Alan Cumming opens up about ‘tyrant’ father’s ‘very violent’ abuse: ‘As an adult, I would vomit’

Alan Cumming has opened up about his difficult childhood and how his abusive father left him feeling “powerless”.

Cumming’s father died of cancer in late 2010, and their difficult relationship formed the basis of his book, Not My Father’s Son: A Family Memoir.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday (20 March), Cumming explained how his upbringing is partly responsible for who he is today.

“My dad didn’t break my spirit,” he said. “I feel that the qualities you need to deal with someone who is an adult who is abusing you, and you are powerless, are good qualities for being an actor.

“Listening, pretending you are not feeling what you are feeling, not showing fear. 

“I always knew that I was going to get out and I was going to live the life I wanted to lead. And I was helped by some of the people in this playlist today.”

 

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He also described his father’s wrath as unpredictable, and admitted that the “very violent” abuse would leave him “in terror”.

“That’s the thing with a tyrant. Constantly on edge. I could tell by the clack of his boots, the way he opened the door,” said Cumming. “Often it would be to do with my appearance or my hair. He was obsessed with my hair. When I would go to get my hair cut as an adult I would vomit.”

Cumming lost contact with his father until shortly before taking part in the BBC’s genealogy TV show, Who Do You Think You Are? in 2010.

He discovered that his father believed that he was not his biological son, a belief that was soon disproved by a DNA test.

When he called his father up to tell him of the test’s result, he told him he thought he was a “coward” and had used the question of biological relation as a “justification” for the abuse that he had meted out for years.

Cumming also spoke of his joy at hanging up and realising that he was in full drag for an acting role.

“It was just perfect. I thought if my father could see me right now, it would be his worst nightmare, probably. Not anything I thought I would have to go through,” he said.

Cumming has a long history of being outspoken and defiant, including telling Harry Potter producers to “f**k off” after they purportedly lied about a role. He has also been deeply vulnerable in the past, also opening up about his suicidal thoughts before his audition for the James Bond’s GoldenEye, a pivotal role which catapulted him to stardom.

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