Vanessa St. Clair
Vanessa St. Clair is a journalist and novelist based in London, a surprisingly great city for dogs. Her book for teens, Love Divided, will be released in the UK in March.
Interview with the actor, writer, and director.
Alan Cumming is best known for his appearances in movies such as X2: X-Men United, Son of the Mask and Nicholas Nickleby. This winter on the Sci Fi Channel, he stars alongside Richard Dreyfuss in Tin Man, a miniseries based on The Wizard of Oz.
In most of his films, Cumming takes the roles of creeps, geeks or crazies. “Subtlety’s not my forte,” he says. “I think you can be as big as you like as long as you mean it.” But in real life, he is a glamorous and charming figure. Even though he’s in his 40s, a boyish enthusiasm infects everything he does—and he does a lot. A native of Scotland, he now splits his time between Manhattan and upstate New York; in between acting jobs, he oversees his various other projects. His latest, Suffering Man’s Charity (which he directs and stars in), is making the rounds of the film festival circuit. He’s also a well-known campaigner in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and a novelist. His book, Tommy’s Tale, was published in 2003, and he’s currently at work on the screenplay.
All in all, perhaps, not the sort of celebrity who would have a lot of time for a dog, you might think. But in fact, Alan is crazy about canines, and it’s all thanks to his dog Honey. To find out more, Bark caught up with him on a recent visit to the UK to ask him a few questions about life with his beloved doggie companion.
Bark: Did you have any dogs before Honey?
Alan Cumming: As as child, I had two West Highland Terriers. They were my constant companions growing up. But no dogs as an adult, which seems crazy to me now. I can’t imagine life without one.
B: How did you come by Honey?
AC: A friend was working at Cause for Paws, a charity in New York that rescues dogs from dog pounds on the day they would have been put down. They foster them out, and Honey was fostered with my friend. The weirdest thing was, I had no intention of getting a dog. But Honey was so amazing, I had to have her.
B: What do you think her background was?
AC: I think it was pretty difficult. At first,Honey was quite freaked out—she had paint all down her side and she slept the whole time. She was scared of bin bags [garbage bags] and skips [Dumpsters] —and she loved homeless people! My theory is that she was thrown in a skip and homeless people looked after her.
B: What does having a dog bring to your life?
AC: Obviously a huge great amount of love. And also, there’s a new kind of responsibility. I really enjoy having to make time to walk her—it’s not only about me anymore. And when I’m on walks, I see parts of the city I never would have seen otherwise, and talk to different people. A new world of camaraderie has been unlocked that I just didn’t notice as a non-dog-owner. But I can find myself getting judgmental too: I’ll see someone being rough with their dog or something and think, There’s no need to talk to him like that!
B: Honey has been forging her own show biz career recently.Can you tell us about it?
AC: Well, she helped me with my makeup on X2—it took four hours every morning to get that blue face! (Cumming played the role of Nightcrawler). Honey had her own chair, although she hated sitting on it. Last year, she played herself in a film called Sweet Land, about rural Minnesota in the 1920s. I play a farmer, she plays my dog. I got her a part in another film but she was cut out of it, so I was determined that it wouldn’t happen in Sweet Land. I made sure she was in the film’s biggest scene, which happened to be everyone running towards the camera, so it suited her quite well.
Honey also has her own show on the Sundance Channel, Midnight Snack. She and her stepbrother Leon (Cumming married his boyfriend—Leon’s dad— last winter in London) review all the new DVD releases. Honey puts her paws up or down, depending whether she likes the film or not. Leon (he’s a Chihuahua) howls if the films meet his approval. To get Leon to sing, we had to record the sound of a fire engine. It’s so funny! When we press play, he starts looking interested in the tape player, then he just goes crazy.
B: What do Honey and Leon request backstage? I know some celebrities can be quite demanding.
AC: They have their own dressing rooms, with their own beds in them. They have their own rider: dog food. There are special rules too. For example, you can’t leave tape in Honey’s dressing room because she’ll eat it. And she doesn’t like noise either.
B: Does Honey travel with you when you are on location?
AC: Quite a lot. She has her own passport and chip and her own account with Virgin—you can get doggie air miles. At first she was frightened about traveling in the hold in a cage, but now she’s a seasoned traveler; she knows it’s going to end. Sometimes, if I’m working in Vancouver, I travel with her across the U.S. in my campervan. It’s a great way to see the country.
B: Describe a typical day in Honey’s life when she’s not on the set.
AC: She’s up late, forced out of bed by Dad. Then off to Tompkins Square dog run [in Manhattan] to see her friends. Leon goes to the little dog park—they’re quite strict; no dog over 23 pounds is allowed in the little dog park. So if I have both, I have to position myself where both dogs can see me.
Also, non-dog-owners are frowned upon, but a few come in just to look. I see Moby there sometimes and I think to myself, I’m sure you haven’t got a dog! At the weekend, everyone hangs over the fence to ogle the dogs. It’s great, it’s very sociable. I often see the same dogowners and we chat.
After the dog park, Honey takes a walk around the East Village. Then she goes into the office to hang out with my assistant and deal with her correspondence. Then she’ll probably take another walk before dinner.
B: What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for Honey?
AC: Swimming pool steps. I was so worried about her drowning that I installed these special steps she can climb up to get out. She goes swimming with me a lot; she’s quite trepidatious at first, but she gets into it.
B: What are Honey’s best traits?
AC: She’s aloof. She’s not a dog who seeks love from everyone—she doesn’t need affirmation all the time. But when she sees someone she knows, she just goes nuts.
B: Her worst?
AC: She’s a scavenger. She’ll make a dive for something even though I’m trying to pull her away from it.
B: If Honey was a person, who would she be?
AC: A posh English actress. She sits in the window with paws crossed looking out like a character in a Bergman film. We joke that when Leon tries to hump her, she looks as though she’s calling for her agent to come and deal with him.
B: What kind of dog would you be if you had to come back as one?
AC: A Scottie. Happy all the time, but also feisty.
B: If you could be a dog for a day, what would you do?
AC: I would be in my house in upstate New York. It’s become Honey’s place— it’s great for dogs. There was a deer standing there the other day and Honey was furious, as though she was saying, “Get away from my house!” I’d love to know what she saw and what she smelt and heard. It would be great.
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