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Smurfs Up for Alan Cumming

The Tony-winning actor discusses his new film, The Smurfs, returning to The Good Wife, and his plans for a one-man Macbeth. logo
Alan Cumming
(© Tristan Fuge)
Alan Cumming's acting resume could make anyone's head spin. On stage he's gone from Hamlet to Cabaret (which earned him the Tony Award) to The Bachhae; his film work ranges from art house fare like The Anniversary Party and Emma to commercial blockbusters such as Goldeneye and X-Men 2; and he's currently taking television by storm on CBS' The Good Wife, for which he's earned an Emmy Award nomination for his work as political Svengali Eli Gold. Now, he's co-starring in the new film, The Smurfs, alongside Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays. TheaterMania talked to Cumming about playing blue, being a TV star, and his upcoming version of "The Scottish Play."

THEATERMANIA: In the film, you play Gutsy, the first Scottish smurf. Was going Scottish in a mainstream American movie part of the appeal?
ALAN CUMMING: I rarely play someone Scottish. At least I didn't have to be nervous about vowel sounds. Gutsy is a gruff, militaristic Smurf who keeps them all in line; he's the Major Domo for Papa Smurf. He's overly brusque but underneath he's a softy. It's kind of ironic that I've been brought in to butch up the smurfs. I like the fact he's Scottish. I feel proud. He's a good representation of all that's good about Scotland wrapped up in one little blue man.

TM: How familiar were you with The Smurfs?
AC: In Europe, they were huge pop stars. They had all these hits on the charts. So I remember them more as a musical act than cartoons.

TM: You're doing your first weekly television series, The Good Wife, and you're now officially a regular. Are you enjoying it?
AC: I really like it. It's one of these surprising things. I didn't think I'd ever do that. It just fell into my lap. The writing is so good. I just got the first script for the third season and it's so brilliant. I love that I get the script and I want to rush home and read it. Even the scenes I'm not in. My favorite scene of this new episode is the one with Kalinda and Will (played by Archie Panjabi and Josh Charles). I think it's a really great time to be on television in America.

Chris Noth and Alan Cumming
inThe Good Wife
(© CBS Broadcasting)
TM: Eli is an American, and you sound completely believable. How does your gift of doing accents help you disappear into roles?
AC: It was kind of drummed into me in drama school that "you're never going to work if you can only speak in your Scottish accent." A lot of classes we had were about the perfect English accent. It made me very conscious of listening to accents and being scientific about what makes up an accent. While having a good ear helps, that kind of training, phonetic training helps. When I left drama school, one of the first things I did was play a small Scottish boy -- and I had no idea of how to do it because I'd never spoken in my own voice the entire three years in drama school.

TM: Do you think you get recognized more now that you're on TV than from being a film or stage actor?
AC: It is a different way people approach you. When you're in film or theater, it's like people go to this church and worship you. There's a slight feeling that they can't touch you. Whereas in television, you go into their home and therefore the way they think of you is quite different. That's been quite shocking for me.

TM: How do you fit working in the theater into your life these days?
AC: I'm actually going to do a one-man multi-media production of Macbeth next year with the National Theater of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company. I shall be playing every role and in a non-conventional setting. It came about because I was going to do a production where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth would swap roles each night. One night Macbeth would be a man and the next night Macbeth would be a woman. The play's got a lot of things about gender and manliness and what is masculinity. I had a reading with Eve Best where we swapped roles, but hen the director said, "Why don't you just do them all them yourself?" No one's done it like this before, but I think it's going to be all right.

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