Childhood analysis

“I’m better, but it’s like an injury that will never go away”

It has been almost 20 years since I last met Alan Cumming. This is worth mentioning because anecdotes in Baggage, his new memoir, show how far we’ve all come in the intervening period. I spoke to him in London before the release of Bryan Singer’s first sequel to X-Men. We discussed the rise of the superhero (we didn’t know) before moving on. What we didn’t discuss, as the publicity cord was still secure, was the director’s extraordinary behavior.

The singer, according to Baggage, “was using pain relievers at the time and he certainly exhibited corresponding patterns of behavior during filming: mood swings, temper tantrums, paranoia.” The Madness Catalog ends with the X-Men cast – Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, others – confronting him on set. “You people… are full of fucking shit,” Singer replied without apologizing. Later, following Me Too’s convulsions, the director was subjected to allegations of sexual abuse.

Was this kind of behavior an open secret at the time?

“I don’t know. It was news to me when it happened,” Cumming says. “I walked into this movie without realizing it, but obviously I learned quickly.”

There was this rhetoric that said about me: I am fixed; I am cured. I think it’s an American thing, where they like to tie it all to the Hollywood ending

So, could a director get away with this behavior now? We are led to believe that the rules have all changed.

“Yes. I actually think so,” he says. “I think some things have changed – that some kind of power dynamics have been looked at. But I think in this corporate structure they still work. to allow that kind of behavior, alas. Maybe not sexual – we’re now more inclined to seek decorum out there. But I think it’s still possible for such people to make work environments toxic. “

Either way, this is just one incident in an impressive brief. The book takes the actor from his childhood in rural Scotland to brief experiences as a journalist in Dundee, early successes in films such as Circle of Friends and a triumph in the Cabaret theatrical production of Sam Mendes. . We meditate on the tests of the press tours. We learn of his early marriage to a woman and of his much later marriage to a man. And we get a lot of talk from celebrities: Liza Minnelli, Jessica Lange, Monica Lewinsky. I especially enjoyed the stories of Faye Dunaway at the Grammys weighing her food on a portable scale before letting it pass her lips.

“This is how she watches her diet,” he says. “She does it everywhere. Or she did it anyway. When you go to the restaurant, take out the scale and it weighs the fish. It’s just his way. And it works for her. She is in very good physical shape for a woman her age. I’m not passing judgment, but I wish she didn’t make it No. 1 at the Grammys. Ha ha! “

There is as much intense self-analysis within Baggage as there is joyous debauchery. The book follows Cumming’s much-loved Not My Father’s Son, an often scorching volume that deals with the physical and emotional abuse his father inflicted on him as a child. He discusses his decision to confront his father later in life. He wonders how those early experiences shaped emotional life later. Alan is, however, uneasy about the cover of the previous book which suggested that he had somehow “healed” himself from this trauma. This is not the way life works.

Alan Cumming: “Being upfront and honest about my trauma has enabled people in a certain way to do something with their lives”

“There was that kind of rhetoric when the book came out,” he says. “People have reached out to me to tell me that someone speaking like that has helped them sort out a problem in their family – or to confront an abuser or abuser. Being upfront and honest about my trauma has in a way allowed them to do something with their lives. It is an incredible thing.

He is simply moved that the book had such an effect.

“They were real people. People who had read the book, ”he said. “Then there was this rhetoric that said of me: I am fixed; I am cured. I think it’s an American thing, where they like to tie it all to the Hollywood ending. It is about redemption. Because of these other feedback people were giving me, it made me more concerned not to obscure the truth with this brilliant convenience. This is not the road to recovery. I’m better, but it will always be with you. It’s like a wound that will never go away.

I had a great time there [in Kilkenny]. It was one of those occasions where work took me out of a really tough toxic situation and just transplanted me into this kind of idyllic environment.

There is still a kind of balancing in Baggage (the title is well chosen). He talks about a recurring dream drawn from his father’s appalling experiences intimidating him at the sawmill behind their house. But he also talks about the unconditional love he felt for dad.

“It really is that primordial and fundamental thing. You want the love of your parents, ”he says. “You can’t help it. And, of course, when you are mistreated, the abuser relies on your shame to protect them. It’s wrapped in there.

In any case, he made a sort of escape in his youth. Dundee is famous for ‘jam, jute and journalism’. Cumming spent some time talking to pop stars for a short-lived youth publication based in this city. Listening to his lively, sometimes acerbic voice, one is easily convinced that he could have become a pop-culture journalist. But that was never the plan. When he was only 17, he attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and he hasn’t looked back since.

“I was still a child – a child! ” he says. “But I had always intended to go. I’ve never had a plan B. It’s so funny when you look back and say to yourself: what if that hadn’t happened. I guess something else could have happened.

Cumming’s role as Minnie Driver’s creepy suitor in Pat O’Connor’s lush adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends marked her first engagement with high-end cinema. The film did well with critics and was a modest box office success. The good people of Thomastown in Kilkenny still remember the shoot.

“I had a wonderful time there. It was one of those times when work took me out of a really tough toxic situation and just transplanted me into that kind of idyllic environment. This beautiful place. Make this really lovely movie with this lovely group of people.

Chris O’Donnell, Colin Firth, Minnie Driver, Saffron Burrows. Not bad.

“We were a really happy bunch,” he says. “And I had very good friendships. Obviously, I continued to have a relationship with Saffron. I’m still in touch with Minnie.

Ah, the saffron burrows. In Baggage, Cumming makes the eccentric decision not to mention the names of his romantic partners. No nuance is implied. The strategy applies to everyone. It’s strange, nonetheless, that you can read the book without knowing that a discussed two-year relationship is with Burrows. What was his thought?

“There were several reasons,” he says. “What I wanted to talk about was my experience and what I learned from the mistakes I made with these people. I thought naming them would make people want to google them and find out things about them. It’s not a book that says it all.

I just want to stress how lucky straight guys are that they don’t have to constantly answer questions about when they knew they were straight. it never happens

The luggage also lacks any mention of a great coming out. It would take the less informed reader not to understand from the start that he is bisexual. There is no reason for it to be more explicit, but we tend to expect that from a brief. It may be unfair of us.

“I obviously did it on purpose,” he says. “I’m so sick of talking about my sexuality. I just want to stress how lucky straight guys are that they don’t have to constantly answer questions about when they knew they were straight. It never happens. In a way, I’m trying to remedy that by not doing what people have been conditioned to expect from a gay person talking about their life. I speak frankly about my relationship with both sexes. When it became necessary to discuss it, I left.

He was one of the few busy actors of his time to identify as a member of the LGBT community.

“When I did this, in the late 1990s, I became a standard bearer for homosexuality,” he says. “It was a bit lonely and it felt a bit under pressure to me. But I felt it was my duty and I felt it was necessary. I had mainstream access that most homosexuals did not have back then.

Cumming is keen to stress that the book is not about him to solve his childhood problems. But that brings us to a place of apparent stability. A versatile actor with a knack for playful comedy, he fortunately remains a must-have. He served a long term as a sort of American Alastair Campbell in the television series The Good Wife. It presents podcasts. He runs a bar in New York’s East Village. He and her husband Grant Shaffer, an illustrator, are ornaments of Manhattan society. He has dual nationality. However, now a supporter of the SNP, Cumming remains unambiguously Scottish. He has a place in the old country where he and Shaffer can escape it all. There are suggestions in Baggage of things about America that still piss him off. With little encouragement, he sets off …

“Yes. Hahaha! Things like the arrogance of saying that the president is the leader of the free world. No one finds it bizarre that the World Series baseball tournament is all about America and Canada. No wonder people think you are this arrogant imperialist power. Because you are!

“Saying that you think you are the leader of the free world implies that the people you think are ‘free’ see you as their leader. Things like that are so arrogant. Plus, things like the separation of church and state are just a joke. If the President did not end his speech by saying “God bless America” ​​there would be an outcry. If the Prime Minister of Scotland ended his speech by saying “God bless America” ​​there would be an uproar. “

If he hadn’t been blown away by the entertainment industry, he might have found a job as a professional speaker. There is little sense for a man who is waiting for life to come to him.

“Things present themselves and I just think: I’m going to do it,” he says. “It sounds pretty interesting. This is how I got to where I am. I think it’s a good philosophy.

Luggage is edited by Canongate

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