what the heck was going on."
In that way, it seems a perfect vehicle for Cumming, who has a knack for provoking theatregoers. "Pleasant is not good. I think pleasant is boring," he says. "You should have an experience. It shouldn’t just be an experience."
As serious as his theatre work has been - including a revival of Noel Coward’s Design for Living and the role of a roller-skating pope in Elle - Cumming’s film career has been eclectic. That was him as a hotel desk clerk in Eyes Wide Shut, a computer nerd in GoldenEye and Saturninus in 1999’s Titus. He also played opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma.
Cumming also appeared in the Spy Kids series, Son of the Mask, Spice World, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and X2: X-Men United, as Nightcrawler, the demonic-yet-cuddly blue-skinned mutant.
"You can’t always do challenging, scary things all the time or else you’d die," he says in his thick Highland burr. "So it’s nice to go and do some fluffy film and just have an easy time for a while.
"I call it the Hollywood Bank. When you do a big Hollywood movie - doing X-Men 2, for example, or Spy Kids or something - it’s like you make a deposit and then when you go and do all these little, independent films, you withdraw. So now my balance is quite low."
During the Opera run, Cumming has been finishing a labour of love, a film he’s directed called Suffering Man’s Charity, which co-stars David Boreanaz. It’s about a struggling writer who is murdered by an obsessed man, who then swipes his unpublished manuscript.
Cumming reaches over to his laptop to share a photograph from the film. It shows him in his underwear, splattered in blood, bruised, weeping and screaming. Silly question: What’s his part? "I’m the obsessive weirdo - of course," he says. "Duh. Hello?"
Other films in which you might soon catch Cumming include Sweet Land, where he plays a Minnesota farmer in the 1920s opposite Alex Kingston; Grey Matters, in which he plays a taxi driver who falls in love with a lesbian, played by Heather Graham; and a documentary about the 2003-04 Broadway season called Show Business: A Season to Remember.
On TV, Cumming hosts Midnight Snack for Sundance Channel. And though he doesn’t appear in the new X-Men movie, he did lend his voice to X-Men: The Official Game, reprising his role as Nightcrawler.
"I have a wide demographic," he says. "I have a whole kids’ following from all the Spy Kids films. I have a kind of intellectual, highbrow crowd from things like Titus and The Anniversary Party.
"I have a sort of theatre crowd. And I have a kind of a gay thing. And sometimes they cross over - you can be in more than one section. It’s kind of fun. I like to have different people to engage with."