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Interview with Alan Cumming for Miriam & Alan: Lost in Scotland and Beyond

Alan Cumming and Miriam Margolyes return to Channel 4 on Tuesday 8th November at 9.15pm for another riotous and rip-roaring series of Miriam & Alan: Lost in Scotland and Beyond. We chat to Alan Cumming about what we can expect to see across the four episodes.

Hello Alan, when you were asked to get back behind the campervan wheel for a second journey with the inimitable Miriam, was it a no brainer or did you have to think twice?

I leapt at the chance to do it again. I had such fun last time, and I didn’t have to think twice at all. It was such a lovely thing to do, to go around Scotland with someone who loves it as much as I do. And just to get to know Miriam and have a laugh, I mean such a laugh. So to do that again, I was just delighted to get back on the road. I think we both were.

Upon your reunion on the train platform, Miriam isn’t the most complimentary about your Robert Burns longer hair! Did you expect anything less?

I did expect Miriam to have some strong opinions about my hair because it was quite extreme and different as to how she’d seen me last. (Laughs) But it’s almost like all the things people want to say but daren’t, Miriam says them, so my loins were girded. It’s always hilarious when she says things like ‘you look hideous darling.’ Luckily I have a good, healthy sense of myself and thick skin. Also around Miriam, you just know you’ve got to take everything with a pinch of salt! I know she loves me.

Your lovely – and seemingly, incredibly patient and chilled out – dog Lala joins the journey this time. Do you think she and Miriam enjoyed each other’s company?

They grew to like each other very much. Lala’s a really interesting dog in that she’s a darling, so patient, calm and obedient. She’s a bit of a one man dog, she’s very attentive to me and so with other people, she takes a while to warm up to them. She’s not one of those dogs that needs affirmation and validation all the time, she’s not a needy dog and is actually quite independent. So there was a while where Miriam said, ‘she doesn’t like me’ and I said, ‘she does like you, she just takes a while!’ but they got on very well. Lala would sit between us in the van in her little basket on the floor and there was a mutual affection between them for sure.

Miriam got very emotional seeing the beautiful reindeer in the Cairngorms, but her mood quickly changed when she declared them kosher so she’d be able to eat them! Are you ever shocked by what comes out her mouth or is it all part of her gloriousness?

I’m constantly shocked! I should know by now after two series of this show, but I’m still shocked by what she says. Even in situations where I can see she’s warming up, when she’s got an audience and she’s going to break with some potty mouthed or radical theory, I can sometimes see it coming but I’m still shocked that she’s dared to say it or do it! And then I’m shocked when she doesn’t do it, when she gets like a little girl and behaves herself. Miriam’s like a little girl showing her knickers, that’s what I think of her!

We see you and Miriam at the Dundee Rep meeting up with the marvellous Brian Cox, someone you’ve both worked with. Was it lovely seeing him again?

What was great about the three of us being together though were the stories, all the hilarious theatrical stories – far too many to include in the show. You get old actors together, the stories just come out and that was really lovely. I knew Miriam would have a ton up her sleeve and she did.

You’re a Universal Life Church ordained minister and we see you renew the vows of your cousin Martin and his husband William. Do you get nervous when conducting weddings? And how was it having Miriam, looking resplendent in her sparkly number, there?

I do get nervous when I do weddings because it’s such a big responsibility, but I really like it. I really like being with people at that moment in their lives – a really tender, beautiful, momentous moment. I think it’s really important to mark the ritual of what they’re doing and that’s what I do in my little speech. I invite the people who are there – the congregation – to be active in the ceremony and say you’re not just observing something, you’re a witness and you’ve got to have an active part in their future. So I really like that. But it is nerve-wracking because they’re nervous. It’s a big, big moment but you should be nervous in situations like that because it shows that you care. It was beautiful for us that day because we were in Loch Lomond, it was really fun, and we all got dressed up. Lala had her little Scottish flag bandana on, and Miriam was in her sparkles. Of course she chose to read a poem that used the word pussy like 5000 times…

Tantalising teasers for the rest of the series offer us glimpses of drag queens, weed farms and a Dolly Parton priest. What can we expect from the West Coast US leg of your journey?

Yes, we go to a weed farm. It’s actually interesting – I sort of changed Miriam’s mind about cannabis. She was very closed off to it, but I managed to get her to buy some CBD balm for her arthritis in her hand and it really helped. Of course she was nervous about taking it through customs… but no, it was actually lovely to take someone to something and let them see it from a different angle. So that was great. She fell in the sea, that was hilarious.. whilst peeing I would like to add. Yes, we go to Las Vegas and do something with a Dolly Parton impersonator, and we see a lot of shows in Vegas. We went to a drag show in Palm Springs and went to this huge gay supermarket called Gay Mart and I had to explain to Miriam a variety of clothing items and various other sundry things that I would rather not have had to explain to an 81 year old (laughs) but she asked! So yes, there’s a lot of me explaining about sexual things and cannabis to her. We see some old friends in LA and go to some places we both used to go to when we spent time there. It ends up in Las Vegas with a really lovely culmination, although we weren’t keen on Vegas.

Time Magazine called you, Stanley Tucci, and Cher the three most fun people in show business. Could you see Miriam being added to that esteemed list?

Oh my god, of course I think Miriam should be on Time Magazine’s fun people list. She’s completely fun to be with because she’s so curious and interested in things and interested in people. Every day, even if she’s tired or not feeling well, she’s still great fun to be around because she’s just got this great curiosity and great abandon – that’s what I really like about her. And at the same time, she’s open to hearing about new things and to changing her mind, she’s not closed off, like some people who are as outspoken as she is. She actually listens and changes her mind, and I really admire her for that.

If you and Miriam were to embark on another road trip, have you discussed where you’d like to get lost next?

We’ve not discussed where we would go. We sort of said many times in the American part how much we missed Scotland! Although we saw lovely things in California and Nevada, we actually would rather have been in Scotland. So maybe we should stick to Scotland or at least start there. We’ve got the Scotland and Beyond by-line now so maybe that would be the good model for the future.

Lastly, you’re on tour later this year, filming a movie at the moment and the paperback of your critically acclaimed autobiography Baggage has recently come out. Do you thrive on being busy? And what can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

Yes I guess I do thrive on being busy. Like Miriam, I suppose I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I just think what we both do is focus really intently on what we’re doing and then once we’ve finished that, we focus on the next thing. And I focus as much on having fun as much as I do on my work and that’s how I’m able to do lots of projects – focus on them, finish them and move on to the next one. Right now, I’m making a little independent film where I’m playing Sigmund Freud, the paperback of my book is out, and I’ve done a couple of episodes of The Good Fight where I went back to playing Eli Gold who I played in The Good Wife for seven seasons. I’ve done a second season of Schmigadoon for Apple TV+ which is called Schmicago, I did a thing called The Traitors for Peacock (the British version is being hosted by Claudia Winkleman) which is a psychological gameshow set in a castle and yes, just got a lot on! I’m writing a book with my friend Forbes Masson about the characters that we made up at drama school 40 years ago called Victor & Barry which were sort of the pre-cursors to The High Life, the sitcom we made for BBC Two. So we’re doing a book called Victor & Barry’s Kelvinside Compendium which comes out next August. And yes, doing lots of concerts and then looking forward very much to going to Belize with Lala, her brother Jerry and my husband Grant for a much deserved vacation!

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