It was the night of the Tony Awards. Actor, singer, writer and activist Alan Cumming had just received a Tony for his performance as emcee in the 1998 revival of “Cabaret”. He was in the press room, giving sound clips to the media.
In the middle of an interview, “A hand appeared on my left shoulder, a large body joined it on my right,” writes Cumming, who was born and raised in rural Scotland, writes in his new memoirs ” Baggage: Tales From a Fully Packaged life.
For a second, Cumming thought he was being assaulted. But the stranger hugging him was Sean Connery, another Scotsman, known to have played James Bond. Connery had won a Tony as the producer of the play “Art”. Connery, looking at the cameras, said of Cumming: “He’s my new son.”
He took ecstasy that night at the Tonys, Cumming reveals in “Baggage.” The medication for him was “my self-prescribed anti-anxiety medication,” Cumming writes, “And it worked.”
For most of us, winning a Tony for an acclaimed cover of “Cabaret” would be just a fantasy. For Cumming, winning the prestigious award is just one of many accomplishments.
Walt Whitman said it contained multitudes. Cumming, 56, who is bisexual and married to illustrator Grant Shaffer, is Whitman on Octane.
Cumming is a mathematician. He has appeared in numerous films, plays and television shows. He wrote two children’s books; a novel; a book of photographs and stories; and the memoir “Not My Father’s Son”.
His film roles range from the James Bond film “GoldenEye” to “Eyes Wide Shut” to the “Spy Kids” trilogy. Cumming won the Olivier, BAFTA and Emmy for his work on stage and on screen. On the London stage, Cumming has performed in “Hamlet”, “Bent” and other plays.
He has appeared in “Threepenny Opera” and “Design for Living” on Broadway. Cumming created and appeared in his solo adaptation of “Macbeth”.
On television, he is known for playing Eli Gold in “The Good Wife” and Dylan Reinhart in “Instinct”, the first television drama to air to have a main gay character. Recently, Cumming played Mayor Aloysius Menlove on the Apple TV + show “Schmigadoon!”
All of this would exhaust most of us. But Cumming has energy to spare. He hosts the podcast “Alan Cumming’s Shelves” and is the amateur bartender at Club Cumming in New York.
Cumming is known for his advocacy for LGBTQ rights. He has worked for marriage equality in Scotland and with the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ organizations.
In 2009, Cumming was named OBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honors List. In “Baggage,” Cumming writes that he received this honor for his work for LGBT rights. Cumming’s first memoir “Not My Father’s Son” is the story of his heartbreaking childhood. Growing up, Cumming suffered physical and psychological abuse and violence from his father. In the memories, Cumming grapples with secrecy and shame and the post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his father’s sadistic treatment of him. “There is never any shame in being open and honest,” he writes.
“Baggage” tells many entertaining stories of showbiz. Who wouldn’t want to hear the stories of a writer whose friends include Liza (as in Liza with a Z)?
Still, “Baggage” isn’t some tasteless celebrity concoction from Tinsel Town. In “Baggage,” Cumming examines his relationships with his family, loved ones, and himself. It begins with her divorce from actress Hilary Lyon and ends with her marriage to Shaffer.
Cumming, who has dual UK / US citizenship, spoke to the Blade over the phone on a range of topics from “baggage” to politics to Helen Mirren on board the crocs.
Cumming was delighted with the positive response to “Not My Father’s Son”. He was happy that readers felt his words helped them confront the people who had mistreated them and “reckon” with their shame.
But, Cumming feared people would think he had “overcome” the despair caused by his father’s abuse. That he would never encounter this trauma again.
“I wrote ‘Baggage’,” Cumming said, “to overcome this idea of triumph.”
“You don’t actually recover,” he added, “you do. You always have to manage it. “
Cumming is witty and exudes hope. But, he’s worried about what the future might bring to LGBTQ and women’s rights. The election of Joe Biden as president “was a real reprieve,” Cumming said, “but the way we’re heading, things could go the other way at any time.”
We need to be vigilant, Cumming said. “Women’s rights – with what’s going on with abortion in Texas – are in real danger,” he said.
But life isn’t all worries for Cumming.
There is his work. In 2022, he will continue to perform “Och and Oy! A Considered Cabaret ”with Ari Shapiro of NPR. He shoots the film “Rare Objects” with Katie Holmes.
And there are his friends. “Liza is adorable,” Cumming said of her friend Liza Minnelli. One day, Cumming was rehearsing with Minnelli. Along with Joel Gray, Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera and other celebrities, they were going to say hello to the songwriting team Kander and Ebb.
They were going to perform Minnelli’s signature song “New York, New York”. “It looked so easy,” Cumming said, “But I couldn’t understand Liza’s dance moves. First, Liza tried to help me.
But without success. “Then Chita came to help me,” Cumming said, “it was overwhelming to have two legends trying to teach me.”
After these failed attempts, Minnelli told him, “Oh, honey, make it yours!”
There was a time when Cumming made Helen Mirren see the light on Crocs. He was in Hawaii filming “The Tempest” with Mirren. “We were in the desert. I would wear my Crocs, ”he said,“ she said my Crocs were ugly. “
“I said, ‘Helen, that’s fair enough. But when I say things are ugly, I use my inner voice, ”Cumming added.
A few weeks later, Cumming saw Mirren. She wore Crocs. “She said she was wearing flip flops and they hurt her feet. Now she loved Crocs.
“I told him ‘you were an enemy, now you are a lover,’ added Cumming, ‘that’s a beautiful thing.’
Cumming is currently on a UK book tour. The tour stops in Miami on November 20; Chicago on November 21 and several other US cities through spring 2022. For more information on Cumming’s new book, visit alancumming.com.