Earlier this week, Boxoffice attended a press day for the new movie The Smurfs where we talked to various members of the cast and crew. During a roundtable interview with Alan Cumming, we asked him how playing Gutsy Smurf compared to the experience of working with Stanley Kubrick, the notoriously methodical filmmaker who directed him in 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. (Admittedly, his comparison was prompted by a question from us, not spontaneously generated.) Look for additional coverage of The Smurfs on Boxoffice in the weeks to come, but for now check out Cumming’s recollection of meeting Kubrick on his first day on the set of Eyes Wide Shut.
How does the specificity of the work you did on The Smurfs compare to the experience of filming with someone like Stanley Kubrick?
I never thought I’d be asked a question comparing and contrasting The Smurfs with Stanley Kubrick. But both are very detail-oriented experiences, of course; you have to be very precise and specific. And also in both I was encouraged to push the limits of campiness in various ways. And both were experiences that for what they are, took longer than what you [would expect]. I could read all of these lines in an hour, but I probably worked on The Smurfs about the same amount of time I worked on Eyes Wide Shut – like a week. Both had a high ratio of shot film to edited film.
Did working with Kubrick meet your expectations of who he was and how he worked?
Well, there was lots of stories about him, and when I went to do that, they’d been shooting the film for nearly a year already, and there were all of these horror stories about Stanley being this absolutely crazy, angry, weird person. And he wasn’t at all – my experience with him was not at all like that, though I met people actually that had a hard time with him on the set. But mine wasn’t like that at all; I loved him – he was hilarious, really hilarious. And I think it was because I stood up to him on the first day. I went on the set and it was one of these things where of course I wanted to be in a Stanley Kubrick film – who didn’t? – and everyone kind of knew it was probably going to be his last film. So I got this little part and the dates kept moving and moving and moving, and I was like, “ugh – alright.” They would say, “you’ve got to come tomorrow!” And then they would say, “no – come back in a month!” and things like that.
So I was getting a bit like, come on, people! And I’d auditioned for it like six times, and it’s not King Lear, you know what I mean? And I never met Stanley – it was always his producers, and I would audition, just do the scene in an American accent. So I got to the set and I’d met Tom Cruise before, and he’s very nice, but it’s a weird thing coming on a set when you’re the new boy, and they’ve been doing it for a year. So they said, “Alan, it’s time to go to the set now,” and so I went in a room like [a ballroom], and there’s Stanley Kubrick and Tom Cruise, and Tom went, “hey Alan, how are you doing? This is Stanley.” And I went, “hey Stanley, how are you?” and he went, “you’re not American!” I was like, “I know.” (laughs) “I’m Scottish.” [He said,] “well, you were American on the tapes,” and I said, “yeah, that’s because I’m an actor, Stanley.”
It was like six o’clock in the morning, and I was like, fuck you, old man! It’s so early, and I’ve auditioned for this a million times, and blah blah blah, so that’s what I said to him – “that’s because I’m an actor, Stanley,” like that. And there was a little moment, and I thought, oops. But then after that, he really respected me – he got it, and I think he quite liked the fact that I stood up to him. We got on really well after that. In a funny way, I think people who are perceived as quite scary, it’s because people treat them with kid gloves. But I really did like him and I thought he was quite lovely, and it was a really great time. And I sort of kept in touch with him afterwards, because his nephew was the stills guy on the film as well, who I knew, so we would send messages back and forth.
But yeah, it really was an amazing experience to be in it – and I like to be the only man on screen to have cruised Tom Cruise. That’s also sort of an iconic mark.
New film is set to open on July 20, 2012. Check out the first poster here.