One on One with Alan Cumming

This chameleon of stage and screen stands firm on animal welfare
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One on One with Alan Cumming

"Triple threat" doesn't come close to describing Alan Cumming, 45, whose talent has blazed across movie and TV screens, theater stages, and concert halls. If you didn't catch him in X-Men 2 or the Spy Kids franchise, perhaps you've seen his Emmy-nominated turn on The Good Wife, or heard a cut from his CD, I Bought a Blue Car Today. After a day of filming the British miniseries The Runaway in South Africa, New York-based Cumming took a rare break to talk to VT.

Q Did an "aha" moment lead you to vegetarianism, or was it a process?

A I just don't like meat. Rotten carcasses don't feel good inside in my body. I've also seen some horrible documentaries about the hormones and things that go into meat. On a health level, meat is so scary. I used to eat fish, but with fish there's that mercury awfulness.

Q Any foods you can't live without?

A I love hummus. And I'm nuts about almonds, ha-ha! I keep them in every bag and pocket. I'm also a big soup fan. It's not just about staying away from meat, it's about keeping things in your diet that make you feel good. That's why you eat vegetarian in the first place.

Q What's your specialty as a cook?

A I always make soup. I don't cook terribly often in New York, but when I'm upstate in the Catskills, I love going to the farmers' market and getting local produce. Local and organic is the best way to make really good food. Upstate, you can also talk to friends about cooking. You mill around in the kitchen, chatting, for ages.

Q How did Honey and Leon, two rescue dogs, come into your life?

A A friend of mine was fostering Honey, who's a collie-shepherd mix. She was 6 months old and a crazy little thing. I fell in love with her, took her in, and smothered her with love. Now she's 10, and a well-balanced, lovely dog. Leon's a Chihuahua. We adopted him from the owner of the antique shop where Grant (artist Grant Shaffer, Cumming's spouse) first met him. The heartening thing is that when you make dogs feel safe, love them, and assure them it's going to be all right, they become happy.

Q Famously, you lambasted fur-wearers from a Broadway stage when you played the emcee in Cabaret (for which Cumming won a Tony Award). To break character, your feelings must have been intense?

A I said, "How many animals were culled for that?" I think killing to make or eat things is horrific. It seems like there was a movement against wearing fur in fashion, but overnight it's fine again. I hate the way we pay lip service to issues like that. It saddens me these things are fads.

Q You were recently awarded an Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. Is there anything you didn't get to say to her in person?

A A few years ago, I signed a petition asking the queen to stop using bearskin for those helmets (worn by Buckingham Palace guards) that tourists take pictures of. I didn't get a chance to say this to the queen, but she should use a nice synthetic fiber for the helmets.