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Alan Cumming Wants to Make a Sequel to ‘The Anniversary Party’ and Play Unlikable Characters

"It was a challenge to play someone who's so un-charming," the notoriously charming actor told IndieWire.

after louie alan cumming

Zachary Booth and Alan Cumming in “After Louie,” by Vincent Gagliostro.

With his devilish smirk and playful demeanor, Alan Cumming has always been a charmer. Exuding an uncommon blend of boyishness and gravitas in high-profile roles like “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” and “The Good Wife,” to his tour-de-force one-man “Macbeth” on Broadway, Cumming has built a reputation as one of the most versatile, provocative, and charismatic actors working today. Which is why it’s unsettling to see him play a character who is, as he put it, “kind of not very nice.”

The film is “After Louie,” and the role is Sam Cooper, a prickly visual artist who spends his days paying for sex with younger men and sifting through archival footage of a friend who died of AIDS. Based on the experiences of writer/director Vincent Gagliostro, Sam is one of the lucky few survivors who lived through the AIDS epidemic and came out the other side. But where do you go after you’ve made it through hell? “I think people have massive PTSD in the queer community about AIDS,” said Cumming, who is queer. “People can’t really talk about it yet, we’re still recovering from this huge event in our history and it’s kind of paralyzed us in a way.” While there are plenty of films about the AIDS crisis — both narrative and documentary — far fewer have explored the aftermath, Cumming said. “I think that’s the next big milestone in our artistic lives.”

READ MORE: ‘After Louie’ Trailer: Alan Cumming Is An AIDS Activist With A Younger Lover In This Moving Gay Drama — Watch

Like many gay men who survived the pandemic, Sam suffers from a unique kind of arrested development. Robbed of his carefree youth and terrified of real intimacy, he compartmentalizes sex by paying for it. One night, he picks up blue-eyed and baby-faced Braeden (Zachary Booth), who is surprised to find a wad of cash in his shoe following their rendezvous. Sam and Braeden represent two opposing views of contemporary gay life: Sam thinks Braeden ought to show a little more respect and gratitude for the sacrifices his generation made, and Braeden feels he can’t live in the past and wishes Sam could move on and enjoy himself.

“I realized this schism between an older gay man and younger gay man was all around me,” Cumming said. “I knew so many people who shared both those opinions, but I had never seen it in film or literature. It was this really big elephant in the room being presented in such an eloquent way, and you could understand both sides.”

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming in “The Anniversary Party,” which they wrote, directed, and produced together.

Alamo Drafthouse

Cumming and Booth (who starred in Ira Sachs’ stunning “Keep the Lights On”) have an easy rapport with one another, which helps bring levity to heavy subject matter. “I think what you have to do is not think of them as big weighty issues, just play the moment and not be bogged down by the enormity of what you’re talking about. That way you can make it lighter. I think it’s sort of the kiss of death when you give something such weight so that it takes over the actual scene,” Cumming said.

With a plum role as the bumptious political consultant Eli Gold on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” Cumming is now enjoying the power he has to help get a tiny indie like “After Louie” made. “You just have to keep balance in your life, and it actually makes you able to get a film made that you really feel passionate about because you’ve gone and done something else,” he said. “I just really wanted this film to be made and to be seen.” Still, going from CBS production values to a micro-budget queer film is a big leap. He let out a knowing chuckle: “It was a bit of a shock to the system, I have to say.”

READ MORE: The 11 Most Exciting Queer Films of 2017 So Far

Cumming is no stranger to independent film. He wrote and directed “The Anniversary Party” with Jennifer Jason Leigh, which premiered at Cannes in 2001 and was one of the first Hollywood movies to be shot on digital. An early entry into the genre of Hollywood insiders poking fun at themselves, it featured a stellar ensemble cast that included Parker Posey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, and John C. Reilly, as well as Cumming and Leigh. “We’ve even started talking — Jennifer and I — about maybe doing a sequel, it’ll be twenty years in a couple of years since we did ‘The Anniversary Party.'” When asked if he has plans to return to directing, he demurred, saying: “I’m not in a hurry to go back until I find the thing or write the thing I absolutely want to make.”

Audiences can look forward to seeing Cumming this fall in “Battle of the Sexes,” the Emma Stone/Steve Carell vehicle about Billie Jean King’s historic win against Bobby Riggs from the directors of “Little Miss Sunshine.” Cumming has a small role as King’s friend, Ted Tinling. Ted is likely to be closer to what fans might expect from a Cumming cameo, as opposed to his role in “After Louie.” “[Sam’s] so closed off, and kind of not very nice. It was a challenge to play someone who’s so un-charming,” Cumming said. “You have to just stop, because we’re so conditioned to being charming. We try to charm people all the time.” So far, charming is working for him.

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