Killer Charm: Alan Cumming

Photo: aMY aRBUS

Hollywood has pegged the Scottish actor Alan Cumming as a stock villain and a mutant for hire, but New Yorkers know him as an impish man-about-town and a Broadway darling whose last big role, as the emcee in Cabaret, brought the show to new levels of tawdriness. He returns to Studio 54 this week as Mac the Knife, the slinky inveterate criminal at the center of The Threepenny Opera. Cumming talked to Boris Kachka about his new role and life after 40 (which looks a lot like life before 40).

You’re known for revealing your backside in almost all the theatrical productions you’ve been in. I admit I was disappointed not to see it this time.
Someone once wrote, “Is it some sort of contractual thing that he has to show his bum in everything he does?” But no, I mean, there wasn’t really any place for it. And also those trousers are so tight, you’ve got a pretty good idea of everything downstairs anyway.

What was Mac’s appeal for you, then?
It’s one of the great modern European theater roles—and also, you’ve got to make people want to fuck you even though you’re a horrible rapist and murderer. So it’s got all those challenges.

Yet you’re playing another dark character from the Weimar era. How is it different?
Cabaret was more cheeky. The phrase I think of when I do Cabaret is, “You know you want to.” This is more like, “You want to, or I’ll fucking beat your head in.”

You said that when you turned 40, you might slow down your partying a bit. You’re 41 now.
I hope I’m still going to clubs when I’m 65.

Where do you go?
I’ve been loving the lesbian nights at Starlight. Lesbians are so gorgeous nowadays. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’ve just noticed them. And the Russian Baths. I was in there steaming my voice, because I was a bit hoarse, and these old men were singing in Yiddish, and they were like, “Join in, sing the harmonies!” So there I am humming along.

You also said that after 40, you’d stop doing so many movies you didn’t like.
Oh dear, did I say that? Gosh. Well, I’ve not really done anything I’ve not really liked for a while. I probably will have to because I’ll be bankrupt. So I’m on the lookout for things I actively don’t like.

Weren’t you supposed to be in X-Men 3?
They had an option on me, and they didn’t pick up my option. I was delighted, frankly. I didn’t enjoy [X-Men 2] at all. It was horrible.

And what’s been the worst thing about Threepenny?
The worst thing that happened is last night Nellie McKay stood in my doorway with a Hillary Clinton mask on singing “Moon River” on a ukulele, whilst me and a couple of people, including Jessica Lange and Mikhail Baryshnikov, looked on amazed. We wondered when she was going to stop, and she didn’t for quite some time.

The Threepenny Opera.
Studio 54; Opens April 20.

Killer Charm: Alan Cumming