Alan Cumming Exclusive Interview THE TEMPEST; Plus an Update on THE SMURFS Movie

     December 12, 2010

alan_cumming_slice

Having worked with director Julie Taymor previously on Titus, Alan Cumming signed on to be a part of her vision of Shakespeare’s The Tempest because he was excited to share scenes with acclaimed actor Chris Cooper, as well as the rest of the film’s amazing cast, which includes Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou and Russell Brand. In the film, the Scottish actor portrays Sebastian, part of the royal court that finds themselves shipwrecked on a magical island and who, along with Prospera’s (Helen Mirren) brother Antonio (Chris Cooper), plots to kill the grief-stricken King Alonso (David Strathairn) and overthrow him.

During this exclusive interview with Collider, done during the film’s recent press day, Alan Cumming talked about not really seeing his character as a bad guy, being a giggly schoolboy around Chris Cooper, working in the crazy heat of the lavic wasteland in Hawaii and better navigating Julie Taymor’s filmmaking style, this time around. He also gave an update about how his voice work on The Smurfs movie was going, in which he is playing Gutsy Smurf. Check out what he had to say after the jump.

How did you come to this project?

ALAN CUMMING: I had done Titus with Julie [Taymor], 10 years ago, and she just asked me to do it. I love Helen [Mirren] and I just think it’s a great play. I adore Chris Cooper. I just think he’s brilliant. I loved him. So, to get to do all the scenes with him, I thought was great. That was really why. And we went to Hawaii. I just thought it would be a really interesting thing. It was one of those things where it could be amazing or could be awful, and it turned out really good. I had a good time.


For people who might find Shakespeare difficult to digest, what can you say about this play and its universal themes to interest audiences?

CUMMING: It’s quite a simple story, really. Most of his stories are pretty simple. Sometimes there’s ideas that are challenging, and there’s language that’s used that doesn’t actually exist anymore and people might not grasp it. But, the idea of a shipwreck and all the different people who wrecked all coming together and being brought to one place to have a family reunion is quite simple. And I think that the whole idea of the magic that Prospera uses, in terms of the technology and visual effects, can be translated and shown, in that way.

I also think that you don’t have to understand every single word to get it, especially in this play and this film. It’s pretty clear. Sometimes with Shakespeare, it’s kind of like watching dance. You have to switch off your logical mind and just let it float all over and have an experience, rather than constantly trying to figure it out. That’s how you perform it as well. You just don’t try to spell it out, but keep going. It’s written in iambic pentameter for a reason. You go to the end of the line and it will make sense to people.

How did you see Sebastian? Did you think he was a bad guy?

CUMMING: No. I sort of modeled him on Prince Andrew. I don’t really know Prince Andrew, but I always thought he was this demi-posh boy. Chris Cooper’s character drops al of these hints to me, about killing my brother, and I don’t seem to get them for ages. He’s like, “Oh, what?” And then, finally he’s like, “What?!,” and it’s like, “Hello!” So, I thought it would be quite interesting that he’s a not very bright, posh boy. I didn’t see him as bad. I think Antonio (Chris Cooper) is more of the Machiavellian person. I just get carried away with his spell. At the end, I don’t really see him as that bad, just a bit stupid.

How did the location in Hawaii inform this for you? Did it help to be in that actual environment?

CUMMING: Yeah. When we were walking around, we were going, “Oh, it’s so hot! It’s an awful place!” Tom Conti’s character was always going, “Oh, it’s so lovely and green and lush!,” and I was like, “Yeah, there’s one piece of grass every two miles.” That was good. It was also hardcore because every piece of lavic wasteland in Hawaii, we were on it and we were sore. It really hurt the feet. And just the heat was insane. I’m not good with heat.


Did the costume make it even more difficult then?

CUMMING: Yeah. It looked fabulous, but it really was super-intense. And it was black as well. That’s not a good color in the sun. There were zippers all over it, too. That would catch. It was that thing of, would you take your costume off because you were so hot? You would be so sweaty underneath it that there would be weird sweat that would make your shirt wet against you. It was awful, but it looked good, so that’s something.

How was it to work with all of these amazing actors?

CUMMING: As I said, I think Chris is just brilliant. I’m really a giggly schoolboy with him. I think he’s so amazing. And David [Strathairn] and Tom [Conti], and everybody was great. It’s exciting to be with really, really good people. Some people make you feel like you’ve got to up your game, and that definitely happened with this. It was really fun. Every time you did something, you knew it was really high stakes, and I like that. Working with good people is always good. It was just the sweat.

What is Julie Taymor like, as a director? Having worked with her before, is there something that you connect with, as far as her style of filmmaking?

CUMMING: Well, she’s very good at showing you the aesthetic of what she wants and the style. On the set, she’s quite blinkered. She knows what she wants and it’s quite hard to get her to change her mind or to get her to hear you say, “Can I just try it this way?” I’d worked with her before, and she is so blinkered and high energy that to get her attention and stop her, you have to really go, “Hey!” She has a vision and she’s like a horse with blinkers on, and that’s great. I love working with people who know what they want. That’s really great. But this time, I really understood more about how to arrest her, as it were.

Was part of the appeal of doing this the fact that you get that really unique visual style with her work?

CUMMING: Absolutely, yeah. Titus looked stunning, in that way. This film actually suited her style better because it had magic and visual things as a part of the story. I knew that side of it was going to be really great. It’s the perfect play for her to direct. It’s a bravura directorial visual effects-y thing. That side of it, I knew was going to be really great.


With 2010 being the 400th anniversary of The Tempest, what do you think it is about Shakespeare’s work that keeps people so interested and wanting to try their own versions of it all the time?

CUMMING: Well, with this one, the whole thing of people all being washed up on a place that is unfamiliar to them, they’re all finding their way and they finally all come together, and through the journey, they have realized something. There’s a healing thing with the family all coming back together, but also being reminded of past pain. There are lots of stories about people traveling to a place and being lost and then being found. It’s an age-old story. It’s not so much about the destination as the journey and what happens to you and what you learn on the journey. That’s why people want to do it, again and again. Each generation has a different interpretation of it. And this play is very open to different interpretations. We have a woman being the lead character instead of a man, and that gives it a totally different sensibility. Shakespeare’s work are really good yarns. They’re good stories. Also, there’s the ideas that he throws out, like the most carnal, base character having the most beautiful poetry. He’s full of contrast like that.

The Smurfs 3D movie poster (1)What’s it like for you, as an actor, to do voice work like you’re doing for The Smurfs? How has that experience been?

CUMMING: I’ve got it again next week. You go into a room, you do these lines and you make up other funny lines. What I like about it is that they actually ask you to do your own lines and make up stuff. That’s quite fun. But, what’s fun is seeing it. Now, we actually do it to picture and I can hear the other Smurfs in my ears. You see the thing coming together, more and more. I quite like it. You’re just being funny and making up funny stuff. You actually can make up dialogue and they incorporate it. I’m sure it’s going to be huge. People have got very fond memories of it. It’s such a part of people’s childhood.

Was there a process that went into determining which Smurf each person would voice?

CUMMING: They give you a picture of it, and you just do a voice that suits the drawing. He’s called Gutsy Smurf. I didn’t know anything about it. I think he’s a new one. He’s got a kilt.

Who is your Smurf?

CUMMING: I’m playing a Scottish Smurf, so I’m hoping to reintroduce some words. Numpty is a really good Scottish word that I’m saying quite a lot in the film. I hope to reintroduce it to society.

Watch Now
Around The Web

Latest News