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Alan Cumming on Going ‘Big’ for Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut

Alan Cumming on Going ‘Big’ for Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut

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Alan Cumming says working with Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut helped him understand an old adage about acting: “You can go as big as you like, as long as you mean it.”

In the new MovieMaker Interviews podcast, Cumming also cites another another rule of acting: There are no small parts, just small actors. He said his appearance as a hotel clerk in Eyes Wide Shut, released in 1999, was a brief but important role to his career.

During the scene, Cumming’s clerk tells Tom Cruise character that another character came into the hotel with two “big” men—while spacing his hands out suggestively. The director loved it.

“The detail and the zeal that he had for the tiniest of gestures and the intonation made me so interested in acting again,” Cumming said. “A lot of the time, my least favorite thing is to hear a director shouting, ‘That was perfect, let’s go again.’ You think, ‘Well, why are we going again if it’s perfect? Tell me what you want.’ Often they just go again and they don’t tell you why. And Stanley would, in such minute detail, tell me what he wanted. And of course that’s nirvana for an actor.”

Cumming continued: “It’s so over the top, that performance. And I kept saying to him, ‘Oh Stanley, that’s too much. He’s like, ‘No, go on, do it!’ He was like goading me on. But there’s a thing that I do, I say, “the men that came back, they came in this morning, big guys.” And I do a gesture… with my hands, like I’m doing a penis size.”

“I thought surely he was going to tell me not to do that. It’s so ridiculous,” Cumming added. “One take I didn’t do it, and he said, ‘Why are you not doing the thing with your hands?'”

His whole account on the podcast. You can listen on your favorite platform below:

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Acast

The Eyes Wide Shut talk is only a short part of the interview, in which Cumming also talks about his acclaimed roles from The Good Wife to X2, his New York City nightlife destination Club Cumming, and why you shouldn’t be the kind of DJ who doesn’t dance.

This episode also features an interview with Two Popes screenwriter Anthony McCarten.

Here are highlights of the episode, with timestamps:

1:15: Alan Cumming interview begins.

4:04: “I’ve chosen to do something waaay outside my comfort zone.”

4:45: A few words about cabaret bar Club Cumming.

5:34: “I think I’ve understood from way way long ago how important fun is as a component in your life… especially when you do things that are very dark. And a lot of my work is very dark.”

7:00: Don’t be the kind of DJ who refuses to dance.

11:00: “I think of myself as a character… I think there’s me, and then there’s Alan Cumming. And Alan Cumming goes out and is like, ‘Hello everybody, hi! Yes, I’m here! That’s right. Thanks so much!”

12:30: Let’s talk about the 20th anniversary of Eyes Wide Shut and what he learned working with Stanley Kubrick.

13:05: “It’s a huge thing in my career, even though it’s like maybe four minutes.”

15:55: “There’s a saying, which is, you can go as big as you like, as long as you mean it.”

17:08: Anthony McCarten interview begins, as he explains how he used humor to humanize Two Popes.

18:40: The Vatican’s response to Two Popes.

19:19: “We built our own Sistine Chapel.”

24:00: “There’s very very little tolerance or listening to the other side. … Sometimes the talking should stop and we should listen a little more.”

31:50: ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”: “I was kind of traumatized by that song.”

37:20: Anthony McCarten talks about his script for Bohemian Rhapsody.

41:00: His advice for screenwriters.

 

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