Alan Cumming

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Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming in 2013
Cumming in 2013
Born (1965-01-27) 27 January 1965 (age 56)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom (1965–present)
United States (2008–present)
Alma materRoyal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • singer
  • filmmaker
  • writer
  • activist
Years active1980–present
Known forThe Good Wife; Cabaret (Tony Award)
Notable work
Not My Father's Son
Hilary Lyon
(m. 1985; div. 1993)

Grant Shaffer
(m. 2007)

Alan Cumming OBE FRSE (born 27 January 1965[1][better source needed]) is a Scottish actor, singer, writer, filmmaker, and activist who has acted in numerous films, television shows, and plays. His London stage appearances include Hamlet, the Maniac in Accidental Death of an Anarchist (for which he received an Olivier Award), the lead in Bent, The National Theatre of Scotland's The Bacchae and Samuel Beckett's Endgame at The Old Vic opposite Daniel Radcliffe. On Broadway, he has appeared in The Threepenny Opera, as the master of ceremonies in Cabaret (for which he won a Tony Award), Design for Living and a one-man adaptation of Macbeth.

Cumming's best-known film roles include his performances in Emma, GoldenEye, and X2, as Loki in Son of the Mask and The Simpsons, and as Fegan Floop in the Spy Kids trilogy. Cumming also introduces Masterpiece Mystery! for PBS and appeared on The Good Wife, for which he was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and a Satellite Award. A filming of his Las Vegas cabaret show, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, aired on PBS stations in November 2016.[2] In 2018 Cumming starred in the CBS TV series Instinct (stylized as INSTIИCT) with Bojana Novakovic. The show was cancelled in 2019.

Cumming has written a novel, Tommy's Tale, and an autobiography, Not My Father's Son: A Memoir. He had a cable talk show called Eavesdropping with Alan Cumming, and produced a line of perfumed products labelled "Cumming". He has also contributed opinion pieces to many publications and performed cabaret shows, I Bought a Blue Car Today and Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs.

Early life[edit]

Cumming was born in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland.[citation needed] His mother, Mary Darling, was an insurance company secretary, and his father, Alan Cumming, was the head forester of Panmure Estate, which is located near Carnoustie, on the east coast of Scotland, and is where Cumming grew up.[3] He has described the environment as "feudal".[4] He has a brother, Tom, who is six years older,[4] and a niece and two nephews. His brother is a property manager in Southampton, England.[4] Cumming attended Monikie Primary School and Carnoustie High School.[5]

In his autobiography Not My Father's Son, Cumming describes the emotional and physical violence his father inflicted on him in his childhood.[6][7][8] His mother found it impossible to obtain a divorce until she was financially independent.[4] Cumming said that, after his early 20s, he did not have any communication with his father until just before the filming of his episode of the series Who Do You Think You Are?. He then found out his father had believed that Cumming was not his biological son.[4] Later, Cumming and his brother took DNA tests that proved they were indeed his biological children.[6]

Cumming said that his difficult childhood taught him how to act by "needing to suppress my own emotions and feelings around him [his father] when I was a little boy".[9]


Cumming made his film debut in Gillies MacKinnon's short film Passing Glory in 1986. His feature film debut came in 1992 when he starred alongside Sandrine Bonnaire and Bruno Ganz in Ian Sellar's Prague, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and earned him the Best Actor award at the Atlantic Film Festival and a Scottish BAFTA Best Actor nomination. American audiences first saw him portraying the smarmy Sean Walsh, an unwanted suitor of Minnie Driver's character, in Circle of Friends, an Irish film released in 1995. Also in 1995 he played Boris Ivanovih Grishenko in the James Bond film GoldenEye.[10]

His first film in the United States was 1997's Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, playing Sandy Frink opposite Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. In 1999, Cumming appeared as a hotel clerk who humorously flirts with Tom Cruise's character in Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut. Cumming co-wrote, co-directed, co-produced, and co-starred in the ensemble film The Anniversary Party with friend and former Cabaret co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh, in 2001.[11]


United Kingdom[edit]

In December 1984 Cumming made his TV debut in ITV Granada's Travelling Man, before going on to appear later in the 1980s in the Scottish Television series Take the High Road, Taggart and Shadow of the Stone. His breakthrough role was as Bernard Bottle in the Christmas 1991 BBC comedy Bernard and the Genie, a Richard Curtis-scripted film in which he starred alongside Lenny Henry and Rowan Atkinson. He also featured in a comic relief sketch in 1993 on the popular UK TV show Blind Date with Atkinson playing Mr. Bean.[12] Cumming went on to star as flight attendant Sebastian Flight in the BBC2 sitcom The High Life in 1995. The series was written by Cumming and co-star Forbes Masson, continuing an acting-writing partnership the two had developed since their drama school days. Also in 1995, Cumming appeared in the series Ghosts.

Cumming returned to British TV screens in 2011 to star as Desrae, a crossdresser, on the Sky series The Runaway. He has also made several documentaries: My Brilliant Britain, about Scottish humour, The Real Cabaret in which he investigated the Weimar cabaret artistes and the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? in 2010 in which he discovered his maternal grandfather was a war hero who had died playing Russian roulette.[4]

In 2018, he played King James on the eleventh series of Doctor Who.[13]

United States[edit]

Alan Cumming performing at benefit concert for the Ali Forney Center (2010)

He played Eli Gold on the CBS television show The Good Wife. He appeared as a guest star in the latter third of the first season, becoming a series regular in the show's 2010–2011 season.[14]

In 2016 NBC's First Look travel programme visited Scotland for a special episode, fronting Alan Cumming. It featured areas of the country that are important to Alan Cumming and showcased Scotland through his eyes. The programme was named Best Lifestyle Programme at the Emmys' 60th annual awards ceremony at New York's Marriott Marquis Broadway Ballroom.[15]

Alan Cumming was cast as the lead character in the CBS series Instinct, as an academic seeking to help the NYPD solve crimes.[16]


Cumming began his theatre career in his native Scotland, performing in seasons with the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, Dundee Rep, The Tron Glasgow and tours with Borderline, Theatre Workshop, and Glasgow Citizens' TAG. He played Slupianek in the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh's 1988 production of Conquest of the South Pole, which later transferred to the Royal Court in London and earned him an Olivier Award nomination as Most Promising Newcomer. He went on to perform plays with the Bristol Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company and played Valere in La Bete at the Lyric, Hammersmith, London. In 1991 he played The Madman in the 1990 Royal National Theatre production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo, for which he won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance.[17][18][19] He also adapted the play with director Tim Supple. In 1993 he received great critical acclaim and the TMA Best Actor award for playing title role in the 1993 English Touring Theatre's Hamlet (playing opposite his then-wife, Hilary Lyon, in the role of Ophelia).He played the role of The Master of Ceremonies in Sam Mendes's 1993 revival of the musical Cabaret in London's West End opposite Jane Horrocks as Sally Bowles. He received an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. He reprised the role in 1998 for the Mendes-Rob Marshall Broadway revival, this time opposite Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. He won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for his performance.[20]

Other US stage roles include Otto in the 2001 Broadway production of Design for Living by Noël Coward, Mac the Knife in Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill musical The Threepenny Opera opposite Cyndi Lauper. Cumming performed alongside Dianne Wiest in Classic Stage Company's production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, directed by Viacheslav Dolgachev. In 2002, Cumming and then-boyfriend British director Nick Philippou formed the production company The Art Party. The company's first and only play was the first English production of Jean Genet's play Elle, which Cumming had adapted from a literal translation by Terri Gordon. The company folded in 2003.

In 2006, he returned to the West End playing the lead role in Bent, a play about homosexuals in Germany under the Nazis. In 2007, he took the lead role in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of The Bacchae, directed by John Tiffany, which premiéred at the Edinburgh International Festival in August, transferring to the Lyric Theatre in London and then to Lincoln Center, New York, winning him Herald Archangel award.

He collaborated again with Tiffany and the National Theatre of Scotland in 2012, playing all the roles in Macbeth. He brought this critically acclaimed[21][22] production of Macbeth to New York's Lincoln Center in 2012 and to a 73-show Broadway engagement at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2013. Macbeth concluded its run on Broadway on 14 July 2013.[23]

In 2014, he returned again to Broadway to star in Roundabout Theater Company's revival production of Cabaret, directed again by Sam Mendes.[24] Starring opposite Michelle Williams, Cabaret opened 24 April 2014 and closed 29 March 2015. The run was extended originally from its 24-week engagement. The role of Sally has changed throughout the production when Williams left to include Emma Stone and Sienna Miller.

In 2020, he played in Endgame at the Old Vic co-starring with Daniel Radcliffe.[25]

Other work[edit]

Cumming in the gallery art work "Sliphost"

Cumming's novel, Tommy's Tale, was published in 2002.[26] He has also written articles for magazines, notably as a contributing editor for Marie Claire magazine, writing on the haute couture shows in Paris, as well as what it was like for him dressing as a woman for a day. He also contributed articles to Newsweek, Modern Painters, Out, Black Book and The Wall Street Journal. He has also written introductions and prefaces to various books, including the works of Nancy Mitford, Andy Warhol, and Christopher Isherwood and wrote a chapter of If You Had Five Minutes with the President, a collection of 55+ essays by members or supporters of The Creative Coalition.[27] In September 2017, Cumming and promoter Daniel Nardicio opened a bar in Manhattan's East Village called Club Cumming.[28][29]

  • Cumming recorded a duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Liza Minnelli to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and 11 September Fund.
  • In 2005, he released an award-winning fragrance called "Cumming," and a related line of scented bath lotion and body wash. A second fragrance was launched in 2011, named "Second (Alan) Cumming", with all proceeds going to charity.[30]
  • On 1 September 2009, Cumming released his first solo album based around his one-man show, I Bought a Blue Car Today.[31]
  • In 2012, he narrated the audiobook "Macbeth: A Novel", written by A.J. Hartley and David Hewson. The novel greatly expands upon the themes established in the play.[32]
  • On 10 April 2012, he released the single Someone Like the Edge of Firework[33]
  • In 2012, he launched his photography career with his first exhibition Alan Cumming Snaps.[34]
  • In July 2012, Cumming presented Urban Secrets on Sky Atlantic and the Travel Channel where he uncovers hidden secrets in various urban areas including London and Brighton.
  • In October 2013, Cumming appeared in the music video for "City of Angels" by Thirty Seconds to Mars.[35]
  • In 2014, Cumming was a supporter and activist for the Scottish 'Yes' campaign in the run-up to Scotland's referendum on independence in September 2014.[4]
  • In October 2014, Cumming and the Broadway cast of Cabaret collected donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS during the "Gypsy of the Year" fundraising season.[36]
  • In 2014, he published his autobiography, Not My Father's Son, which deals with both his experiences growing up with an abusive father and the discoveries he made about his maternal grandfather's life while filming Who Do You Think You Are?.
  • On 7 June 2015, Cumming co-hosted the 69th annual Tony Awards alongside Kristin Chenoweth.
  • On 5 February 2016, Cumming released his second full-length album, recorded live at New York City's Café Carlyle, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs: Live At The Cafe Carlyle.[37] He is currently touring an aptly-styled, intimate, cabaret-like live stage production following his success with the Carlyle recording. In November 2016, PBS aired a filming of his show Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs from The Smith Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • In June 2021 Cumming will be artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, as announced in June 2020.[38]

Personal life[edit]

In March 2005, Cumming received the Vito Russo Award at the 16th Annual GLAAD Media Awards for outstanding contributions toward eliminating homophobia.[39] In July of the same year, he was also presented with the HRC's Humanitarian Award in San Francisco, also for his LGBT public stance. In November 2006, Cumming received a Doctor of Arts honorary degree from the University of Abertay Dundee. He also is a patron of the Scottish Youth Theatre, Scotland's National Theatre "for and by" young people. Cumming was appointed an OBE in the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to film, theatre and the arts, and activism for LGBT rights.[40][41][42] Cumming has also been honored for his activism and humanitarian work by organizations such as the Trevor Project and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.[16]

Cumming is bisexual.[43] He lives in Manhattan with his husband, illustrator Grant Shaffer, and their dogs, Jerry and Lala.[44] The couple dated for two years before becoming civil partners at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London, on 7 January 2007.[45] Cumming and Shaffer legally married in New York on 7 January 2012, the fifth anniversary of their London union.[46]

Previous relationships include an eight-year marriage to actress Hilary Lyon, a two-year relationship with actress Saffron Burrows, and a six-year relationship with theatre director Nick Philippou.[7] In 2006, Cumming stated that he "would dearly like to adopt a child", but that his life was "too hectic" for children.[47]

On 7 November 2008, Cumming became a dual-national and was sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America at a ceremony in New York City.[48][49]

Cumming with Dick Leitsch

Cumming has promoted LGBT rights, MC-ing and attending fundraisers for organisations such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and taking part in an Equality Network video campaign, from New York, promoting the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Scotland.[50] Cumming also supports several AIDS charities, including the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and is also a patron of NORM-UK, an English-registered charity concerned with foreskin health and matters related to circumcision; he has condemned the practice of routine infant circumcision, particularly in the United States, where it is common.[51][52]

Cumming has stated that since 2012 he has maintained a vegan lifestyle.[53] PETA awarded him its Humanitarian Award in 2017.[54]

He is a supporter of the Scottish National Party and Scottish independence.[55] Cumming endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.[56]

Cumming is an atheist.[57]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Project Award Category Result
1988 Conquest of the South Pole Olivier Award Best Newcomer in a Play Nominated
1991 Accidental Death of an Anarchist Comedy Performance of the Year Won
1992 Bernard and the Genie British Comedy Award Top Television Newcomer
Prague Atlantic Film Festival Best Actor
1993 Prague Scottish BAFTA Award Best Film Actor Nominated
La Bête Olivier Award Comedy Performance of the Year
1994 Cabaret Olivier Award Best Actor in a Musical
Hamlet Shakespeare Globe Award Richard Burton Award
Theatre Management Association Award Best Actor Won
1996 Romy and Michele's High School Reunion MTV Movie Award Best Dance Sequence Nominated
1998 N/A Vanity Fair Hall of Fame Inducted
Cabaret New York Free Press Award Best Actor Won
New York Public Advocate's Award
FANY Award Best Actor in a Musical
Tony Award Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Outer Critics Circle Award Best Actor in a Musical
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical
Theatre World Award Outstanding Broadway Debut
2001 N/A New York Immigrant Achievement Award N/A
2002 The Anniversary Party Prism Award N/A
Independent Spirit Award Best First Feature Nominated
Best Screenplay
National Board of Review Award Excellence in Filmmaking Won
2003 N/A Bailey House Key Award
Convent of the Sacred Heart Hatter's Ball Award
Nicholas Nickleby National Board of Review Award Best Ensemble in a Movie
2004 N/A Newfest Trailblazer Award
Bailey House 20 for 20 Key Award
Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival Artistic Achievement Award
Special Civil Rights Award
2005 Son of the Mask Golden Raspberry Award Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor Nominated
N/A HRC Humanitarian Award Won
Scotland Magazine Icon of Scotland Award
2006 Bent Theatregoer's Choice Award Best Actor Nominated
N/A Human Rights Campaign The Elizabeth Birch Equality Award Won
The Threepenny Opera Drama League Honored
N/A GLAAD Media Award The Vito Russo Award Won
Sweet Land Sedona Film Festival Birkner Humanitarian Award
2007 Independent Spirit Award Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature
N/A Big Apple Film Festival Golden Apple Award for Honorary Achievement
Santa Fe Film Festival Maverick Award
LAMBDA Liberty Award
Ghost Writer Barcelona Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Tribute Award
Provincetown International Film Festival Excellence in Acting Award
SHOUT Film Festival Beacon Award
The Bacchae Herald Arcangel Award
N/A Phoenix Film Festival Copper Wing Tribute Award
2008 N/A Anti-Violence Project Courage Award
Trevor Project Hero Award
2009 N/A Scottish Style Awards Most Stylish Male Nominated
National Trust for Scotland Great Scot Award Won
PFLAG PFLAG Choice Award
I Bought a Blue Car Today SX Magazine Best Cabaret Awards Best Solo Performance Nominated
2010 Time Out New York Best of Cabaret
Bistro Award Outstanding Recording Won
N/A Chicago International Film Festival Artistic Achievement Award
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Leadership Award
Point Foundation Courage Award
Theater Offensive Out on the Edge Award
Johnnie Walker Great Scot Award Nominated
The Good Wife International Press Academy Best Supporting TV Actor
Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
2011 N/A Denver Film Festival Excellence in Acting Award Won
Cumming The Fragrance Fleshbot Award Sexiest Fashion
Zoorgamazoo AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award
Audie Award Solo Narration – Male
Charity Work Johnnie Walker Great Scot Award Nominated
The Good Wife Emmy Award[58] Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Critics' Choice TV Awards Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
2012 N/A Johnnie Walker Great Scot Award
Matthew Shepard Foundation Making A Difference Award Won
Live Out Loud Awards Star Award
Macbeth AudioFile Awards Best Voice of the Year
Earphone Award
The Good Wife Crime Thriller Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Screen Actors' Guild Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Any Day Now Key West Film Festival Golden Key Award Won
Napa Valley Film Festival Favorite Actor or Actress
Outfest Best Actor Award
Seattle International Film Festival Best Actor Award
2013 Dorian Award Film Performance of the Year Nominated
Gaybie Award Best Actor in a Gay Themed Movie
N/A Bailey House Arts & Legacy Award Won
Macbeth on Broadway Drama League Awards Distinguished Performance Award Nominated
United Solo UAward Audience Choice Favorite Actor in a Play Won
2014 Arthur: Show Off Emmy Award Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Nominated
Cabaret on Broadway Drama League Awards Distinguished Performance Award
2015 The Good Wife Golden Globe Award[59] Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
2016 Golden Globe Award[60] Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
69th Tony Awards Emmy Award[61] Outstanding Special Class Program
2017 1st Look: Scotland New York Emmy Awards[62] Best Lifestyle Program (Program/Special) Won



  • Tommy's Tale: A Novel. New York: ReganBooks, 2002. ISBN 978-0-060-39444-8.
  • May the foreskin be with you : why circumcision doesn't make sense and what you can do about it.. Magnus Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-936-83339-9
  • Not My Father's Son: A Memoir. New York: Dey Street, an imprint of William Morrow Publishers, 2014. ISBN 978-0-062-22506-1.
  • You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures. New York: Rizzoli New York. 2016. ISBN 9780847849000. OCLC 939994490.
  • The Adventures of Honey & Leon By: Alan Cumming, Illustrated by: Grant Shaffer ISBN 978-0-399-55797-2[63]


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External links[edit]