Alan Cumming answers all our questions about GoldenEye


Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by United Artists

It had been exceptionally long from one Bond to the next – six years – when Golden eye, the 17th installment of the monolithic spy franchise came out in 1995. Much had happened in the half-decade since Timothy Dalton’s second and final release, License to kill. The Berlin Wall had fallen, England’s geopolitical importance had diminished, and the Soviet Empire had collapsed. Bond, as the first female M – Judi Dench’s ‘Evil Queen of Numbers’ – would say, was one of those Cold War relics: a handsome martini-washed symbol of outdated and brutal chauvinism, perhaps. be better relegated to the past.

Golden eye, so, one should not only be Bond for a new decade, but for a new era in which the world had irrevocably changed. And as the next millennium approaches, what could be more terrifying than the emerging ubiquity of computers?

Enter Golden eye‘s Big Bad, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). A Lienz Cossack whose family was purged by the Stalinists after WWII, he was also a disgraced double-0 agent. His project ? In classic Bond way, unnecessarily convoluted: to steal all the pounds sterling from the Bank of England, using a top-secret Soviet-developed EMP super-weapon (the eponymous “GoldenEye”) to hide the theft and devastate London in the process.

Alec has the muscle but doesn’t have the intelligence. It comes down to Alan Cumming’s Boris Grishenko, the computer genius more geek than geek, who turns the pen and wears a Hawaiian shirt, accused of stealing the goods. He is, as they say in England, a complete bastard: an egoist constantly professing: “I am invincible!” (a Bond slogan that has remained like few others). Vulture hopped on the phone with Cummings, who regaled us with treats on Pierce Brosnan’s sense of humor, learning this Jason Isaacs pen trick and having his invincibility tested with dry ice.

So you were on the set from day one. What scene were you shooting?
This was the scene where I’m outside smoking a cigarette and the helicopter lands –

The scene in Severnaya?
Yes. It was quite exciting, quite terrifying. It was the first day of a big movie and there hadn’t been a Bond movie in years. There was a new Bond, Pierce. We have faxes – [producer] “Cubby” Broccoli faxed us all the good luck letters, which were brought to us in our locker room. I found it hilarious.

Do you still have yours?
No, I don’t. But the first day of any movie is always a little scary, and it was the biggest movie I’d been on far. And Martin Campbell, the director, he’s screaming a lot, so there was a lot of screaming, I remember, and a lot of noise from that fake helicopter landing on me, and snowmobiles, wind turbines. They had all this kind of fake snow, these little bits of styrofoam that they blew all over me and a few days later after having had many baths and showers I woke up one morning and found a fake piece of snow in my navel. And I just think Where is summer?

I have had experiences like this, but usually with glitter. What was your first vision of Pierce?
I don’t remember when I first met him, actually. But he was just a darling from the start – a hoot. There was some sort of company that sponsored hair products on the movie, I can’t remember what it was called, something with letters. And there was this thing called “activator”. We used to put an “activator” in our hair. They said: “The hairdresser would like Activate your hair now ”, so you were going to activate, come back and turn your scene, turn over and comb your hair – that was so ridiculous. A few years later I went to visit him at his home in Malibu and he still had some of that stuff and put it on his legs. He said, “I’m activating the hairs on my legs now. “ Maybe a few years later I think I was hosting the Britannia Awards, an awards show in LA where everywhere you look is Steven Spielberg, chic and classy. All of a sudden a bun hit my head. And it was Pierce.

Bond films are known for their exotic locations. Did you travel a lot playing Boris?
No, I had to go to St. Petersburg, but they were worried about the Russian Mafia. We were all supposed to go and they changed their minds. So I was in Leavesden and this Russian church in Marylebone High Street, or somewhere. I haven’t been able to go to a glamorous place at all.

I’m sorry, did you say they were worried about the Russian Mafia?
Yeah, it was like 95, and the Russian Mafia was kind of out of control. There was a lot going on in St. Petersburg and in the big cities of Russia. They were worried about the Mafia, I don’t know why.

You’ve talked about learning Boris’s famous pen trick before, but you reveal in your new memoir that the person who helped you out was, well, Jason Isaacs. How did it happen?
He’s a very good friend. I lived in London, he was part of my group of friends and I saw him a lot and I knew he was doing magic. He did little tricks when I was at his house for dinner. We were young actors at the time, we were all talking about what we were doing, so I told him how panicked I was and he helped me out. At one point I said, “Oh, maybe I could do something else,” and it was my friend Dixie who said, “This is the whole point of the film, you have to be able to do it. Lots of people click on pens near me so far, it’s kind of a thing.

You have, I think, one of the most iconic moments in the movie: Right at the end, Boris is the last man standing, he goes “I’m invincible!” thing – and freezes, exploding cans of liquid nitrogen. Talk to me through this.
I had this rubber belt wrapped around my waist, tied to something behind me on the floor so that I couldn’t move, so when they replaced me with my model, I just stood still. Sure enough, I was stuck in that position, and all those buckets of dry ice fell on my head. Some of the pieces at the bottom of the buckets were still solid. They hadn’t turned to gas, I guess. And they stuck to my head. They stuck to my scalp and burned my scalp. So I shout: “Ah! Ah! They go, “Get out of the way!” And I couldn’t because I was trapped in this rubber band thing, right? I scream – “Aaaah! “ – and these firefighters came and started spraying my head. So I was covered in carbon dioxide snow, sprayed with water by these big firefighters, it was a nightmare.

Oh my God. When did you shoot the scene, towards the end?
Probably. They always shoot scenes like that towards the end in case you die.

I was going to say !
They do! All the big stunts in a movie, they usually do them towards the end, so if we get hurt or die, they can always finish the movie. We also had to have this full-size model made of me – after all that dry ice cleared up and I was frozen, it’s a model – and they said, “Will you keep this model?” ? What, a model of myself frozen to death, looking really unattractive? Hmm. Let me think about it. No. But I would have liked to have had it, because it’s still in those James Bond shows everywhere – it was in Planet Hollywood in London in the window. I was like, “Oh, fucking shit.” Then people sent me photographs around the world in various places. I wish I had kept it, so they couldn’t take my ugly frozen dead self and parade it around the world.

It could have been a delightfully kitsch accessory to have around the house, when you dine …
I probably would have just put it in the forest or something, to scare off the hunters.

What do you think of the franchise now, 25 years later?
I mean, I’m a little put off by the length of this again, to be honest. Is it two and three quarters?

It is two hours and 43 minutes.
Damn, that’s too long. But i thought Casino Royale was absolutely brilliant. I thought: which is the one where Judi dies?

Fall from the sky.
Fall from the sky was great. I think what they did was make them really good movies, not just the good James Bond movies. They are much more character oriented. I think it’s less campy and more sincere. But I will go and see No time to die. Two and three-quarters hours is too long!

Suppose you were offered a cameo, even a bigger role – maybe not as Boris – in a Bond movie in the future, would you accept?
Oh, totally. Absoutely. People have told me this, that the next time I see Barbara Broccoli or someone else, I should say, “Maybe Boris is not dead? Maybe he just… thawed? Maybe the liquid, whatever it is, the computer coolant, didn’t actually kill him? I don’t know, I think it would be hilarious to bring him back as a Russian villain.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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