Red-hot Scot Alan Cumming taking stage, screen by storm

By John Crook
TVData Entertainment Features Syndicate

Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming may not be a household name in the United States just yet, but
there's a good reason for his nickname, "Uppin Cumming."

In just the past couple of years, the versatile 35-year-old native of
Perthshire, Scotland, has:
-Stormed Broadway in a Tony-winning turn as the flamboyant Emcee of Cabaret;
-Walked off with rave reviews for his dazzling work as the cocky Rooster in
ABC's recent Annie;
-Completed, or committed to, no fewer than nine major motion pictures,
including Company Men with Woody Allen; Stanley Kubrick's valedictory Eyes
Wide Shut; Julie Taymor's controversial Titus; and - in a bow to pop culture
- The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, in which he plays dual roles.

He's also providing the voice of the prince of darkness in God, the Devil
and Bob, a new animated sitcom debuting Thursday, March 9, on NBC. The
series' upcoming premiere gave the seemingly tireless actor occasion to sit
down, however briefly, and assess what the past several months have been
like in his life.

"Last summer was kind of crazy," he acknowledges in a voice so quiet that
you have to lean forward to catch it. "We had to set up a color-coded chart
I could check when I came out of the bedroom every morning: Red was Annie,
green was The Flintstones, and black was God, the Devil and Bob."

In the sitcom, Cumming gives voice to a fallen angel with a put-upon,
peevish attitude and a distinctly British accent. The latter feature
provokes impish delight from Cumming.

"We discussed different accents for the devil, and to my glee as a Scotsman,
we got to make him an Englishman, and I've tried to make him sound like a
posh, '70s TV star," he says.

The real prospect of being a TV star has little or no appeal for Cumming,
despite the truckload of offers that came his way after Cabaret.

"Recently some roles I've played have given people a false impression that
they know me, and that can be a little frightening," he explains, in a
thinly veiled reference to some of the startling reactions he received as
the sexually omnivorous Emcee.

"That's what makes me wary about television, because it becomes so much more
"in your face' as far as that kind of thing. I don't want to be the most
famous person in the world, and I just fear that being a sitcom star (on
camera) would mean you suddenly have no life at all.You have to commit seven
years of your life, potentially, and I don't see myself spending that much
time in Los Angeles, frankly."

He admits to being a little befuddled by the concentrated attention that
Cabaret helped set into motion. Among other things, it increased awareness
and appreciation of his earlier work, including his feature role in the
sleeper hit Circle of Friends.

"Suddenly people started realizing that had been me in all those other
films, and all at once there was this kind of big cumulative effect," he
says, smiling shyly. "It's hard, because so many things are suddenly being
put in front of you, and it's hard to hang on to your sense of taste,
especially with so many people trying to tell you what to do.

"While I was in Rome making Titus, people were sending me all these press
clippings about a series that one of the networks supposedly was going to
hire me for. I thought, "But why didn't they ask me first?'

"Then I got back to New York, read the script, hated it and said no. From
everyone's reaction, you would think I had committed genocide."

He is especially elated by the success of ABC's Annie, chiefly because that
musical marked the TV movie directing debut of Rob Marshall, his Cabaret
choreographer and co-director and his close friend.

"It is so great, because Rob is such a lovely man apart from being so
talented," Cumming says happily. "So many tosspots who aren't very nice get
recognition and success, but when it happens to someone like Rob, that's
just so great.

"He's the reason I took the job in the first place, because I knew nothing
about the character and very little about the musical itself. I knew I would
have a lovely time on it, and I did, but I was just not prepared for how
good he would make it, how well he used the camera."

While many other directors are clamoring for this alumnus of the Royal
Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to step in front of their own cameras,
Cumming says he is trying hard to find some balance between having plenty of
work, which he loves, and hanging on to some vestige of privacy, which he
cherishes even more.

"I recently drove across America (from New York) and it was fascinating how
I stopped being recognized when I got closer to the middle of the country,"
he says with a laugh. "It was nice to walk into a restaurant or truck stop
and meet and talk to people and feel a little like an alien, but people
weren't looking and pointing at me."

With all his new projects, anonymity may soon be a thing of the past for the
star of God, the Devil and Bob. And if that happens, Cumming suggests with
just a twitch of an eloquent eyebrow, there will be hell to pay.

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