Alan Cumming: A lot of young gay guys are like, who cares about the Aids crisis?

The star of new gay drama After Louie talks about the generation gap and why the set of The Good Wife wasnt as bad as it sounded

Hi, Alan! Where are you?
Im in New York, just going off for rehearsals. Im doing a pilot for CBS (1). Its based on a James Patterson novel, which has not come out yet, about a professor and former CIA agent who gets pulled back into the field.

Are you the lead?
Number one, baby. Number one.

What was it like to birth a lamb when you were a kid?
Well, it was a while ago. But it was an amazing experience. If I hadnt had my arm up that sheeps vagina, she might have died and the baby might have died. Pretty amazing, but pretty traumatic. I was, like, nine.

I was just watching your Hebrides documentary (2). Would you ever remove yourself from the big city?
Im very yin and yang about all that. I grew up in the middle of a forest, and I crave getting away from everything. New York is really full-on. You cant get on the back foot here, so its best to live it at volume 10 and then have somewhere else where you can go completely the other way. Ive got a place in the Catskills for that.

What attracted you to After Louie (3)?
That sort of discussion between an older gay man and a younger gay man, and the differences between their generations, is happening everywhere. Its pandemic, and yet Ive never really seen it represented in a film. I know so many older gay men who are like: You dont know what the Aids crisis was like, but I also know a lot of young gay guys who are like: Who cares?

Are you on a particular side of that discussion?
I can see it from both sides. I can understand why younger people can feel slightly patronised by older people who lived through it. But at the same time, I can also understand the bewilderment and despair that people from an older generation went through. I know people who went through all that, who are like: Isnt it amazing that these kids dont have to worry like we did? Its a very nuanced argument. What I love about the film is that both characters learn and grow, and realise that maybe they were a little too didactic in their respective corners.

Are you ever going to turn up on The Good Fight (4)?
No. If my pilot gets picked up, Ill be doing that. I cant really be doing two shows at once but it was never really on the cards.

There were lots of rumours of a discordant set on The Good Wife (5). Was it as bad as it sounded?
Oh, that. What can I say? Archie [Panjabi] and Julianna [Margulies] werent in episodes together for very long. That was a decision that was made as the show went on. But it really wasnt it didnt feel it was a very lovely I think everyone enjoyed going to work there. Sometimes you make decisions and compromises that ensure its still fun to go to work, so maybe that was one of them. It wasnt a mean-spirited thing at all.

Are you still touring Sappy Songs? (6)
I am. In June, weve got a week in Australia, and then were winding it up. Ive got another show up my sleeve; I want to do one called Alan Cumming: Illegal Immigrant, where I talk about some of the issues going on, but also celebrate some of the amazing music made by immigrants to this country.

How is it over there at the moment?
Oh, God. Its very stressful; its very embarrassing. What scares me is that theres such a litany of stupidity and fuck-ups that it will become normalised. But people are vigilant. The one good thing about this is that it has engaged people politically across the whole plane of society. But its horrifying.

Ive accidentally ended this interview on a bummer.
You know whats good, though? On Burns Night, a man sent me a letter to Trump written in the style of Robert Burns (7), and I now read it out at my concerts. It always gets a huge reaction. Its such a good way to get people to expunge. It gets some boos, but I engage with those people. I say: Even if you dont agree with what Im saying, Im sure you can appreciate the passion in that poem. If you can read, of course.

There you go. You saved it.
Nailed it.

Foot notes

(1) Instinct, directed by Marc Webb

(2) Alan Cummings Edge of Scotland. At time of writing, its still available on STV Player.

(3) According to IMDb: After Louie explores the contradictions of modern gay life and history through Sam, a man desperate to understand how he and his community got to where they are today.

(4) The Good Wife spin-off. Cumming played Eli Gold in the original.

(5) Margulies and on-screen best friend Panjabi stopped being in scenes together after two seasons. Their final scene was reportedly shot with body doubles and then edited together.

(6) Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, a hedonistic late-night cabaret mix of ballads and torch songs old and new, from the intimate to the sassy.

(7) Read it here.

After Louie screens at BFI Southbank on 17 March as part of BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/mar/16/alan-cumming-aids-crisis-the-good-wife-after-louie

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