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Alan Cumming on ‘The Traitors,’ Hosting the AARP Movie Awards and Why You Shouldn’t Eat a Steak During His Cabaret Act

Alan Cumming The Traitors
PEACOCK

Alan Cumming is busy. He’s been touring his one-man show “Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age,” he’s the host of Peacock’s U.S. version of the hit Netherlands reality competition show “The Traitors” – think an elaborate game of Mafia in a Scottish castle with pseudo-celebs and real people — and he’ll be stateside in Los Angeles on Jan. 28 to return as host of AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards.

I caught up with the Tony winner for a chat on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast.

When did you first feel like you were a grownup?

It’s so funny because I talk about this in my show that I’m doing here, about this exact thing. And I actually only felt I was a grownup when I was asked to play Eli Gold in “The Good Wife,” because I actually remember thinking, “Why are they asking me to do this?” Because I hadn’t really played real people before that. I remember I said, “Why are they asking me? He’s a middle-aged guy in a suit.” And I went, “Wait, I’m a middle-aged guy, if I put a suit on – bingo!” And so that was actually the moment. I know it’s quite late on, that I actually felt like, oh yeah, I can do this, I’m a grownup, that’s why they’re asking me. I think it comes to people at different times. It was relatively late on in my age to have realized such a thing.

Do you still feel like a grownup or was it a one-off?

I feel like a grownup now. I’m really fascinated by the whole idea of aging. That’s what my show’s about right now. It’s called “Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age.” I think you can be a grownup and do grownup things, but still have curiosity and still be youthful in your outlook at life. I think that’s what we’re all fighting. I mean, I have these imaginary people, these little people with clipboards, mean little people. They’re the acting-your-age police and they tell you what you’ve got to do. That you’ve got to just play golf now instead of dancing, and wear more cardigans and things. I think we’re fighting against that all the time, against other people’s ideas of how we should live our lives and how we should age. And so I’m constantly just thinking, I’m going to do what I want, I’m going to do what I like.

I love Movies for Grownups because it’s the one awards show where I think celebrities actually brag about their age and how old they are.

Yes, it’s a safe space. [Laughs]. It is such a fun show, actually. I’ve done that a few times. It’s really a hoot.

You’ve done the big blockbuster. You’ve done the tentpole movies. You’ve done very independent movies. Is there that one project out there that you’re yearning to do or someone you really want to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?

No is the short answer. I don’t yearn. I don’t think yearning is a very healthy thing to do. I keep myself open to possibilities and frankly weird things. Like “The Traitors,” for instance. I was just thinking about last year and the projects that I did. I did a solo dance theater piece with The National Theater of Scotland. I became a dancer at age 57 and that was about Robert Burns, our national poet. It was an incredible thing to do on so many levels. And then I did a movie in which I played Freud, and I did another season of “Schmigadoon!” and I did “The Traitors.” I think it’s just great to be open to different things. Sometimes you have the most fun in the most random places. Doing “The Traitors” was hilarious.

Did you know about “The Traitors” beforehand? Were you a fan of the original version?

When they asked me to do it, I was like, “What?” And they sent me the Dutch one. I watched it. I was obsessed with that. I had a talk with them and I said to them, “Oh, you want me to do this like a James Bond villain?” And they were like, “Yes.” That was really exciting to me.

Have you spoken to them about Season 2 already? Is it happening?

It’s not been greenlit. Nothing definite yet, although it’s only Monday morning.

I was surprised to hear that neither you nor the contestants actually stayed in the castle.

I know. I stayed in a nice little house in Inverness. They stayed in an Inverness Airport hotel. And also they were sort of trapped in it. They weren’t allowed to talk to each other. They had to stay in their rooms. They didn’t have phones and they had security to make sure they didn’t get naughty.

When are we going to see you on Broadway again?

There’s nothing definite, so I don’t know. I’m really enjoying doing these concerts and my show, “Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age.” And I’m going to be at New York’s Café Carlyle for two weeks in April with Ari Shapiro from NPR. We do a show together called “Och & Oy!” It’s always fun to perform at The Carlyle.

You know who was the first person I saw perform there?

Who?

Eartha Kitt.

Wow. That’s amazing. It’s such an incredible room because it’s like this little place and people have to elbow their way past waiters to get to the stage. But it’s so sort of legendary and you really feel it is a beautiful room to play, even though people are munching on dinner… I did a live album recording there and I actually stopped the show because a lady had a steak. It was so huge, and eating it basically at my feet. I thought it was a huge baked potato. It was actually a lump of carcass. It was just great for a vegan to be emoting above a smelly old steak. But that’s showbiz, I suppose.

Did you make them take it away?

No, I just shamed them into not eating it. She just kind of left it to the side of her plate after that.

If anyone’s going to see Alan Cumming at Café Carlyle, make sure…

To please have the salad.

Not too crunchy though because we don’t want to disturb you.

I don’t mind the clinking of glasses and cutlery. It’s just the sort of smell of rotten flesh that’s wafting up as I’m singing some emotional song is where I draw the line.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. You can listen to the interview in its entirety on “Just for Variety” above or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.