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Sex Advice From Alan Cumming

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The puckish Scotsman on circumcision, the relative flexibility of muscle-bound men, and why X-Men 2 is the gayest film ever.

Alan Cumming is one of Hollywood's most charismatic and versatile actors working. Whether you know him from the second X-Men film, from his role in the Reefer Madness musical, or just through his signature fragrance (known, of course, as "Cumming"), there's no denying the man gets around. His most recent film, Any Day Now, is the story of two gay men in the late '70s (Cumming and Garret Dillahunt) who adopt a teenager with Down syndrome and must fight a corrupt legal system to keep custody of him. It will be in theaters on December 14th and will most likely make us cry. We got a chance to sit down with Alan to talk about the movie and a few other Cumming-appropriate topics.

Any Day Now takes place in the '70s, an interesting time to be a gay man in America.
My experience of the '70s as a young strapping lad in Scotland was very different. I do think it's an interesting time in terms of that progressive movement starting. I suppose that's when the gay-rights movement really started kicking in, but I would not be in a hurry to do another film set in the '70s, purely because of the shame of having to wear such horrible fabrics, and for the odor issues those non-natural fibers engender.

Gay characters in film have kind of a checkered past on film. When they did get any screen time, it was often as distorted stereotypes — Cruising comes to mind, among others. Were you conscious of trying to avoid falling into that while filming?
Yes, we were. Especially considering we're introduced to Rudy as a drag queen. But for him to be that strong and that feisty and to take on the legal system as he does, I decided to buck against convention and make him very tough. I know a few drag queens, and they're actually… a bit scary [laughs]. You don't want to mess with them, because they've learned to be so strong. And on film, quantity doesn't always mean quality, and so having more gay people in things is a good thing, but it can be counter-productive if the character is being put out there to be laughed at, or in such a way that encourages prejudice. I used to be part of a group in Great Britain that advocated for disability, trying to get more disabled people on screen and in the media, in more positive representations. And I was talking this weekend with a friend about the new Bond film, where Javier Bardem plays sort of a gay villain, which I mention because it used to be that the baddies in film were disabled. They used to have a patch, or a stick, or a stump. And that signified "disabled equals evil." And now, I think it's become gay equals evil. It swings in roundabouts.

When you did X2 with Bryan Singer —
The gayest film ever.

Yes. That one. One of the most common talking points when that came out was the parallels between the mutants in the film and the LGBT movement. Was that something that you and Singer were conscious of, or was that just a convenient narrative people put on the film?
It was very much a conscious thing we talked about at the time. There's that scene where the younger mutant has to "come out" to his parents. I thought that was very clever. But, you know, just like in Any Day Now, you don't have to be gay, or know a gay person, to connect with these characters. We all understand what it's like to be different, and to be on the outside, whether it's not getting picked for the football team or something.

You're a very passionate intactivist — an advocate against circumcision. Could you give me your stump speech?
Stump's a rather unfortunate word. Do you have a foreskin?

I do not.
Ah, see, then you don't know. First of all, it's genital mutilation. It is. You mutilate a child's genitals within days of it being alive on this planet — terrible! What really gets my goat is that we're being fed all these reasons about why it's necessary, and it's not. I'm forty-seven, and I've managed to avoid the plague, and I have a very big foreskin. And the medical industry doesn't want to stop, because every time one's performed, they get money. As for the religious reasons, well, there's other things those religions have stopped doing, so I don't see why we have to latch onto that. But the biggest thing is loss of sensation. There's all these nerve endings, sensitivity you've lost because there's nothing protecting the head of your penis. I mean, when I come out of the shower and put my underwear on, I have to make sure the head of my penis is covered, because it's so sensitive. You go around all day with your the head of your penis touching your underwear, and you don't even notice, do you?

No, I guess I don't.
See?

The more you know.
Thank you.

NEXT: "People are more cognizant and understanding of the idea that you might be gay, but that you might love the feel of a girl's breasts…"

Your film The Anniversary Party largely concerns celebrities losing their shit at a party. How much of it was based in reality?
Oh, a lot. I think the biggest thing we did was use a lot of characteristics of friends of ours. And Jennifer [Jason Leigh] and I said very truthful things about ourselves — not always nice things. We wrote for certain people, using the cadence of their voices, and wrote variations of different friends of ours, just mercilessly plundered their lives. And you can hear it, I think, especially through the actors and actresses whose lives you might have heard a lot about.

You did a version of Macbeth where you played every part. Who's the sexiest character in Shakespeare?
Ah, I'd say Hamlet, even though it kind of did my head in. I did enjoy playing Duncan, because I based him on this horrible Scottish politician I don't like. I like playing Lady Macbeth, she's always fun.

In 2005, you called yourself "the acceptable public face of sexual ambiguity." Eight years later, what's changed about the public's perception of people who don't identify as gay or straight?
Well, it's talked about more. People are more cognizant and understanding of the idea that you might be gay, but that you might love the feel of a girl's breasts, for example. It's not so shocking that a straight person might have a little, you know, fumble. I think the idea that our sexual classifications aren't so black and white is good. I'm all for gray.

You released an album a few years ago. Can you give me a romantic playlist?
That Taylor Swift one, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." The theme from Love Story. "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing," and then… "Fuck You," by Cee-Lo Green. And actually, Any Day Now ends with "I Shall Be Released." That's a pretty good one for a date. I hope I shall be released, anyway, if I get enough booze in you [laughs].

In 2000, you spoke to the London Sunday Herald about how the public’s expectations of what a man’s body should look like had become ridiculous. Have we made any progress in that?
I'm actually really happy about how things have gone. When I said that, we were sort of in the middle of this big, buff, Chelsea boy muscle-man look everywhere. And bizarrely, they're not very strong, those people, because it's all artifice. You can pin them down, and they won't be able to get up — I've tried. I once had sex with this big muscle person, a long long time ago, and I thought it was so fascinating. He wasn't very flexible, it was a bit like [mimes stiff-armed walk], you know? Like the Michelin Man. And that's not so au courant anymore. I think leaner, fitter bodies are coming back into vogue, and that's just better, healthier.

And you can't pin them down as easily.
Exactly. They can put up more of a struggle.