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Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming

“I see audiobooks as a treat. I really do like doing them. It’s one of my favorite things."

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Talking with Alan Cumming

Celebrated actor, novelist, and audiobook narrator Alan Cumming says his job is to take the work of a writer and interpret it for as wide an audience as possible. The same principles apply even if that project involves a memoir--his own memoir, NOT MY FATHER’S SON. “I think there’s an added dimension because each event happened to me, and I’m reading it.”

Little did he know that a request from a reality television show would kick off a personal journey of thousands of miles and answer two big questions in his life: Why did his father physically abuse him and his brother, and what really happened to his beloved grandfather on his mother’s side of the family? The story of his exploration was featured in the BBC TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Cumming said he wasn’t planning on writing a memoir about the skeletons in his family’s closets, but he felt it was time to confront his father, Alec, about the way he was physically abused growing up. “When something happens to you, you need to expunge it in some way. First, I thought it was a very good story, and, second, it was something I couldn’t stop talking about, and I thought it was very therapeutic. I’m at a time in my life when I’m comfortable with being open.”

A DNA test corrected a misconception and set Alan and his brother, Tom, on a confrontation with their father a short time before he died. In a dramatic and poignant scene, the sons “give back” the abuse they received growing up.

“It’s a very delicate thing to put out to the world,” Cumming says. “Everyone has a crazy family. Even the most well-balanced and loving people, there’s still a lot of craziness in the lot. I think that’s something I didn’t quite understand--there’s a kind of a universal thing. Even though my story is horrendous.”

On a positive note, the mystery of Alan’s grandfather on his mother’s side helped put a positive spin on a tragic episode and made for a great ending for the book. “I don’t think I’d have written the book if I couldn’t have found a positive aspect. As I say in the book, if you’re happy, you must embrace everything that comes with that at this point. To me, it’s an uplifting book. It shows people can come through very difficult relationships and become better people.”

Cumming loves audiobooks. He uses them to pass the time on long car trips and has recorded many, portraying a range of characters. “I see audiobooks as a treat. I really do like doing them. It’s one of my favorite things. I did an audiobook version of my novel TOMMY’S TALE.”

While Cumming is comfortable performing all the parts in a novel or play, which he’s done with Shakespeare’s MACBETH, his memoir was different and, for this highly trained actor, a challenge as a narrator. “I went into it knowing that it was going to be an intense experience and that the hardest part of all was always coming up. I’d reach some disturbing bit, and they would ask if I’d like to take a break, and I’d say no. I didn’t want to go out of the booth and sit and have a coffee and have people sitting there looking at me and thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, you poor thing!’ I’m normally quite chatty and sociable. I knew I’d have to work hard to keep it together to get it done.”

While a couple of bits were quite difficult, surprisingly, it was the acknowledgements at the end that almost threw him for a loop. “I said I forgive my father--and saying that aloud was very difficult.”--Randy O’Brien

[OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014]

Photo by Kevin Garcia

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Photos by Kevin Garcia, Kevin Tachman

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