Alan Cumming Answers Every Question We Have About GoldenEye


Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by United Artists

It had been an unusually long time from one Bond to the next — six years — when GoldenEye, the 17th installment of the monolithic spy franchise, was released in 1995. Much had happened in the half-decade since Timothy Dalton’s second and final outing, License to Kill. The Berlin Wall had toppled, England’s own geopolitical importance diminished, and the Soviet empire collapsed. Bond, as the first woman M — Judi Dench’s “evil queen of numbers” — would put it, was one such relic of the Cold War: a handsome, martini-doused symbol of an outdated, brutish chauvinism, perhaps best relegated to the past.

GoldenEye, then, wouldn’t just have to be Bond for a new decade, but for a new epoch in which the world had irrevocably changed. And as the next millennium approached, what was more terrifying than the emergent ubiquity of computers?

Enter GoldenEye’s Big Bad, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). A Lienz Cossack whose family was purged by Stalinists after the Second World War, he was also a disgraced double-0 agent. His plan? In classic Bond fashion, needlessly convoluted: to steal all of the Bank of England’s hard-kept pounds, using a top-secret EMP superweapon developed by the Soviets (the eponymous “GoldenEye”) to hide the theft and devastate London in the process.

Alec has the brawn but doesn’t boast the brains. That falls to Alan Cumming’s Boris Grishenko, the geekier-than-geeky, pen-twiddling, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing computer whiz charged with heisting the goods. He is, as we say in England, a complete bastard: an egotist constantly professing, “I am invincible!” (a Bond catchphrase that has stuck like few others). Vulture jumped on the phone with Cummings, who regaled us with tidbits about Pierce Brosnan’s bready sense of humor, learning that pen trick from Jason Isaacs, and having his invincibility tested by dry ice.

So, you were on set from day one. What scene were you shooting?
It was the scene when I’m outside having a cigarette and the helicopter lands —

The scene in Severnaya?
Yeah. It was pretty exciting, pretty terrifying. It was the first day of a huge film and there hadn’t been a Bond film for years. There was a new Bond, Pierce. We got faxes — [producer] “Cubby” Broccoli faxed us all letters of good luck, which were brought to us in our dressing rooms. I found that hilarious.

Do you still have yours?
No, I don’t. But the first day of any film is always kind of scary, and it was the biggest film I’d been on by far. And Martin Campbell, the director, he shouts a lot, so there was a lot of shouting, I remember, and a lot of noise from this pretend helicopter landing on top of me, and the snow machines, the wind machines. They had all this sort of fake snow, these little bits of polystyrene that they blew on me and, days later, after I’d had many baths and showers, I woke up one morning and found a fake piece of snow in my belly button. And I’m just thinking, Where has that been?

I’ve had experiences like that, but usually with glitter. What was your initial take on Pierce?
I can’t remember when I met him, actually. But he was just a darling from the beginning — a hoot. There used to be some sort of company that sponsored hair products on the film, I can’t remember what it was called, something with letters. And there was this stuff called “activator.” We used to get “activator” put in our hair. They’d say, “The hairstylist would like to activate your hair now,” so you’d go get activated, come back and shoot your scene, go back and do your hair — it was so ridiculous. A couple years later, I went to visit him at his house 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 couple of years after that, I think I was hosting the Britannia Awards, some awards ceremony in L.A. where everywhere you look it’s Steven Spielberg, swanky-swank. All of a sudden, a bread roll hit my head. And it was Pierce.

Bond films are known for their exotic locations. Did you get to do much traveling while playing Boris?
No, I was supposed 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 on Marylebone High Street, or somewhere. I did not get to go anywhere glamorous at all.

I’m sorry, did you say they were worried about the Russian mafia?
Yeah, it was like ’95, and the Russian mafia were kind of out of control. There was a lot of stuff going on in St. Petersburg and big cities in Russia. They were worried about the mafia, I dunno 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 was, well, Jason Isaacs. How did that happen?
He’s a really good friend. I was living in London, he was part of my friend group and I was seeing him a lot and knew he did magic. He would do little tricks when I was over at his house for dinner. We were young baby actors at the time, all talking about what we’ve been doing, so I told him about how much I was freaking out about it and he helped me. At one point I said, “Oh, maybe I could do something else,” and it was my friend Dixie who said, “It’s the whole crux of the film, you’ve got to be able to do it.” A lot of people click pens near me to this day, it’s sort of a thing.

You have, I think, one of the film’s most iconic moments: Right at the end, Boris is the last man standing, he does the “I am invincible!” thing — and gets frozen by exploding liquid nitrogen canisters. Talk me through it.
I had this rubber belt thing wrapped around my waist, attached to something behind me on the floor so I couldn’t move, so when they replaced me with my model, I would stay still. Effectively I was trapped in this position, and all of these buckets of dry ice fell on top of my head. Some of the bits at the bottom of the buckets were still solid. They hadn’t turned into gas, I suppose. And they stuck to my head. They stuck to my scalp and were burning my scalp. So I’m screaming: “Ah! Ah!” They’re going, “Get out the way!” And I couldn’t because I was trapped by this rubber band thing, right? I’m screaming — “Aaaah!” — and these firemen came on and started hosing my head. So I was covered in dry ice, being doused with water by these burly firemen, 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 gonna say!
They do! All the big stunts in a film, they usually do them towards the end so that if we get injured or die, they can still finish the film. We also had to get this life-size model of me crafted — once all that dry ice clears and I’m frozen, that’s a model — and they said to me, “Do you want to keep this model?” What, a model of myself frozen to death, looking really unattractive? Hmm. Let me think about that. No. But I wish I had, because it’s always in these James Bond exhibitions all over the place — it was in Planet Hollywood in London in the window. I was like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Then people sent me photographs of it around the world in various places. I wish I had kept it, so they wouldn’t be able to take my ugly, frozen dead self and parade it around the world.

It might’ve been a delightfully kitsch accoutrement to have in the house, when you’re having dinner parties …
I would’ve probably just put it in the forest or something, to scare off hunters.

How do you feel about the franchise now, 25 years on?
I mean, I’m a little put off by how long this new one is, to be honest. Is it two and three-quarter hours?

It’s two hours and 43 minutes.
For fuck sake, that’s too long. But I thought Casino Royale was absolutely brilliant. I thought — what’s the one where Judi dies?

Skyfall.
Skyfall was great. I think what they’ve done is make them really good films, not just good James Bond films. They’re a lot more character-based. I think it’s got less campy and more sincere. But I will go and see No Time to Die. Two hours and three-quarters is just too long!

Say you were offered a cameo, even a bigger part — maybe not as Boris — in a Bond film in the future, would you take it?
Oh, totally. Absolutely. People have said this to me, that next time I see Barbara Broccoli or somebody, I should say, “Maybe Boris isn’t dead? Maybe he just … unfroze? Maybe the liquid, whatever it was, computer coolant, didn’t actually kill him?” I don’t know, I think it’d be hilarious to bring him back as a Russian baddie.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


See All





Source link

Latest Posts

Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here