#edbookfest: Alan Cumming: “I had a vivid imagination.”

alan cummingAlan Cumming – Words and Music: From Aberfeldy to Broadway – 29th August 2015.

So many autobiographies go for the glitz and gossip of celebrity life, but Alan Cumming took a different approach, resulting in the incredible book Not My Father’s Son. “I wrote a novel 12 years ago. I thought I’d like to write more about my own life because it’s been quite fascinating.” People were interested in the idea, but leaned more towards the gossipy side, which he wasn’t keen on. This came years later when he was asked to be on Who Do You Think You Are?

He was worried he’d be one of those people whose family would be researched and then told “I’m so sorry, but your family is really boring.” He was worried about what they’d find, but “they’re best when there’s a mystery. They must have been like ‘wooooaaah’.” He does indeed have a mystery, involving his grandfather, and it’s one that made for a really interesting episode. He thought it would be a good gift to his mum to know what happened, but thought ‘oh fuck’ at the prospect of telling her.

Alan talks openly about his father and their relationship, the fact that he believed he wasn’t his real father, and the strains that placed on both his childhood and the family overall – it’s cover in great depth in his book too. “I’d have make believe,” he explains on coping; he’d go to the woods. “I had a vivid imagination, play acting.”

not my fathers son“I never discovered when he decided that was true for him,” he continues, on his father’s belief on being his dad. “The story that another man was my dad was so elaborate, I just don’t know when he started believing it. I thought [in writing the book] I’d expunge him but it brought him the closest to me in my life.” He will never know what made his father think the way he did, but he concedes that you can’t get something rational from someone so irrational.

From dark moments comes some highs – he vividly remembers his mum standing up to his father for the first time, and he knew then that she’d lead her own life beyond him. “Ultimately, it’s a very uplifting book,” he notes. “There was something very hard and shameful for us, but now people are seeing it and it’s made us stronger both together and individually.” He remembers another time his father had passed out on the table and his mum just set up for dinner around him. “We were giddy with excitement about it.”

They all broke out on their own. At one point Alan “wrote the horoscopes for the Dundee Telegraph”, and went to drama school. He remembers his father being very threatened by the idea of anyone in the family pursuing education. “I just wanted to get away.”

He’s asked about any jobs he’d quite fancy (“I’m not a yearner as a person or an actor”), and some specific projects. Bent is one that comes up, and while it was a tough job to act on (“They’d ask ‘How do you do it every night?’ and I’d say ‘By not talking about it afterwards’”) it was one of those he really wanted to do as it meant a lot to him.

“That’s why you’re an artist. You want this message to get to as many people as possible.”

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#edbookfest: Alan Cumming: “I had a vivid imagination.”

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