Son of the Mask: An Interview with Alan Cumming
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By Todd Gilchrist
Alan Cumming is one of Hollywood's most convincing chameleons: playing characters in movies as disparate as "The Anniversary Party", "Eyes Wide Shut", "Spy Kids 2", "X-Men", and "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion", he proved that no characterization is beyond his grasp, no matter how silly or serious it may be. In his latest film, he plays both sides of that comedic/ dramatic coin as Loki, the God of mischief, in "Son of the Mask". Cumming recently sat down with blackfilm.com to discuss his work in the picture, his experience working with babies, and the future prospects of his fragrance line, appropriately titled Cumming.
This (Loki role) must have been a fun part for you.
Alan: (beaming) I like when I get to do things where there are a lot of different disguises. I play one person within the film but I change into all these other people. I really like that. It's great and your ego is very flattered when a big film company thinks you can do all these different things so it's nice. I'm also really intrigued by that whole Americana aspect of Looney Tunes cartoons. I really liked how much that played a part in this film.
Did you have any input into your costume and how important is that for you?
Alan: I did. With every film, really, you can have a say. I think it's contractual, with your make-up and costume. Obviously, the costume designer, she was brilliant. I really liked the main costume, the leathery thing. I thought it was really clever and kind of weird so, yeah, it's really important, especially for that part of the character. I got to wear that so much and feel comfortable in it. I thought it was a good way to go with the character, also the hair. It's so creative. I find it hilarious that it's a kids' movie and here I am shoving my crotch out in leather. It's very funny.
What was more difficult for you; the make-up for Nightcrawler or this?
Alan: Well, Nightcrawler was much worse because with this, when I get angry and have the big prosthetic green thing (on my head)which I hated I only had to do that maybe five or six days. With Nightcrawler, I did it about forty times and it was like four hours and there weren't even any prosthetics on my face. It was just blue stuff and some tattoos. That was horrendous. Every moment of being on the set was like that. It was spraying stuff on your face. On this, when I had to be Loki they scheduled it so they could do something first in the day so I wouldn't have to come early. On Nightcrawler, X-Men 2, I still have the call sheet. It said "Alan, pick-up 2:42 A.M'. (we groan) That was my earliest pick-up.
What does the green face feel like?
Alan: It's absolutely horrible. The worst thing about it is that you're completely enclosed and it's like you can't really do anything. It must be a bit what it's like to have Botox or something because it goes right under your eyebrows and it's really hot and I had these contact lenses and you can't really see. You feel so corseted and weird.
Do people treat you like a freak when you are in make-up?
Alan: I learned a very interesting thing. I felt really freakish (in the Loki make-up) and the same thing with Nightcrawler, until people got used to me on the set. When new people would come on the set it would be like (staring at me intently) hello, in your face like that and you just go eww, stop it. Don't look at me. With the green, angry Loki, I felt the same thing. Everyone wanted to look and stare at you and I felt kind of like a circus thing. Obviously, I'm an actor and I'm used to having people look at me otherwise I wouldn't do this job but it doesn't feel like it's you. I actually feel like it could be anyone inside that thing. I think it was a little over-designed.
Your Son of the Mask director Larry Guterman was saying your first take was actually your best. Do you usually like to keep it down to only a few takes?
Alan: (grinning) I'm just so happy to hear that. He was very incisive and made me do it millions of times and I was like "well, the first one was the best'. I actually quite like working fast and I'm quite instinctive and I think that if you've got it, there's that thing on a movie set where you go "that was perfect. One more time'. Why, if it was perfect? On a movie like this that is so technical, they rely on you to just be able to churn it out because there's so much other stuff going on they can't be worrying about you so much. I think on this film especially, I went to kind of a Zen mode of thinking, "okay, I am going to have to do this a gazillion times because they haven't decided yet what thing is going to be sticking out of your head at this moment or what size of dumpster is going to be squashing you'. It's crazy. You have to go into a different place.
Did working on the "X-Men" help you with all the effects in this film?
Alan: Yeah, there were more in this; more of a cartoony aspect. I think, in these films, people think that you're just in front of a bluescreen for months. You're not really. There's lots more there than you actually think. At the end, that big boxing ring was there and those big, huge banners with our faces on them were actually there and that was kind of fun. But I suppose (X-Men) did help. When I do a big film like this, I have a way of keeping sane.
Have you heard anything about returning to X-Men for the third movie?
Alan: Yeah. I signed for two films so I'm going to. The last I heard is we're starting on the 20th of June but they're nuts because there isn't a script or director yet. So that might be pushed a little bit. But I found out they have to release it in May of 2006 for some reason. It's going to be shot in the summer. It's one of these things that I just want to know when I'm going to do it because it just effects your whole life. You can't do other things because you know that's a large lump of time. I'm going to do this show on Broadway which I moved to like January of next year just to make sure I'd finished X-Men. Stuff like that.
Do you think they'll change your look at all?
Alan: I have some great ideas that some fabulous, crazy, terrible thing happens to him, some chemical accident and his face turns white or he dies in the first I don't know. (we laugh).
What is the Broadway show you'll be doing?
Alan: "Three Penny Opera". I play Mack the Knife.
Cool. Is this a new, reworked version?
Alan: Yeah. We did the workshop of it a few weeks just before Christmas and Wallace Shawn has written a new book and new lyrics and stuff and Scott Elliott is directing it. It's really fun but it's hard though. My character has a lot of singing, a lot of everything. It was really great. I think we're starting in January of 2006.
Do you try to get a balance in your life of these costume roles and smaller films like The Anniversary Party?
Alan: I don't plan it. It's all a bit of a mish-mash. Things just happen. Maybe if I need to focus on something a little different, I do. Right now I've been working on this fragrance that's coming out in February. I've finished all the sniffing for a while and now it's all about the marketing thing.
What's it called?
Alan: It's called Cumming. It was originally started for men and we had this launch party and now it's called "Beyond Gender". Actually, it was so funny, at Sundance last week my dog was there. There's a body wash called "Cumming Clean". My dog was really stinky so I washed my dog in the "Cumming Clean" stuff. It was so funny because she liked it and she smells gorgeous. Someone said, "Oh wow, even your dog is an advertisement for you now'. You can't even leave your dog alone. She's a mix of a collie and a German Shepherd.
How did you get into the fragrance market?
Alan: I've got these friends. One is called Christopher and he is a "nose". He used to work for this company called Demeter which has all these different smells which I used to wear. My favorite was "Dirt". It smells like newly-turned soil. It sounds crazy but there was one called "Leather" and "Laundromat". He's really a genius. And, my friend Jason used to be the creative director of Kiehl's. They started working together and then they just sort of said "let's do this'. So, the bottom line is it's an amazing smell. It smells kind of grrrrr. It smells sexy. When girls put it on it smells different. Different bits come out. It's interesting. It's fascinating actually.
TeenHollywood.com Back to this movie.
Alan: (laughing) Oh, my day job.
Loki plays "Twister" with the magical baby and there are hands, arms and legs everywhere. How was that done?
Alan: It's all these stunt men and body doubles. They're all dressed up as me so the bit where (the camera) pans along is different people. There were all these muscley Australians hanging onto my legs. My head's way down here and my arm is over there. It was great. That's how they did it. The baby was there one time. And another time, it's me in a funny blue thing with all the spots on it. (motion capture suit). Then there was another stuntman holding me down so I could sit up like that (suddenly). It was kind of crazy because there were all these people dressed in blue or green holding parts of your body. It was quite strange. There are things you have to imagine like the baby's ear is tickling you or something.
What was your most difficult or favorite scene to shoot?
Alan: My favorite thing is when, on my birthday, I had to be lying in a dumpster. I had all this crazy burnt make-up and a smashed up face and crazy clothes and I had to lie in a dumpster for a close-up just landing there. I did it a few times and the first A.D. came and said "Larry said, could you be more amusing?' I said "of course'. It was my birthday and I'm under a banana skin or a rotten tomato.
You are really funny. Kids love you. Are you just a big kid at heart?
Alan: I suppose so, yeah. If you saw my house, you would think that.
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