The Second Cumming. The Queer Review Meets Alan Cumming to talk Instinct Season 2

It was recently announced that the second season of Instinct starring Alan Cumming, the first US network television drama series to feature a lead gay character, will be its last. At the weekend Cumming took to instagram saying, “So the word is out. Instinct will not be returning for a third season.” Adding that “because of Instinct millions of people will have seen a same sex marriage portrayed for the first time and I hope we changed and opened some minds in the process.”

Last year while Cumming was still filming the second season of Instinct in New York, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann met the actor, writer and LGBTQ activist to talk about the importance of the show, not being a musical geek and why he won’t be appearing in The Good Fight.

In the UK Season 2 of Instinct premieres on Sky Witness on Monday 26th August, while the series finale, episode 11 “Grey Matter”, airs in the US on CBS this Sunday 25th at 9pm/8pm CT.

James Kleinmann: You play the former CIA operative, author and university professor turned NYPD consultant Dr. Dylan Reinhart on Instinct, based on the novel Murder Games by James Patterson and Howard Roughan. What input have you had into the character?

Alan Cumming: “Well, quite a lot because I was there from the very word go. Well, the book was already written, I didn’t write the book! I got the book, it was sent to me with them saying ‘we’re thinking about making this into a TV show. If you like it, let us know’ and I did. Then I met Michael Rauch the showrunner. And so the genesis of it was very much something I was involved in. And now it’s great because I have a really great relationship with Michael and I talk to him all the time about new things that are happening. And also it’s a cop show and I understand that certain things have got to be happening, I can’t make it into just anything I want, but there are certain elements where I get to have a big input.”

With Dylan Reinhart, you’re playing the first leading gay character on a US network channel drama series. What does that mean to you?

“I actually think what’s great is that in this time that we’re living in in America with Trump preaching fear and hatred of ‘the other’, people who are different to him; women, people of colour, gay people, trans people, anyone who is different in any way is derided, so the fact that in that atmosphere there is a mainstream, and a formulaic show, it’s a cop show, it’s not a sweeping drama about a progressive couple, it’s a cop show, to have that on a big network I think is important. I do feel that in terms of all the work I’ve done in terms of being an activist for LGBT rights over the years, the fact that I’m going into millions of people’s homes who have never seen a gay person portrayed in this way, never seen a same sex relationship perhaps at all, I think it’s a really important thing. Because I feel that all ignorance, especially in this country, is based on fear and of course the more you’re subject to and have to interact with things you’re afraid of, the less you’re afraid of them and the more accepting you become. It’s a joke, but it’s true, who knew that CBS was the most progressive network?”

“Let’s be frank, if this show hadn’t done well we wouldn’t have come back for a second season, they wouldn’t have said ‘oh, it’s a gay couple we need to do something progressive and do it for the LGBT community.’ No, if it wasn’t making money we wouldn’t be back, but I think what’s important is that people will see that you can have a gay character and people will still watch. The idea that I’m still saying that is horrifying to me, but that’s the way it is. On networks, the fact that we haven’t had a character like this, is because the system they were using was successful and it was making them money and why change it. So they kind of took a chance with this and I think hopefully what’s important is that it is realised that it’s OK, you can do these things. Hopefully it will encourage people to take chances on different characters and maybe tell stories that they’ve not been telling before.”

To what extent can you personally relate to your character Dylan, how similar are you?

“Well, we look alike! I don’t know that I do relate to him that much. He’s a very disparate character. There are many different facets to him and that’s what makes him quite challenging and also quite hard to play. He’s a fuddy-duddy professor, he’s a former spy, he’s a writer, and now he’s a cop. All these different things that you’ve got to make into one person. And I suppose in my life I have a lot of irons in the fire, even when I’m very busy doing Instinct, I’m also a bar owner, a writer, I’ve got all these different things. I’ve got a lot happening. He’s quite good at focusing as well. I’m very present, I think that’s the thing you’ve got to be. But aside from that our experiences don’t cross over very much. When I did Eli on The Good Wife…I don’t think we would be friends. I don’t think Dylan and I would be friends either, I would be a bit bored of him or he wouldn’t be able to focus on me. I don’t think you need to be friendly with the people you play. My whole point of being an actor is to play people who are different from me. I think that’s a difference between an American actor and a European actor. I think in America people want their actors to be personalities, to be a similar type all the time, you know what you’re going to get. You form kind of a personality and then you’re placed into things. Whereas from my tradition, and certainly with the work I do, I usually am different in each thing, hopefully.”

There’s usually some sexual tension between the male and female leads on shows like this…

“Well, we do kiss in this season when we’re undercover in a scene. The crew were like ‘ooohhh!'”

But is there anything in the dynamic between your character Dylan and Bojana Novakovic’s charachter Lizzie that supplants the usual romantic or sexual tension we’d get in this type of show, something in the chemistry between them?

“The banter they have, the brotherly/sisterly thing they have. And it’s funny, I love the comedy in show. There’s a new character who comes in in Season 2, this hunky cop, Ryan played by Travis Van Winkle, and they’re both jealous of each other’s time with him and they realise what a great couple they are themselves, Dylan and Lizzie. There’s a scene where we go undercover to a sex club and she’s jealous and says something about me spending too much time with Ryan and I say something like ‘if you can’t share me, we’re not going to have any fun in this sex club!’ So I like that, they’ve made something that is almost a sexual tension in a way, where there’s another person that’s taking up our time, it’s clever.”

There are some great guest starts on the show aren’t there. Could you talk a bit about who you were most pleased to have on there, Whoopi Goldberg was in the first season of course…

“Actually the guy who plays my dad, John Doman I love him! I think the great thing about doing the show in New York, and it was the same with The Good Wife, is that you have access to a pool of people who are theatre actors of great quality. And actually Danny Burstein who was with me in the last production of Cabaret, he’s been great to work with on Instinct. It’s also a nice way to see your friends because when you’re doing a show like this the hours are so crazy that it’s actually lovely when somoene comes on who you know because you can catch up, in a worky way.  I remember The Good Wife I would always miss the guest stars because I was in the political world, and they were usually in the legal bit. So there were all these hundreds of people who were in episodes of The Good Wife and I would never see them.”

If you hadn’t done Instinct would you have returned as Eli in The Good Fight?

“No, because they wouldn’t pay me my rate. If they’d pay my rate I would do it. That’s why I didn’t. I tell you, I got so fed up of all the things like ‘oh, Alan’s schedule, that’s why he didn’t’, it wasn’t because of that, they wouldn’t pay me. So, that’s fair enough, they wouldn’t pay me. Sometimes it’s not your priority to pay someone their rate and I think that’s fair enough, I have no hard feelings, look at me I’m perfectly happy about it, but I don’t feel I should be forced to lie about why I’m not in something.”

What do you like about shooting in New York? Some of this is filmed pretty near home for you isn’t it?

“Yeah, I live in the East Village in New York and the exterior of the police station is in the East Village and we shot a lot roundabout where I live, it’s great, I love that. One of the good things about going on location in bits of Brooklyn and areas that I don’t know is that I’ve actually got to know Brooklyn and Queens a lot more through doing the show. I really like that. I love New York and it’s just nice to feel the love back. People might be saying to the crew on location ‘why are you making all this noise?’ and then someone will say ‘it’s for a show with Alan Cumming’ and they’ll say ‘oh, we love Alan’. I love it when people tell me that, it’s so nice!”

You mentioned earlier about being so busy as an actor, activist, bar owner, writer and your acting career has been so varied in terms of the roles you’ve taken on, you even played all the roles in Macbeth! What can’t you do?!

“What can’t I do?! Well if you looked at some of my older films you’d realise some things I can’t do with some of those performances! I don’t sort of think in negative ways. I don’t think ‘there’s nothing I can’t do,’ I just think ‘I’ll give everything a bash.’ Also, I don’t yearn to do things. I just take what comes to me and sometimes I think ‘that’s not for me’ obviously, but I never think ‘oh, I couldn’t do that’ though, because you can always interpret something in some way that’s you.

What about musicals, what do they mean to you?

“Well, I’ve only done two musicals on the stage. I mean, I sing and I do concerts and I interpret mostly other people’s songs, but musicals per se I’ve only done Cabaret and The Threepenny Opera, so I have a niche! I’ve done a couple more on film, but the musical form is not necessarily my favourite thing. I have a bar now called Club Cumming and there’s a night on Mondays where everyone gets up and sings songs and they sort of geek out, it’s a geek fest for musical people and they’ll sing the entire first act of Follies and it’s amazing. But it’s not my thing in that I’m not feverish about it as a form. But then I think that’s good not to be like that, it’s my job it’s not my hobby, you know what I mean. My job is acting, it’s not acting in a certain form. But I do like singing and I’ve really grown to love doing concerts and I’ve come to understand the importance of how you interpret a song and how you can change someone’s idea of that song because of what you bring to it. That’s been a really important thing for me to understand and I really do love that.”

In the UK Season 2 of Instinct premieres on Sky Witness on Monday 26th August, while the series finale, episode 11 “Grey Matter”, airs in the US on CBS this Sunday 25th at 9pm/8pm CT.

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