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Alan Cumming Talks About Being the First Gay Lead on a Network Drama

Alan Cumming Talks About Being the First Gay Lead on a Network Drama

Parade
By Walter Scott 
March 9, 2018

Alan Cumming, the Emmy-nominated actor for The Good Wife, 53, takes the lead in his own CBS series, Instinct (March 18). He plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a former CIA operative living quietly as a university professor and author—until he’s lured back to his old life to help catch a serial killer copying a villain in his fictional books.

How will Instinct stand out from other crime shows?

The quirkiness of the characters and the snarkiness of the dialogue, in addition to having a good mystery.

How big of a deal is it that Dylan is gay?

It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the show. It’s another layer to the character that makes it interesting to play. But socially and politically, I think it’s important to have a character with a successful same-sex marriage on network screens.

What was your role as an executive producer?

The two things that I feel I contributed were to have vegan options on the catering menu and to help create an atmosphere where everybody felt appreciated. It was a very egalitarian set. We have a lot of fun. One of the camera guys has a speaker on the dolly and we dance in between takes.

You sing, you write books, you’re a photographer. What inspires you to do so many things?

Because I’m allowed to. I feel, “Why not?” I get bored quite easily, but you don’t get bored when you have so many options.

How do you feel when people compare Dylan to Sherlock Holmes?

I think you could make that comparison about any male detective who’s a little quirky and a little socially awkward, but it wasn’t something we thought of.

Even quirkier was Columbo.

I loved Columbo. Loved him.

Was The Good Wife a career changer for you?

It was in terms of I felt I never really played a [grown-up] before. He was definitely a man in a suit. Playing him, I became a man, if you like, even though I was well into my 40s when I started. What was a lesson to me is that even if someone is in a suit, they’re as idiosyncratic and full of foibles as playing a superhero or an alien. So it was a really good lesson for me that in acting, there’s no generic person.

What did you learn from The Good Wife’s star, Julianna Margulies, about how to be the lead of a show?

She taught me how to be measured and how to preserve energy because it’s exhausting. There’s a big difference between playing Eli Gold on The Good Wife and playing Dylan in terms of my commitment to the show and the sheer amount of time and energy. She worked hard, measuring her time, and was economical with her life. I had to really tone down my life to do this. I stopped drinking during the week and stuff like that. So that’s a big sacrifice for me.

You’ve written two personal books—Not My Father’s Son and You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams—what is it about your experiences that made you want to share them?

I think I have an extraordinary life. I didn’t come to America until I was 30, and yet here I am. I live here, and I’m playing the lead in an American network television cop show. It’s hilarious to me.

What I’ve discovered is that I’m an outsider in this country, but I’m also an outsider in my own country [Scotland] now because I’ve spent so much time out of it, and I’ve realized that’s actually a good place to be. It makes you have a healthy perspective on whatever you’re doing, because I didn’t grow up thinking this would be my life. So, I treat it with respect, but also questioning it. I’m able to stand back and go, “This is crazy,” or, “This is remarkable,” or “This is amazing,” and that makes me want to write about it.

Not My Father’s Son was, obviously, about my father and my grandfather. I felt compelled to write that because I just couldn’t stop talking about it after that summer when I was told that my grandfather died playing Russian roulette and my father told me that I wasn’t his biological son within the space of a couple of weeks. It was almost therapeutic for me to write and share it. I needed to talk about it all the time because I needed other people to say to me, “Oh my God, that’s incredible. That was such a bizarre thing to happen to anyone.” I needed to get it all out.

You did do a DNA test and he is your biological father?

Yeah. He was.

You had a rough childhood. What role did that play in your learning how to act?

My first training of acting was having to deal with my father’s moods and by that I mean when someone is an abuser and you’re potentially the abusee, when they walk into the room, you immediately focus on what mood are they in. How are they doing? How do I need to behave in this situation? So, that’s acting. But I didn’t become an actor because I want to be loved because I wasn’t loved by my father. I don’t buy in to that at all.

But you started developing the skill really young?

Exactly. That’s what I meant. 

Along the way, have you had an aha moment that put you on the road to the success that you have achieved?

No. I always thought I wanted to work and things just happened to me. I was in Scotland working on a play, and then the play I was in transferred to London. I went with it and I was nominated for an Olivier Award, so I stayed in London. Then I went to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and then I started doing films. I did a film in Ireland, and they came and asked me to come and do press for it in America. That was the first time I came to America. I feel like I’ve tumbled through life. Obviously, there’s been things I’ve thought, Oh, that would be nice, but it’s always been like, Oh, I’ll give it a go. This wasn’t my aim.

Do you still have emotional ties to Scotland? You mentioned feeling like an outsider.

I’ve been living in New York for 20 years, but I feel completely connected to Scotland. I go all the time and I feel incredibly Scottish. Being an outsider doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not utterly connected to the place you’re from. I mean that I’ve spent more time away from Scotland than I’ve spent in it, but I think you realize that it’s not about how much time you spend somewhere. It’s about how it has formed you and made you as a person, and then you take that out into the world. I realize what makes me Scottish much more now than I think I did when I was living there.

You’re active in the LGBT community. How do you decide which charities to support?

Since Not My Father’s Son came out, I work with Safe Horizon, which is trying to end domestic violence, but mostly I’ve dealt with LGBTQ rights, and more so now that I’m an ambassador for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which is about helping kids who are homeless who are LGBTQ.

I feel it’s hard enough getting by in this world anyway, and if you’re queer and not being accepted or not getting a chance because of that, that’s even harder, and if you’re homeless on top of that…it’s a tough time to be gay in America, so I feel those charities are even more important.

Do you hope that seeing you as the first gay lead of a network procedural drama should help kids that are living in communities where there aren’t a lot of other gay people?

I really hope so. When I was 17, I worked in a publishing house in Scotland before I went to drama school and I wrote the horoscopes for a newspaper. I just totally made them up, and I always used to think there might be a little old lady with cats who was reading it, and it might mean something to her, so I tried not to be too specific like, love will fall into your life, to preclude her.

In the same way, any decision that I make about a script, or a character or even the way I conduct myself in my life, I always think there must be a teenage lesbian in Wisconsin—I don’t know why she’s in Wisconsin, but she is—who, if she sees a role model in someone like me, or sees some of the work I’ve done on TV, then that would really help her to think that there are people out there whose stories are being told, and that is important to me.

Read the original article here.

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