Alan Cumming Brings 'Legal Immigrant' To Salina

May 10, 2018

Alan Cumming brings his show Legal Immigrant to Salina's Stiefel Theatre on Friday, May 11. The show explores the actor's own experiences with immigration and allows him to display his trademark warmth and humor. Known for a variety of roles, including his work on The Good Wife, Cumming is also the author of several books, including My Father's Son. He currently appears on the CBS series Instinct.

The Stiefel will host a free Q&A with Cumming on Thursday, May 10, at 7 p.m. for ticketholders only. Space is limited to the first 150 people who call the Stiefel to register.

Interview Highlights

Jedd Beaudoin: What inspired the show Legal Immigrant?

Alan Cumming: It was really because I've become a citizen of this country and I've taken great objection to the way that immigrants and immigration in general is being so derided and has such negative connotations nowadays. I wanted to do a show that celebrated immigrants, including myself, and also showed how much of the popular culture is due to people who are immigrants to the country. We're all immigrants. You can't say you're not an immigrant unless you're Native American. Another thing that prompted me was that the Citizenship and Immigration website recently removed the phrase "A nation of immigrants" from their website. That really struck me. I thought, "This is real historical revisionism."

Tell me a little bit about when you first came to the States. Was this something that you had kind of dreamed about or was it something that was necessitated for work?

It was a total accident. I had not dreamt about it. Absolutely not. The first time I ever came to America was to promote a movie I'd made in Ireland. I was 30 years old. I'd been to Canada. It was just something that happened. I took a few meetings and came back a few months later and all of a sudden I was being offered movies in Hollywood. That was my first entrée into America. I stayed at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. It wasn't exactly a backpacking experience.

Do you recall your first impressions? Did you have those moments of, "They can't get the food right?"

I came to L.A. for a premiere, I was staying at the Four Seasons, I was a little overwhelmed. There were things I didn't understand, customs I didn't realize. I remember the thing that really got me was, at the premiere, on the red carpet, this film crew member said to me, "Can you look down the lens and say, ‘I'm Alan Cumming and I'm on E.'" I didn't know that E was a channel. To me, E meant ecstasy, the drug. I thought, "I'm not saying that! What do you mean? I'm not saying that!" I thought they had basically asked me to admit on television that I was high. There were a few breakdowns in communication like that.

Is the stage one of those places that you feel most at home? You've done film, television, but you seem to keep coming back to the stage.

I've always done all of them. I think any actor who does the range of things that I do would say that the connection you get in the theatre with a live audience is something that's very addictive and vibrant and primal and you can't really describe it. It's great making films, fun doing TV shows, blah blah blah. But you don't get that same human connection. I always have my fingers in some pies of plays or musicals I might do in the future. But doing a concert thing like this, a cabaret, is a really great way to have my theatre fix and be able to connect like that with people. I can work it into my schedule. I don't have to do eight shows a week and not be able to do anything else for a long time.

I wanted to ask you specifically about Not My Father's Son, which was a thing that was moving for me to experience as a reader. What was it like when you had written that and then it came out and then you started to recognize that it was starting to connect with people?

It was a really amazing time, that. I was so overwhelmed by how it was going to be received and how my mom and my brother were going to do deal with it. I knew it was going to cause a bit of a splash and I also wondered how people were going to react to me, if you know me and like me, I'm suddenly pulling the rug from under you in terms of what kind of person I am and what my life has been like. So I was more focused on that and that anxiety of being so vulnerable. When it became clear that it was a huge sort of tool to help people deal with their issues in a family and abuse. You think I might have realized, but I hadn't factored in that I would be helping in such a big way by me sticking out, by me showing that you can overcome these things. It really made a lot of people be able to deal with things in their lives. Still, daily on Twitter or somewhere, people will talk to me about that. It was all the more amazing because I hadn't anticipated that. That's been the best thing about having done that book, the value that it has had in the world for other people.

You're now in the series Instinct. How did that project present itself?

I got sent a galley copy of the book that James Patterson wrote. I was in Edinburgh for the International Festival, doing my Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs show. I'd wake up each day and read a little bit of the book. I got completely addicted to it. I was rushing home to see what happened next. I thought, "Hmm, there's something in this." I'd never read a James Patterson book before.

Then I met Michael Rauch, the showrunner, when I got back to the States. I really, really like him. I was a bit worried about essentially going into a cop show because you have to feel like you're in safe hands. He made it easy. But we eventually got it on the air. Now, of course, we're waiting again. We're waiting to see if we're going to get a second season. There's always waiting, waiting, waiting. But it has gone relatively fast in terms of these things because it can languish in development hell for years.

To come back to where we started: What was it that made you want to be a citizen? Some stay for decades without making that leap.

It was because I wanted to vote. I knew that I'd made New York my home. I was always going to live there. When you have a green card, you pay taxes, you can buy homes, everything a citizen can do except vote. I'm not someone to be quiet about my opinions on things. When Obama was running the first time, I was so inspired and I thought I should put my money where my mouth is and truly become part of the political process instead of just advising people on what I think about it.

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.