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In Denver, Alan Cumming Dishes About "Good Wife," Parker Posey & "Pussycats"

By Mark Rabinowitz | Indiewire November 21, 2011 at 7:06AM

This year's Starz Denver Film Festival ran from November 2nd to the 13th and included a record 282 shorts and features. In addition to various juried awards, each year the festival bestows a number of honors on actors or directors in recognition of their body of work. This year's recipient of the Excellent in Acting Award was Alan Cumming. On Saturday afternoon we sat for a short chat in the lobby of Denver's Four Seasons hotel, where Cumming and I both admitted to have indulged in a bit too much, the night before. My particular demon was of the corn mash variety, not sure about Alan's but it didn't matter, as the chat ranged from "The Good Wife" to how busy Cumming is to "Josie and the Pussycats" and just exactly how nuts are Parker Posey and Amy Sedaris? [Next week Indiewire will have an interview with actor James Cromwell of "The Artist," also from Denver.] You are one busy man. A regular TV show, an active blog, itsasickness.com, novelist, films, host of Masterpiece Mystery, AIDS activist, gay rights activist, theater performer, cabaret performer... I am tired just from reading that list! Do you ever get the urge to just... fuck off for a week or two climb a mountain, wrestle a bear...I don't know... Yes. I do feel my life's a bit of an escalator that I can't get off. But I think everyone feels that a bit. I have these fantasies...thinking 'I'll go and live in Berlin for 6 months and rent a flat in Berlin or Barcelona or somewhere and just zone out of the world.  I would avoid Berlin in winter. Yeah, yeah. I do have a house in the Catskill Mountains in New York and I go there and I completely cut off. It really is so useful for me. It makes me value my more full-on ness when I'm using all my time and living with the volume up, but when I go there, I can completely shut down and be away and just be calm. Are there any one or two or three of these things that really gets your juices flowing more than any others or that you wish you had more time for? Oh, yeah, I wish I had more time for writing. I mean, I am writing a thing right now and I've got a very persistent and patient literary agent who every few weeks says, "Hey, how's it going?" and it's not that I don't want to do it, I really do it's just that I tend to need to get away and have focused time and that's hard. So I wish I had more concentrated time to write. And I'm doing photographs, now. I started taking photos! That's my new thing! Oh, like you need another one! I'm going to have a photo show next year. Oh, great! Do you enjoy writing? I really do! I like the feeling of just starting something and finding what your voice is, what your tone is. I really like that feeling and then you think, "Oh! This is it. I've got it now." I ask because there are a lot of famous writers who loathed the process. I think they loved the end result where they nailed something, but the actual slog of...it's a very emotional...you're pulling emotional things out of yourself. Yeah...I quite like that. It's like self-therapy. Absolutely it's like self-therapy! I enjoy all that. I enjoy the solitude of it and I really like the progress of it. It's nice to see and it's very simple. It's not un-palpable. You've written that number of pages...I like it. You're here in Denver receiving the Excellence in Acting award. Is that something you're comfortable with or is it more "Aw, shucks! Ok, but let's not make too big a deal out of it." Well yeah, I think it would be the latter. I mean, all these things are a little bit...It's a nice thing but.... It's a wee bit embarrassing? It's a wee bit embarrassing, of course. And I don't know. It's nice to be liked and it's nice to be appreciated but, well....you know. David Bowie once famously said that the first thing he does when anybody gives him an award is he turns it down and if they still want to give him the award, then he'll consider going. Oh how funny! Because he wants to know that they actually want him and not just some famous person. Well there's a thing that sometimes at these film festivals that they're going to give you an award and then you realize that if you don't go, you don't get it. Like if something happens and you can't go and you think, "well, I'll send a video or something." Sometimes you can send a video and sometimes they're like "Well, actually we're going to give it to somebody else.... [Laughs] If we can't have your...celebrity." I suppose it's a trade. It's a trade, yeah. I like it...you know, I really like coming to...I do love a film festival and I like coming to a city that I don't know very well and just doing a sort of snapshot of it. I like that. And it's nice to think that people like your body of work. Tomorrow there are two films I haven't seen for 10 years, it's crazy! [Ed note: "Spy Kids" and "Josie and the Pussycats" screened on November 13th for free in Denver.] I have to say, I am a big fan of "Josie and the Pussycats." Me too! It's a gleefully subversive movie! Its audience [eventually] found it (it wasn't originally marketed well). And also it's a parody of itself, d'you know what I mean? People didn't get that. No but also the studio didn't get that. They marketed it the wrong way. It should have been people like us. It should have been an older audience. We would have got the wit of it, what it was trying to do. And it was marketed for girls like the ones in the story and they were like [makes confused face] "Whaaaaa?" Just the sheer brilliance of white vans, driving around kidnapping children and brainwashing them... "I want orange shoes...." Exactly! And I get to kill a boy band in the first reel! I spoke this week with the directors just to say I was coming and tell them they were going to show it, here. You know it's actually a really nice thing to think that a film, even though it didn't really do very well when it came out, people are very...people have grown to like it, and it's kind of quite validating. I know a number of people, like Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia...he's a huge fan of it.
1
Alan Cumming at the Starz Denver Film Festival.
Image courtesy of Starz Denver Film Festival Alan Cumming at the Starz Denver Film Festival.

This year's Starz Denver Film Festival ran from November 2nd to the 13th and included a record 282 shorts and features. In addition to various juried awards, each year the festival bestows a number of honors on actors or directors in recognition of their body of work. This year's recipient of the Excellent in Acting Award was Alan Cumming.

On Saturday afternoon we sat for a short chat in the lobby of Denver's Four Seasons hotel, where Cumming and I both admitted to have indulged in a bit too much, the night before. My particular demon was of the corn mash variety, not sure about Alan's but it didn't matter, as the chat ranged from "The Good Wife" to how busy Cumming is to "Josie and the Pussycats" and just exactly how nuts are Parker Posey and Amy Sedaris?

[Next week Indiewire will have an interview with actor James Cromwell of "The Artist," also from Denver.]

You are one busy man. A regular TV show, an active blog, itsasickness.com, novelist, films, host of Masterpiece Mystery, AIDS activist, gay rights activist, theater performer, cabaret performer... I am tired just from reading that list! Do you ever get the urge to just... fuck off for a week or two climb a mountain, wrestle a bear...I don't know...

Yes. I do feel my life's a bit of an escalator that I can't get off. But I think everyone feels that a bit. I have these fantasies...thinking 'I'll go and live in Berlin for 6 months and rent a flat in Berlin or Barcelona or somewhere and just zone out of the world.

 I would avoid Berlin in winter.

Yeah, yeah. I do have a house in the Catskill Mountains in New York and I go there and I completely cut off. It really is so useful for me. It makes me value my more full-on ness when I'm using all my time and living with the volume up, but when I go there, I can completely shut down and be away and just be calm.

Are there any one or two or three of these things that really gets your juices flowing more than any others or that you wish you had more time for?

Oh, yeah, I wish I had more time for writing. I mean, I am writing a thing right now and I've got a very persistent and patient literary agent who every few weeks says, "Hey, how's it going?" and it's not that I don't want to do it, I really do it's just that I tend to need to get away and have focused time and that's hard. So I wish I had more concentrated time to write.

And I'm doing photographs, now. I started taking photos! That's my new thing!

Oh, like you need another one!

I'm going to have a photo show next year.

Oh, great! Do you enjoy writing?

I really do! I like the feeling of just starting something and finding what your voice is, what your tone is. I really like that feeling and then you think, "Oh! This is it. I've got it now."

I ask because there are a lot of famous writers who loathed the process. I think they loved the end result where they nailed something, but the actual slog of...it's a very emotional...you're pulling emotional things out of yourself.

Yeah...I quite like that.

It's like self-therapy.

Absolutely it's like self-therapy! I enjoy all that. I enjoy the solitude of it and I really like the progress of it. It's nice to see and it's very simple. It's not un-palpable. You've written that number of pages...I like it.

You're here in Denver receiving the Excellence in Acting award. Is that something you're comfortable with or is it more "Aw, shucks! Ok, but let's not make too big a deal out of it."

Well yeah, I think it would be the latter. I mean, all these things are a little bit...It's a nice thing but....

It's a wee bit embarrassing?

It's a wee bit embarrassing, of course. And I don't know. It's nice to be liked and it's nice to be appreciated but, well....you know.

David Bowie once famously said that the first thing he does when anybody gives him an award is he turns it down and if they still want to give him the award, then he'll consider going.

Oh how funny!

Because he wants to know that they actually want him and not just some famous person.

Well there's a thing that sometimes at these film festivals that they're going to give you an award and then you realize that if you don't go, you don't get it. Like if something happens and you can't go and you think, "well, I'll send a video or something." Sometimes you can send a video and sometimes they're like "Well, actually we're going to give it to somebody else.... [Laughs] If we can't have your...celebrity."

I suppose it's a trade.

It's a trade, yeah. I like it...you know, I really like coming to...I do love a film festival and I like coming to a city that I don't know very well and just doing a sort of snapshot of it. I like that. And it's nice to think that people like your body of work. Tomorrow there are two films I haven't seen for 10 years, it's crazy! [Ed note: "Spy Kids" and "Josie and the Pussycats" screened on November 13th for free in Denver.]

I have to say, I am a big fan of "Josie and the Pussycats."

Me too!

It's a gleefully subversive movie!

Its audience [eventually] found it (it wasn't originally marketed well). And also it's a parody of itself, d'you know what I mean?

People didn't get that.

No but also the studio didn't get that. They marketed it the wrong way. It should have been people like us. It should have been an older audience. We would have got the wit of it, what it was trying to do. And it was marketed for girls like the ones in the story and they were like [makes confused face] "Whaaaaa?"

Just the sheer brilliance of white vans, driving around kidnapping children and brainwashing them...

"I want orange shoes...."

Exactly!

And I get to kill a boy band in the first reel! I spoke this week with the directors just to say I was coming and tell them they were going to show it, here. You know it's actually a really nice thing to think that a film, even though it didn't really do very well when it came out, people are very...people have grown to like it, and it's kind of quite validating.

I know a number of people, like Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia...he's a huge fan of it.

Is he really?

Yeah, yeah. There's a number of us who are sort of, in the business, that love it.

I like that.

Well you know there are films like "Withnail and I" that were not a huge success and now are legendary.

Actually somebody sent me that to do as a play.

Really?

Yeah.

That would be interesting.

They sent the screenplay to adapt into a play.

I think that would work.

It would wouldn't it? It's quite easy to adapt into a play. I might have to....let me just write that down.

I think it's much more easy, and artistically successful, to adapt a film to a play than the other way around.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah...there's some terrible.... I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with a film being theatrical in terms of its use of metaphor or style but I think .... I hate when you can see the structure of a play [in the film adaptation].

Well like "Carnage" is... I don't know if you've seen it. The Roman Polanski...

Haven't seen it.

  It's a play. It's like he just shot the play and it's anachronistic. It just doesn't work as a film for me.

With all your varied roles: gay, straight, comedy, drama, period pieces, what have you. Do you still find sometimes people saying 'Yeah i don't know if he can play that role...straight, Jewish.... Lots of things you're not.

I guess they must. I don't know. You tend not to....

They don't say it to your face.

Yeah, you tend not to hear that. I love "We've decided to go in a different direction." which is my favorite way to say, "I didn't want you." It's so funny, today I was reading a script by a friend of mine Ali Selim who I did a film called "Sweet Land" with and sometimes you get sent things and the description of the person is so not like you in any way: age wise, looks-wise, ethnicity even that I knew that can change and they want you to play it. And I actually really like the fact that I... well this was a 70-year-old man and I'm going to do it. I'm not going to play him as a 70 year old man but you know what I mean.

I think it's a - when they want your quality and also I love the fact that crazy things happen. A few years ago there was a part in some sci-fi thing that my agency said something about and then a couple weeks later I said, "What happened to that part in that thing..?" They said, "Well, Judi Dench got it!" I was like, whaaat? The bitch is always getting my parts, [laughs]. I quite like that!

Well sure why not. Well "The Tempest," the lead is not written as a woman's role. [Cumming co-starred with Helen Mirren and Mirren's role, Prospera, was female, changed from Shakespeare's original male Prospero.]

No, that's right. I know you can do anything. I'm going to play all the parts in Macbeth next year, as well.

On stage, or...?

On stage. Yeah, on stage.

You'll play three witches at once?

I'm going to be someone who's like, I'm telling the story of Macbeth but I'm someone who's hallucinating and things.

That sounds interesting. Sounds a little meaty!

It's going to be meaty. And it's going to be lonely as well, actually. There's going to be two other people who are in the performance but they're not - they're like just people in the hospital or wherever I am that restrain me and things like that.

So it's more like a monologue.

It'll be a monologue I mean, they don't speak, I don't think. So I'm girding my loins for that one.

Any plans on directing, again?

I've done little bits and bobs and things and little videos for the internet and things but I haven't really found anything - I imagine the next thing will be something - if I write something. I kind of got really burnt on the last film. It just took a lot out of me and I just felt... it was a nightmare. One of the producers stole the film from the cutting room and held it to ransom. I was just like - I can't - what? They don't even like the film anyway, they don't even care about it! I got into legal things... it was just so awful an experience.

I'd rather just do my own musical condom commercials and do things like that to get that fix every now and then. So no, I mean, I do like it very much, but I just kind of, and I don't really want to direct an episode of "The Good Wife."

Well you don't need to, first of all.
 
No I'm not. When I think of it, I think I should just keep my hand in and I sort of do just by doing weird things of my own and little films I make little video things. I see it in my future but I don't have any direct plans. Actually I had lunch with Jennifer Jason Leigh the other day and we were just laughing about, wouldn't it be hilarious to do "The Anniversary Party 2" and it was all like, the plastic surgery, all the kids are drug addicts.

Sort of like "Texasville."

AC: Yes.

But Better.

AC: Yeah. [laughs] But it would be funny to see who's with who - all our disfunctions. It would be quite a laugh. You know we actually joke about it - joked about it a few times, now. We might do something like that. It would be quite funny.

Well, you could do it as a "Funny Or Die" clip.

Yeah that would be quite good. It would be kind of crazy.

I haven't seen it since its release. I'm trying to remember the cast...

Yeah, I thought they were gonna show it because it's ten years, too and I think they couldn't find a print of it, that's why they're showing "Josie and the Pussycats." Yeah they were going to show that and I think they said someone at Warner Bros that now owns Fine Line and they're a bit shitty about letting prints go or something....it's a shame but who else is in it, did you mean?

Yeah, I was trying to remember. Kevin Kline...

Kevin Kline and Phoebe.

You'd have to pull Phoebe out of retirement

Yes, that's right! Gwyneth, Parker Posey, Jane Adams, John C. Riley, John Hickey, Dennis O'Hare...

Oh, he's fantastic.

He's amazing in it.

I love Parker Posey, she wrote... when we started Indiewire way back in the day, she actually kept a series of diaries from the set of "Suburbia."

Really!!

And they were so insane, we actually had to call them 'possibly true and potentially libelous' because she claimed that Rick Linklater dosed them all with mushroom tea and while they were rolling around on the floor hallucinating he dropped out of a drop ceiling with his pants around his ankles. All sorts of really insane stuff.

She's nuts!

It was wonderful, we still have it somewhere.

Mad as cheese. She just came into "The Good Wife" to play my ex-wife.

Yeah, I saw it.

Oh my god we laughed like drains! I thought she was brilliant in that. I could just...I love her and she's a real darling. I could just sit and watch her all the time. She's fascinating.

And you get to shoot at home.

Yeah, it's great. It's really great. I really enjoy that part of it, it's nice to sort of have a life and not be just be traveling all over the world all the time. To be able to do my own little weirdy projects and to have a base to do that from is great. And I really like "The Good Wife." I think the writing is so good. So good!

It's nice to see some of the actors on "The Good Wife" that aren't on TV a lot.... Like Josh Charles was in "Sports Night," which I thought was brilliant but then he didn't get a lot of work for a while and hadn't done television...

I know it's the guests, like Parker...Amy Sedaris is coming in, she's my nemesis. It's just, there's really great people [working on the show].

Did she bring cupcakes?

No.

She does a lot of baking.

Yeah, she's in crafts, now. She's done a crafts book. She's absolutely hilarious. She does this thing where in rehearsal she would go "Oh well, Eli, that's what you think... laughs, smiles, moves over to the door." She would say the stage directions! [laughs] It's just crazy! And when she made a mistake, instead of saying 'Oh fuck!' she says 'fish.' So she'll be going, "Oh well Eli - FISH!" like really vehemently. She's nuts!

You have to make sure and include that on the DVD's, in the outtakes, that's great.

I hope so. She's great, being able to work with her like that. Parker's coming back because she's gonna run for office.

I have to say, that episode with you and America [Ferrara] was just so sweet.

Oh when at the end she goes off? The last one, yeah. I really like that.

It was really touching.

It was touching, wasn't it? I thought it was really interesting how, when the romance started it was like, "What? This is ridiculous." And lot's of, "He's far too old for her" and I was like 'fuck you!' But then, as the episodes went on people were actually really rooting for them and it's a big sort of thing of the season. I loved it. It was very nice. She's a nice girl too, lovely. Really like her.

This article is related to: Interviews, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey





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