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Alan Cumming Explains How His Gay Adoption Drama 'Any Day Now' Involved Bette Midler, His Love for Scotland and Voting for Obama

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 12, 2012 at 11:40AM

Alan Cumming, the Scottish stage and screen star best known to audiences as a scene-stealing supporting player (he's appeared in everything from the "Spy Kids" franchise to Cher's latest vehicle "Burlesque" and the hit CBS TV series "The Good Wife"), takes center stage in "Any Day Now," a powerful indie that's won 10 audience awards on the festival circuit, including in Seattle and Chicago.
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Marion Curtis/Starpix Alan Cumming at a New York screening of "Any Day Now" hosted by The Peggy Siegal Company

Alan Cumming, the Scottish stage and screen star best known to audiences as a scene-stealing supporting player (he's appeared in everything from the "Spy Kids" franchise to Cher's latest vehicle "Burlesque" and the hit CBS TV series "The Good Wife"), takes center stage in "Any Day Now," a powerful indie that's won 10 audience awards on the festival circuit, including in Seattle and Chicago.

Based on a true story and directed with restraint by Travis Fine (he helmed the similarly affecting drama "The Space Between" starring Melissa Leo), "Any Day Now" centers on Rudy (Cumming) and Paul (Garret Dillahunt), a mismatched gay couple in the '70s who take in a boy with Down syndrome (Isaac Leyva) after he's abandoned by his junkie mother living next door. When their living arrangement comes to the attention of authorities, the two find themselves at the center of a nasty custody battle mired in homophobia.

Ahead of the drama's limited release this Friday, Dec. 14, Cumming sat down with Indiewire in SoHo's Crosby Hotel to discuss the film's pertinent issues and his affinity for his homeland.

You get to do so much in this film: there’s high-stakes drama, you don drag, you get to sing live, you sport an accent... I can't imagine anyone else in this role.

Good! Luckily, it was me. It’s a great character; it’s a great role. It kind of is the perfect storm, in a way. I get to do a lot of different things. And also, I really liked that I was able to sing in a way that’s very much about the tone of the film – not just performing a song. The songs are really an integral part of the way the story takes you. I didn’t realize that at the time, actually, but I’ve never really done that before. I’m just a person who sings a song.

Music Box Films "Any Day Now"
Was that your idea to sing, or did the real Rudy sideline as a singer too?

It was based on a true story, but that part of it was all made-up. He was a drag queen, but he never sang. The idea of finding his “voice,” literally and metaphorically, is a really nice part of the story, too.

Whose idea was it to make that metaphor literal?

It was Travis, really. If I couldn’t sing, I guess they would’ve had to. What is funny about it is, actually, when you have songs like that… It’s all about the rights. The songs we were going to be able to use were changing all of the time. I think he might’ve put in the singing aspect more when I came on board; I can’t remember, really. Those things are always very, “Oh my god, we’re going to sing this song?” and then it’s changed. I remember when they said they got the rights to the Bob Dylan song at the end, I said, “I don’t really know that one,” and Travis goes: “I’ll send it to you. You have to learn it.” He sent me a YouTube clip of Bette Midler singing it, in a bathhouse, with Barry Manilow playing on the piano. No pressure. He could’ve just sent me a scratch track over, but no. It was pretty exciting.

The project's been in the works for over 20 years. How did you become involved?

"I don’t really have a process."

75 years! Well, the man who wrote it, originally, was trying to get it done in the 1980s, and then it ended up in his drawer. It wasn’t actively trying to be made in all of that time. His son is the music supervisor on this film, and on Travis’s last film. He said, “Oh, my dad’s got a script,” and then Travis rewrote it. I came onto it because he called up my team, Team Alan: My agent first, and then my manager. She read it, and – it’s interesting, those times when your team makes really good recommendations for you that are life-changing… That’s why you pay them, I suppose. They’ve done a couple of things over the past few years where I felt like, “Eh, I don’t know,” but I was always very into this.

So I came on, and there were various versions of the script. I was able to collaborate with Travis, in terms of my input. Quite radical things in the story changed, actually. [Spoiler Alert!] The child didn’t die, initially; it was a happy ending. I said that I thought it might be too much of an upbeat ending. Next draft, he’s fucking dead. I was like, “I didn’t quite mean that downbeat!” In real life, Isaac [Leyva] is perfectly happy, of course. He’s lovely. I just love Isaac; he’s such a sweetie. In real life, there was no Paul [Garret Dillahunt]. There was a drag queen and he looked after this very, very, much more physically disabled child in Queens.

How much research is too much when it comes to preparing for a role like this? When does the homework start to get in the way of your process?

I don’t really have a process. It’s nice when you do something like this where you have a long time of gestation to let it be a part of your psyche, and to have discussions about it. And to think of things, like: I want to be sure that I don’t reinforce a stereotype. You have time to mull all of that. I looked up pictures, and read about what was politically happening at the time – visually, what was happening. That was quite interesting, but I just, sort of, let the character seep into me. That’s what I always do. You know – I’m doing something, and I’ve suddenly made a decision; I didn’t even actively make it. It’s just in my mind. I know it’s not very interesting for people. I always think the word "process," for acting, is counterproductive and counterintuitive, because it shouldn’t be a process. It should just be… ‘It.’ It’s just pretending. It’s just like playing.


Music Box Films "Any Day Now"

Things have moved forward on the gay adoption front in the U.S., but the fight still has a very long way to go. In your home country of Scotland, however, since 2008 it’s been legal for homosexuals to adopt, countrywide. Have factors like that ever made you want to move back?

No. I voted in this election for the first time, and I’m very excited about the next four years, in terms of what could happen in this country. Obviously, there are things about it that I find annoying, and I think we need to not simply be complacent, but bizarrely – even though I don’t live there – I’m much more connected to my country now than I was ten years ago. I think it’s because I went back about six or seven years ago and I did a play with the National Theatre of Scotland. Since then, I’ve been going back a lot more and doing various documentaries and things, and sort of becoming involved in the political thing that’s independence. I think, in a way, when you’re away from where you’re from, you understand what your country has contributed to who you are, as a person. You see that more clearly when you’re away.

The whole political situation in Scotland is very exciting right now. It’s hard for me, even now, to get my credit card out at the dentist without feeling horrible. It’s like, “What? You have to pay for your dentist?” Even the other day, my friend Alan who’s staying with me, my oldest friend from school, was saying, “What is this ‘Adopt a Highway’ thing?” And I said, “Basically, it’s getting Commerce to do things that the Government should normally want to do.” It is. The political priorities in Scotland are much more up my street, but I like it here.

"I’m much more connected to my country now than I was ten years ago."

Did you take on the role mainly because Rudy was a great character to play, or because you wanted to bring awareness to his battle?

It was kind of great, because the story was a powerful thing about something I really feel we can’t be complacent about. We’ve got to keep telling these stories. I think that’s why it connects so much with people – it’s won all of these audience awards. OutFest was the only gay film festival where it won, the rest were just regular film festivals. I think people connect with the fact that this horrible, sad situation occurs; these people want to give their love, and they’re obviously really good for this boy, and he’s really good for them. And that’s not allowed to happen just because of prejudice that still exists. We’re all complicit in it because we’re a part of the society that makes it. I thought it’s good to say, “Here, this is going on; it was going on then, and it’s still going on.” I really responded to that. And it’s a pretty fantastic part; you don’t come along those big parts very often. It was mostly the story that I connected to, initially, and what it could hopefully do.

Your adopted son in the movie, played by Isaac, delivers a rather astonishing performance. How was working opposite him?

It was lovely. He was so excited to be in this movie; it was a dream come true for him, to be in any movie. He was just a really great spirit to have around. It was fucking hard, and we worked really, really long hours. It was made for very little money, and that comes with certain annoyances and stress. To have him there, he was just this light. It was really lovely, actually. It reminded me of what acting is all about – like I said, it should be about playing. When he was happy, he would literally be jumping up and down. When he was sad, he would weep. I loved that -- that purity. It was very refreshing for me. He is such a nice boy. We were in the middle of this night shoot one time, everything was going wrong and there were delays, and he said: “I can’t wait for the Oscars.” And I go, “Oh. Oh yeah, me too, Isaac.” And he went, “I’m going to thank Travis… and I’m going to thank” -- and he pointed at me -- “what’s your name, again?”

Was he kidding?



No, he wasn’t kidding.

This article is related to: Alan Cumming, Any Day Now, Interviews





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