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Alan Cumming // Alan Cumming’s Shelves

Alan Cumming shelves cover

INTERVIEW

Alan Cumming // Alan Cumming’s Shelves

Alan Cumming hardly needs any introduction (but we’ll give him a short one anyway!). His acting work has spanned across films (Goldeneye, X2, Eyes Wide Shut) television (from Taggart to The Good Wife) and numerous big theatre productions. For podcast enthusiasts, his Scottish accent is perhaps most recognisable for Homo Sapiens, which he’s co-hosted since May last year. Now he’s got the taste for it, Alan Cumming is launching his own podcast.

In Alan Cumming’s Shelves, Alan take a trip down memory lane via items on the shelves in his house. Each episode, he chooses one item and tells the story behind it with the help of mega stars (Sir Ian McKellen, Monica Lewinsky and Cindi Lauper all appear) as well as the lesser known individuals that have impacted his life, like the perfumier who created Alan’s fragrance ‘Cumming the Fragrance’ (and the soap ‘Cumming in a Bar’).

Alan Cumming, Ian McKellen

We asked Alan a few questions about his new podcast.

Tell us a bit about the new podcast – what’s your elevator pitch??

I spent most of the pandemic in my house in the Catskills Mountains [in New York], where I have a lot of shelves and they are a repository of all my travels, work and personal things. I put things up there that remind me of things, little mementos and weird things. I would pass them every day… and see something, and it would kind of click a little memory. I thought, “Wouldn’t that be a good idea, if I told those stories in a podcast?”

So, it’s actually a pandemic inspired podcast. It was about missing people, thinking of the past and happy times I’d had. That’s really what it is, and I thought it would be a fun thing to get in touch with people again, and remind them of an experience we’d shared in the past.

Your other podcast, Homo Sapiens, is a favourite of many interviewees. But how have you found it being a solo host?

It’s a completely different thing, interviewing on Alan Cumming’s Shelves, as opposed to Homo Sapiens, which I’ve actually stopped doing now – I’ve finished all the interviews, we did a ton and backed them up, so I’m actually kind of done with Homo Sapiens now. The people that I speak to on [Shelves] are people I know, all of them are people I know because they’re people from my memories and have a relation to the items on my shelves. So that’s kind of different, when you’re talking to someone that you’ve had a shared experience with. There’s an ease there. What was great about Homo Sapiens was meeting all these fascinating people, but most of them I didn’t know, I had to find about them and do a bit of research on them. There’s less research on Alan Cumming’s Shelves [laughs], because the research is actually me.

What is it you love about podcasting and podcasts?

I think what I’ve really come to love about podcasting in general, both as a listener and as a podcaster, is the intimacy that you can get. You really feel as a listener that you’re eavesdropping on people and that you’re a part of a conversation often. In my show, what I wanted it to be was, you know, “You’re a part of my memory.” You’re literally taking a trip down memory lane with me, with someone else, all based off an item. That’s what I really like that intimate moment that’s being shared by people, that you are a party to. I guess you find out people’s authentic selves as well, when they are unguarded and talking about themselves. That’s something I really strive for in all areas of my life, to be authentic.

All of the conversations in Alan Cumming’s Shelves are very personal to you, but we’ve got to ask – do you have a favourite episode we should get excited about?

Oh gosh, I can’t say I’ve got a favourite episode! That’s very Sophie’s Choice-y. I mean, everyone I speak to, I am speaking to them because I love them, and I’ve got this shared moment in the past [with them]. Sometimes the moments are very different, and the things I talk about are very different. They go from a yoga mat to a bracelet that Ian McKellen bought for my dog… There’s various different things like that.
What I really like about this show is that it goes from very famous people, to people you’ve never heard of, but I have the same connection with them. What’s great is that some of the best episodes are with my friends who are not used to doing things like podcasts, so they’re more genuine almost, more unguarded, more enjoying the novelty of it. I’m just really happy that I have a show that spans
that spectrum.

Are there any items on your shelf you didn’t get around to this series that you want to do episodes on?

Oh my god, my shelves are voluminous. I’m in my house in New York City now, and I’ve also got tons of things on my shelves here. I’m a bit of a hoarder of memorabilia and little items that speak to me. There’s a lot of stuff on my shelves [laughs]. There’s a couple of things as well that are not technically on my shelves. There’s a picture, on my wall, and I talk to the painter of that, Christian Hook, who painted me when he won the Portrait Artist of the Year and painted me for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. So I kind of, slightly, steer away from my shelves a little bit, but there’s a long way to go [laughs]. There could be several series before I have to start inventing new things on my shelves…

Finally, what is your current favourite podcast you would recommend to readers?

I’m really loving a podcast right now called You’re Wrong About. It’s a couple who just talk you through various things, culturally, historically, that we are wrong about. It’s taking a fresh look and a, perhaps, more accurate, with the benefit of hindsight, on certain things. There was a really great series about the OJ Simpson trial, about Princess Diana, but there’s also one about The Dark Knight film. So, I’m really enjoying that.

Alan Cumming's Shelves

Alan Cumming’s Shelves was released on 18th May with episodes out every Tuesday, in the usual places and through ACAST. 

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  1. Pingback: 18 new podcasts to listen to in June 2021 | POD BIBLE

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