Alan Cumming on 'Macbeth,' 'The Good Wife'

Alan Cumming arrives at the 18th Annual Screen Alan Cumming arrives at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. (Jan. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Alan Cumming is clearly a man who can do it all. Not only is he an accomplished actor with a Tony Award for his role as the pansexual Emcee in the 1998 revival of "Cabaret" and two Emmy nominations as political strategist Eli Gold on the CBS hit "The Good Wife," but he's also the host of PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!," a successful novelist, recording artist and fragrance entrepreneur.

Now the actor takes doing it all to a new level by taking on every role in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of

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"Macbeth," which runs through July 14 at the Rose Theater as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. The twist is that Cumming also plays a twisted asylum patient who's obsessed with the Shakespearean tragedy to the point of madness.

Cumming, 47, chatted with us by phone from Glasgow, in his native Scotland, where he was performing "Macbeth."

Originally, didn't you envision doing "Macbeth" with a gender reversal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

That's right, and when we did a reading of it that way, it was [co-director] Andy Goldberg who had the idea of me doing all the parts. So I did not seek out doing this crazy feat. It came to me.

Who has been the most challenging character for you to play?

The patient, because he's an addition to the play. His psychotic episodes are why he does the play in some way to excite his demons. He's somebody we made up in rehearsal. That's what's really been exciting . . . he was the hardest to pin down. And it's not very pleasant. Delving into someone who's that damaged is scary and it takes its toll.

You must be exhausted by the end of the show.

I'm absolutely wasted. And I've got these bruises everywhere on my body. Normally in a play you think, oh, I banged my leg in that scene last night, but with this, it's so constant, I can never remember which injury comes from what part of the play. So I got my assistant to sit through the play and try to work out where I get bruises. Isn't that awful? [Laughs.]

I do want to talk about "The Good Wife." It was never intended that your character would be a regular, was it?

No. I thought it would only be one or two episodes. But by the end of the first season, I'd done seven episodes, so they asked me to be a series regular. I didn't expect that at all. It was a very pleasant surprise. I just got handed the script for the first episode of season 4.

Any hints?

It's pretty juicy. It's back on the campaign trail for Peter [Chris Noth's character] and me. I'll be spending a lot of time on a campaign bus.

You speak with such a thick Scottish accent, yet there's no trace of it on the show.

Isn't it extraordinary? It's not really hard, everybody thinks that. That's my job. I'm always doing accents of various shades and hues, but I think because I'm on the telly every week, people notice it more. And I get words wrong still.

What words?

I can't say the word L-I-B-R-A-R-Y properly. I say librarerry. I can't do that word. You say adult, and I say ah-dult. . . .I used to called Julianna [Margulies] "Mrs. Frolic" instead of Mrs. Florrick. I couldn't get that right for the longest time. [Laughs.]

You're a citizen of Scotland and the U.S. How come you decided to maintain a dual citizenship?

I thought it would have felt weird to completely not be a legal citizen of the U.K. And I feel very connected, especially to Scotland. I come back here a lot. As I get older, even though I don't live here, I feel more Scottish. I suppose you start to understand more about your country and what defines you. I live in America, that's my main base. The only thing you can't do without a green card is you can't vote, and I wanted to take part in the political process.

You just came out with a new fragrance, Second Cumming. How did the fragrance line come about?

Everyone does it. It's just a crazy story. This one now is on a smaller scale [than the original, Cumming]. It's leftover ingredients from the first batch. We did it for charity. Christopher [Brosius] is an absolute genius. I knew him, and he'd made these very specific fragrances like Dirt and Brown Paper. He said wouldn't it be funny if you had a fragrance called Cumming, so we did it and it went nuts. I had Cumming Clean shower gel [and other name plays]. It was hilarious.

I love having my album, or novel, or my fragrance. It's always good for a gift. I always have a pile of gifts in my office. If I'm going to a party, I just say I'll give them my fragrance. I'll give them a bar of soap.

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