Skip to main content

Alan Cumming - Playing Macbeth


There are surprisingly few signs of starriness attached to Alan 
Cumming. On the one hand, the Aberfeldy-born actor has recently become 
a living room regular by way of a recurring role in the Ridley and Tony 
Scott produced legal drama, The Good Wife. Yet, as he returns to 
Scotland to play the title role in a very singular version of Macbeth 
with the National Theatre of Scotland, he prefers to station himself in 
the darkest, most faraway corner of the city centre bar/ restaurant 
he's conducting post-rehearsal interviews in.

This is a little bit different from when he last appeared onstage on 
home turf. That was in a flashy version of Euripides' The Bacchae, 
which, as with Macbeth, was directed by NTS associate John Tiffany. 
Then, during a day of interviews at the Groucho Club in London, Cumming 
seemed more ebullient in a way that matched his turn as original party animal, 
Dionysus.

Almost four years on and playing one of the most intense roles ever 
written, Cumming is as focused and as open as he ever was. Where 
Dionysus put a spring in his step, however, there's an added 
thoughtfulness at play to the Cumming playing Macbeth. Of course, 
coming at the end of a long day  in the rehearsal room with Tiffany and 
New York-based co-director Andrew Goldberg, Cumming is
probably shattered, and you can forgive anyone entering Macbeth's 
ambition-laden psyche for feeling a little, well, troubled. Especially 
given that Cumming, Tiffany and Goldberg have opted to approach 
Shakespeare's play, not as some windswept classic, but have set it in 
the locked ward of a psychiatric unit. So Cumming isn't actually 
playing Macbeth per se, but becomes instead a patient channelling the 
story of the Scottish would-be king, all under the insistent gaze of 
CCTV cameras that capture his every move.

It's hard work,” Cumming says, “and very daunting, especially with the 
two narratives, which we're making up and trying to make intertwine. So 
it's super-intense, and it's hard physically to focus sometimes, 
because you're making something up, and up until this week it was just 
me and two directors. So you not only have to hold the energy of it, 
but because it's just you, you have to tell them what you want. It's 
been fascinating on all levels. I've just been living in this hermetic 
bubble. Apart from a few nights when I've gone out, I've just wanted to 
go home and learn lines, or go swimming, and I feel really good. By the 
end of the day I'm not really in the mood to speak to people, but I'm 
going to have lots of fun after the performance. That's the way you 
have to do it.”

While such intensity sounds the opposite extreme of Dionysus, there are 
similarities. Both plays put Cumming's very personal interpretations of 
classic characters at their centre, and, as Cumming tells it, Dionysus 
and Macbeth sound like two sides of the same coin.

I suppose in a way Dionysus was the puppet master in that play,” 
Cumming observes, “so there's a similar issue there. They're both men 
who are having issues with the gods, I suppose. They're both very 
primal. These are deep deep things you're dealing with. It's hardcore.”

Cumming is quite often at the centre of his work, be it in acting or in 
the myriad of projects he has on the go. One of these is Alan Cumming 
Snaps!, an exhibition of photographs currently on show in New York. 
With the images portrayed capturing a fleeting moment, often by way of 
a self-portrait, each comes with a story explaining each one. 'My life 
is a colourful blur,' Cumming's artist's statement ends, 'and so I only 
think it appropriate that the pictures I take embody that too.'

People have really responded to how honest I am about the pictures,” 
he says. “They're of things that have happened to me, moments I've had 
in my life, which were good or bad or nice or weird, and I've just 
wanted to take a picture of them and keep them and share them with 
people. In one way it's another way to communicate with people, and 
that's what  I really like about them. I realise that in my life I've 
done more and more different things that are all about connecting with 
people, and now it's through photos. And people really like the fact 
that they're getting a bit of you as well, a bit of your spirit.”

In The Good Wife, Cumming plays Eli Gold, the bullish campaign manager 
of a corrupt politician. He was approached to appear in one episode, 
and almost turned it down until his manager persuaded him otherwise.

I always say that's presumably why you pay these people all that 
money,” Cumming says, “because they make good decisions for you 
sometimes, when I would've passed on that. There was no way of knowing 
it would become what it is now, but I'd have been horrified if I'd not 
had it. I feel I've got this double life. By day, middle-aged Jewish 
political man in a suit. By night, downtown crazy person. It's 
hilarious, the situations I find myself in, and I think, what would Eli 
do? Probably run screaming from the building.

Another thing I've thought about, as I get older as an artist, as you 
get more well-known, people know more about you as a person, for good 
or bad, so they connect with you as a person as much as an actor. I 
think that's a really great thing if you can do that. I mean, a lot of  
why I think Eli has gone so well is because people are like, that's 
Alan Cumming, and I like that. They're fascinated that I'm playing that 
kind of character, but being able to bring a frisson it, I think that's 
really great.”

The Good Wife may well allow Cumming to play with cross-type casting, 
but it also lends him the practical benefits of being able to live at 
home and indulge himself with less commercial projects. At the moment, 
beyond Macbeth and The Good Wife, there are forthcoming films to 
promote, a memoir to finish and a record to complete.

Since he's been back in Scotland, Cumming has performed at the Citizens 
Theatre in Glasgow as part of a star-studded gala in honour of comic 
legend Johnny Beattie. Two days after our conversation, Cumming is 
wheeled out as one of the celebrity supporters of the Yes campaign for 
Scottish independence. Given that he's playing Macbeth – or a 
pathological version thereof – there's a delicious irony seeing Cumming 
sat next to First Minister Alex Salmond – another man who would be king 
but there's  a sincerity to Cumming's gesture. He's already gone on 
record that he intends buying a home here in order to be able to vote.

I've always got a thousand things on,” he says. “It's fun. I get 
inspired, and I have a really good system to be able to make them all 
happen. Sometimes I wish I didn't have so many ideas, and people come 
to me with really exciting things as well. I do lots of little weird 
things, and I make a lot of my own work, then every few years something 
comes along that I think is really challenging. It really freaks me out 
and I become obsessed with it, and then think, what am I doing. I do 
that. I can look back at things I've taken on which seem really 
reckless and stupid at the time, but I love doing them. This is one of 
them,” he says of Macbeth.

Ultimately I want the audience to be moved and scared and thrilled. 
You would want that from any production of Macbeth, but this one's 
quite different. It's got some horrifying bits in it. I'm upset and 
horrified on a regular basis every day.”

Macbeth, Tramway, Glasgow, June 13th-30th; Rose Theatre, Lincoln Centre 
Festival, New York, July 5th-14th
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

The Herald, June 1st 2012


ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Clybourne Park

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Four Stars
It’s a case of whoops, there goes the neighbourhood twice over in Rapture Theatre’s revival of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens in 1959 in the same Chicago suburb where Lorraine Hansberry’s drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which appeared that year, is set. Here, Robin Kingsland’s Russ and his wife Bev, played by Jackie Morrison, are preparing to move out of their now almost empty des-res following a family tragedy.
Unknown to them, the bargain basement price tag has enabled a black family to move in, with Jack Lord’s uptight Karl a self-appointed spokesperson for the entire ‘hood. Russ and Bev’s black maid Francine (Adelaide Obeng) and her husband Albert (Vinta Morgan), meanwhile, bear witness to a barrage of everyday racism. Fast forward half a century, and a white family are trying to buy the same house, albeit with a heap of proposed changes which the black couple representing the block’s now much more diverse community aren’t…

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1
1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77)
3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77)
4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77)
5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77)
6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77)
7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77)
8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78)
9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78)
10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79) 
11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79)
12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79) 
13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79)
14. JOLT See Saw (6/79)
15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79)
16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79)
17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79)
18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79)
19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79)
20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79)
21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79)
22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79)
23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79)
24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80)
25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980)

1. THE REZILLOS I Can’t Stand My Baby (Sensible FAB 18/77) If it wasn’t for T…

Michael Rother - Sterntaler at 40

"There's so much to do," says an uncharacteristically flustered Michael Rother. The normally unflappably beatific German guitarist, composer and former member of Neu! and Harmonia, who also had a stint in a nascent Kraftwerk, is packing for live dates in Russia and the UK, including this weekend's show at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow.
"It has always been my choice to take care of these things myself and not have a manager," he says. "Somehow for me the independent aspect of doing things is really important, but it has its disadvantages."
As well as playing selections from Neu! and Harmonia, the trio he formed with Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius of Cluster, Rother's Glasgow date will see him play a fortieth anniversary rendering of his second solo album, Sterntaler, in full. Rother will be accompanied by guitarist Franz Bargmann and drummer Hans Lampe, the latter of whose musical involvement with Rother dates back to Neu! days, …