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Alan Cumming Dreams Big Yet - By emily-wilson - September 20, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Alan Cumming Dreams Big Yet

Alan Cumming (Francis Hills)

Meeting Gore Vidal went better than wearing a “FUCK YOGA” shirt to the gym.

Not content with being a triple threat for his work in theater (including playing the title roles in Macbeth and Cabaret, for which he won a Tony), film (X-Men II, The Anniversary Party, Spy Kids) and TV shows like The Good Wife, Alan Cumming has decided to add several more threats. He sings (Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs!), and he writes — prolifically.

He has already written a novel, Tommy’s Tale; a memoir about his relationship with the abusive man who raised him, Not My Father’s Son; and his latest book is You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, an engaging and entertaining book of stories and photos. In it, he documents his trip from New York to Vancouver with his beloved dog, Honey. He also writes about being thrown out of a Vancouver gym for his “Fuck Yoga” tank top; his love of hairy chests; and finding out through a conversation about overpopulation, Obama, and the DREAM Act that style icon Iris Apfel definitely does not share his political views.

Cumming, who will talk about the book with AIDS activist Cleve Jones at the Castro Theater on Sept. 22 as part of the Commonwealth Club’s INFORUM, says that after writing a memoir about an abusive childhood, it was nice to do a book about a less harrowing part of his life. He tried to include a broad, varied collection of some of his favorite stories, he says. They include a conversation with Gore Vidal in Italy — with Cumming’s then-boyfriend and Vidal’s partner of 52 years — in which Vidal talked about not believing in commitment; bringing Helen Mirren over to the Croc-loving side of life; and meeting Elizabeth Taylor at Carrie Fisher’s birthday party, an encounter that started awkwardly but progressed to sharing stories and laughter after Cumming followed Fisher’s advice to “flank that legend.”

With his writing, as with acting, he keeps one thing in mind — the epigraph from E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

“I’m trying to be as authentic as possible,” Cumming says by phone while being driven from one interview to another. “I have ‘Only Connect’ tattooed on my arm, and that’s really important to me that I feel I am connecting to people whatever I do.”

Besides writing and acting, Cumming also is an activist. He didn’t wait until he was a celebrity to get involved in causes such as LGBT rights.

“I come from a country where people are much more politically active than in America,” the Scottish actor says. “Here you’re either one thing or the other, Democrat or Republican,  and people feel like you don’t need to pay much attention except once every four years.”

In the ’80s, during the miners’ strike that was called the most bitter industrial dispute in British history, Cumming, a drama school student in Glasgow, collected money to help their families.

“An old lady spat on me,” he said. “I thought, ‘Really, what just happened?’ I was just collecting money for people in dire straits, and this old lady in a fur coat spat on me. It inspired me to do more.”

Cumming wants to use his stature to draw attention to issues that are important to him, such as refugees and preventing gun violence.

“Some people say, ‘Why do actors think we want to listen to their political opinions?’” he said. “Well, because we’re human beings, and we have opinions.”

Cumming has put a lot of energy and time into LGBT causes and he says some changes, such as the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality and more attention to trans rights, have been heartening — although he finds the presidential race worrying.

“There’s all this anger, maybe about having a black president,” he says. “Trump is like a vessel through which people are allowed to vent.”

Cumming looks forward to talking with Cleve Jones, the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, who he calls an amazing leader and a fascinating man. He’s also nervous, he says, to talk to someone he respects so much and has heard about since Jones’ early days of AIDS activism.

“I love political people,” Cumming said. “He’s stayed in that world but found different ways to keep his energy and be present.”

Cumming says he’s glad to be able to share his life with people.

“I’m an outsider in this country, and that’s a good place to be as an artist — it gives me a healthy perspective,” he said. “And for my dog, Honey, who died, I’m happy to be able to give her this memorial.”

Spend the Night with Alan Cumming, Thursday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m., at The Castro Theater, 429 Castro Street, $10-$55, inforumsf.org