Alan Cumming employs native Scottish accent in 'Macbeth'

Alan Cumming stars in a one-man interpretation of Alan Cumming stars in a one-man interpretation of "Macbeth," directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg. Opening night of "Macbeth" is scheduled for April 21, 2013 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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For those used to seeing Alan Cumming as slick political operator Eli Gold on CBS' "The Good Wife," or the refined host of PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery," seeing him onstage in his (nearly) one-man "Macbeth" -- opening today at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre -- may be jarring.

He looks like a businessman. With a wedding ring. Holding a child's sweater. In a hospital mental ward. Two attendants remove his clothes, take a DNA swab, check under his fingernails for . . . evidence? He's scratched, bloody, having endured some violent altercation, but is he victim? Perpetrator? All we know is . . . he starts speaking lines from "Macbeth," and after 90-plus minutes he'll have acted out the whole tale -- Macbeth, Lady M, witches (cleverly depicted on three security cams) and all. (The program's synopsis is a good refresher.)

He hits all Shakespeare's killer lines -- from "Double, double toil and trouble" to "Out, damned spot!" And in his native Scottish accent. (It's "the Scottish play," after all.)

Cumming, 48, has an extensive stage and screen career, and earned a Tony for his 1998 Broadway debut as the Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret."

I was exhausted watching you.

It's pretty intense.

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How superstitious are you? Actors fear a jinx if anyone utters this title in a theater. They say "the Scottish play."

I'm not superstitious. I play all these characters -- it would be so stressful to not say ... "Macbeth." The reasons for the superstition are kind of cutesy, and self-perpetuating. I don't buy into it.

I can't believe this statistic -- "Macbeth" has come to Broadway nearly 50 times, but you're the first Scotsman to play the role.

Am I? That's exciting. Well ... I understand -- you don't expect a Danish actor to always play Hamlet. But I really like doing it in my own voice. I've done several Shakespeare characters like that. Hamlet, Romeo ... Years ago, a critic said, how dare I speak Shakespeare in this Scottish accent? Then, this linguistics professor came forward and said, "Well, actually, that's more like how people would've sounded in Shakespeare's time than English people do now."

So there.

The English accent changed after the royal family married into the Germans. I think the color and plosives in my voice ... work well with the guttural, alliterative things in the language.

Which characters came easily, which were tougher?

The witches were hard. To make them scary but not ... weird. The physicality of Lady Macbeth was easy. Obviously, it's hilarious for one man to do all these parts, especially one of the greatest roles for women in the English language. But I love that part. She's very controlling ... she's also a bit bonkers from the word go. It's funny, I don't feel I am playing all these characters. I'm playing a guy who's brought in to this hospital.

Yeah -- we're not really watching Scottish kings but ... one man. He's endured ... something. A child's involved. What do you think happened?

I think ... he's ... had a sort of ... psychotic breakdown. There are similarities between his story and Macbeth's. And he's in this fugue state -- he has no recollection, just vague memories start to come back. And through doing the play, he realizes what's happened. So I'm playing him ... and he's playing them.

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On "The Good Wife," you play an American. Do you think people assume you're American, too?

I can't tell you ... the number of people who say, , "YOU'RE SCOTTISH?!" Like ... I didn't know. They say, "YOU HAVE AN AK-SENT." I go, "I know, so do you." And they go, "NO, I DON'T." I don't know why Americans don't think they have accents but the rest of the world does. It's like ... the World Series. Hello ... only America plays in it.

Yeah, a slight misnomer.

Sometimes Canada. Not the rest of the world.

Will you take a break after this?

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I go back to "The Good Wife" as soon as this finishes. But once the show opens, I'll have a couple of hours each day as "Alan time." I'm writing a book. A memoir about things that happened to me a few summers ago after I did that TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?" on BBC. The one that traces your genealogy. I discovered all these crazy things, like my grandfather died in Malaysia playing Russian roulette. Later, at home, I learned some other weird stuff in my present family. I'm glad that wasn't on TV -- it wasn't pretty.

OK, I'm intrigued. But I still don't get how you survive "Macbeth" each night.

By the end of the show, my body is in a state. But I'm elated that people are so ... distressed. [He laughs.] Or ... affected. That's why you want to be an artist -- to make people feel things. This is definitely doing that, so I'm very ... happy ... for that.

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