Cumming up next: Alan Cumming talks about his new novel—the latest success in the talented Scot’s assault on all media

Cumming up next: Alan Cumming talks about his new novel—the latest success in the talented Scot’s assault on all media – Books

Drew Limsky

Tommy’s Tale, the debut novel of actor Alan Cumming, is the story of a child-man caught between a comfy flat with his quirky North London roommates and instant domesticity with his boyfriend. He’s also caught between his 20s and his 30s, an age that Cumming says is a “very big deal” for all it represents about maturity. But most of all, Tommy’s caught between the club scene and something decidedly less ephemeral–fatherhood.

Cumming is grappling with these dilemmas himself. The possibility of raising a child is “why I wrote the book,” he says, and he is pleased that during the four-plus years he took to write the novel, its subject of gay parenthood has emerged as a topic of national conversation. He praises Rosie O’Donnell for making gay parenting “absolutely cool,” or at least “not the icky thing it was.”

The book’s message about family mirrors the author’s life. “The modern family doesn’t work,” Cumming contends in his occasionally impenetrable Scottish accent, “so what are we left with? The postmodern family”–one that is more self-selecting, more of a collage. He sees such self-selection as a kind of emotional quality control. To Cumming, traditional families are often about “quantity more than quality. You have a rotten time, and you keep going back.”

Cumming has no contact with his father, and while his mother is justifiably proud of her son’s success, he’s forbidden her to read Tommy’s Tale. “I’ve never discussed rimming with my mother,” Cumming explains, “and I’d rather not give her that visual.”

When reminded that he was once designated the “frolicky pansexual sex symbol for the new millennium,” Cumming says he found it “hilarious. I guess being a sex symbol means people are imagining you doing it. I do feel quite frolicky.”

When asked if his “pansexuality” has ever hurt his career, Cumming is candid: “People think I’m weird. That’s more dangerous than my sexuality.” These days he shares his sexuality, and his New York home, with noted theater director Nick Philippou. Like his fictional counterpart, Cumming took his time getting to the commitment but now describes his relationship as “passionate.”

At 37, Cumming is himself a child-man: “I can roller-skate down the street, and I have people who work for me.” But since his acclaimed 1998 breakout performance in Cabaret on Broadway, Cumming’s handling of his career has been shrewd, responsible–in a word, adult. He took a small, plummy film role in Eyes Wide Shut and collaborated with friend Jennifer Jason Leigh to write and direct the film The Anniversary Party. This summer, before filming the role of Nightcrawler in X-Men 2, Cumming starred in a New York stage version of Jean Genet’s Elle directed by Philippou. It was the first production mounted by the Art Party, Cumming’s new theater company in partnership with Philippou and Audrey Rosenberg.

But his hard-won adulthood does not prevent Cumming from feeling “wonderment” about his life. The bizarreness of slithering around on-screen is rivaled only by the actor’s reality. Cumming recently did a show at the Hollywood Bowl with what must rank as one of the strangest casts ever: Ann Miller, Lea DeLaria, and Charlotte Church. Miller, Cumming giggles, “told me that I was the best thing in Eyes Wide Shut, but she said she wanted to see the European version, because she heard there was more pussy in it.”

Limsky writes for The New York Times.

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