Interview: Alan Cumming Puts The Scottish Into ‘The Smurfs’

Published 3 years ago by , Updated August 9th, 2013 at 9:50 am,

Alan Cumming is an actor who is often game to bring an innovative twist to a project — whether it is taking a turn as Glitch in Syfy’s re-visitation to the world of Oz, Tin Man, or reviving the role of the M.C. in Cabaret on Broadway. Cumming has the ability to revitalize an established franchise. The actor is also no stranger to voice-over work, so it comes as little surprise that he was chosen to voice a brand new addition to Smurf village in the upcoming live-action adaptation of The Smurfs.

“Gutsy Smurf” puts the “B” in bravado and the “S” in…Scottish Smurf. We had the chance to sit down with Cumming at the LA press event for The Smurfs to talk about this latest addition to the franchise, the Smurfs as European pop-stars, and the pressure of bringing these beloved characters back to life.

SR: You said that you were happy to bring the Scottish Smurf element to the world. What are some of those characteristics that are particularly Scottish?

“Well, I mean I really liked the fact I brought that word, ‘numpty’ (***) back. It felt great, hitherto unknown to most of the world. A word not used that often in Scotland anymore, actually. It’s going to be bounced back into the common parlance. That makes me happy. I think that [Gutsy], there’s a Scottish voice, it’s very strong and saves the day.”

***Numpty meaning displaying a lack of knowledge…which is putting the meaning nicely.

SR: Well he’s a completely new character, so you weren’t working with an established template as some of the other people were — Papa and so forth. How much did you contribute to the dialogue and his development and his character?

“Quite a lot – Raja the director very, very much invites your involvement and opinions – so a lot. The script is obviously quite delineated, but along the way we kind of added things. It’s more of a color, it’s not all just one note.”

SR: Was there a bit of improv?

“Yeah, a lot of improv. Especially bits where, you know the scene ends and you just keep going, you just try things out and then they sometimes adapt the animation to what you’ve done. I like that part, I like that. And you hear about it, as well, once I kind of find the character they would say, ‘is there something funny you could do here?’ Oh, a pleasure.”

SR: Was there a favorite line that made it into the movie that was from the improv?

“Uh, well, all the numpty stuff. A lot of the insults. I liked to make up insults for the cat.”

SR: That poor cat.

“I know. That poor cat.”

SR: So part of the appeal was bringing a Scottish Smurf to the world. Were people aware of the Smurfs in Scotland?

“Oh gosh, yes. Yeah, yeah. It was huge. Because it started in Europe, in Belgium, so it was big.”

SR: So you followed the original Peyo?

“Yeah. Oh yeah. They were more weird, sketchy, than the more glossy American version. But yeah. I knew the Smurfs in the ’80s when they kind of blossomed. They had songs on the charts.”

SR: Wait, they had songs, like on the radio?

“On the radio, the pops.”

SR: What were the names of the songs?

“I can’t remember—but one of the numbers, Papa Smurf went, ‘where are we all coming from,’ and the Smurfs went, ‘from Smurfland where we belong.’ Anyway [hums]. It was a weird sort of like, kids, but we were into it, like novelty hits. It was like number one. On the charts. And there were several of them. The Smurfs had a pop career.”

The Smurfs promo image Interview: Alan Cumming Puts The Scottish Into The Smurfs

SR: You’re typically a little bit of an envelope pusher, in some ways. Was it constricting at all being kind of boxed in this family film?

“Oh no. I’ve done lots of things like this, although I have done some racy things. I go back and forward all the time. You know, I think it’s good to have a range of topics and a range of genres and things, and it makes you better person, a better actor, to have variation. I think perhaps one of the reasons you get someone like me in a film to do a voice thing is, you know, I’m quite quick on my feet, and I write, so some of the things, the improvising things, which is a real part of doing a job like this, you do get to improvise and make things up. I bring a sort of a little bit of spice to it, perhaps. Some days it got too spicy—there a couple of things I did where they’d be roaring with laughter, and couldn’t control it and that’s very spicy, it’s never going to wash.”

SR: Like what?

“I can’t remember it. Some dirty jokes I would make, as my Smurf,  but some of them are quite—there are some quite racy moments that I think are hilarious.”

SR: Well, Gutsy is a really gruff kind of a guy. In terms of The Smurfs, do you think about things like the fan reactions or fan expectations from the people who were attached to the cartoons or people who were attached to Peyo?

“Oh yeah, totally. I think when you do something like this that people have a fondness for, a nostalgia for, you have a responsibility to kind of not screw it up for them, you know. I think the script has the tone of it and sentiment of it. Even though it’s a Hollywood version of that story, it’s like, ‘oh it’s like the Smurfs, I remember this, it’s really nice.’ You know, a little bit goofy, but it’s not too schmaltzy. Yeah, I think it’s a really good interpretation of that. And I think at some point you have to remember that people, you’re dealing with people’s memories, you’re manifesting people’s memories. And that—it’s the worst thing, I know that myself when I’ve read a book or something and I see the film and I’m like ‘ach!’ you know. So I do take that seriously. I wouldn’t have done if I read and thought, ‘oh this is terrible.’”

SR: And do you have nieces or nephew’s or little ones you want to introduce The Smurfs to?

“The nieces and nephews are kind of too old, the youngest one’s sixteen now. For a few years I got major brownie points for all the Kids films I’d do. But I’ve got my god-children, so I’m taking a couple of them to the premiere.”

SR: And they’re little ones?

“Yeah. Six. She’s 40 years younger than me but she’s born on my birthday.”

SR: Oh that’s really cute.

“So I always know how old she is. And then I have another little niece on my other side who’s having a Smurf birthday party next week.”

SR: Are they going to get little Gutsy dolls?

“I think they are. I was talking to the producers, merchandising up the wazoo, but I was thinking… so yeah, when I see [the film].”

Alan Cumming in The Smurfs Interview: Alan Cumming Puts The Scottish Into The Smurfs

SR: Oh, you haven’t seen it?

“No.”

SR: Because I think one of the most interesting things is to say, ‘what’s the weirdest piece of merchandising you’ve seen?’ Because sometimes people see themselves as a straw or these bizarre objects.

“For this no, but my favorite thing ever was once at the cinema, at the movies, I was just watching a film and eating popcorn and, ‘blah, blah, blah,’ and I was walking out and I ran into some people and I realized I was on the popcorn bag. My body…I was on the popcorn bag. And that was so strange, I’m eating popcorn out of a bag with my face on it. That was sort of weird. It’s things like that, seeing an image in certain places. Like I once saw a DVD in the market and caught it, of a film that I was in that hadn’t even been released yet, my face on the cover of a DVD box of a film that wasn’t even out yet.”

SR: Oh they were caught, literally caught.

“Yeah that was quick.”

SR: What film was it?

“That was ‘Son of the Mask.’”

SR: Oh, that’s so funny. Well we’ve been saying that you’ve had and have a broad spectrum in your career. You’ve got Dali 3-D coming up — which sounds like it could be incredible. Do you know much in terms of like is it going to be kind of in the vein of the artist? Is that going to be the visual palette?

“…the script’s very much from Dali’s point of view, telling his life story, so it kind of just – suddenly things just change and suddenly there’s people with lobsters on their head and it’s just, it’s going to be amazing, actually. Because the story’s very sort of Daliesque. It goes back and forth, sometimes you see him and he’s old, then he’s not old. And it just, it’s really Dalinean kind of—there’s a sort of order, it goes back and forth, like it keeps coming back to certain points. Like when he got chucked out of the surrealists group, that’s a big thing, keeps going back to that, and it’s really fascinating. I mean, I think the idea, one of the things, the 3D part I was not paying attention to, initially, I was just kind of excited about that character and what it was like and the crazy script. But actually – and what the director’s been telling me, we’re going to 3D conferences and stuff – is that the 3D industry really wants to—they feel it shouldn’t just be about family films and action things and sort of big extravaganzas. They want to do more kind of “literary”—I suppose is a better word—and artistic films in 3D. So I think that could be a start of a whole new trend of 3D things.”

SR: Well, Hugo is going to be coming out as well.

“Who’s that?”

SR: Martin Scorsese.

“Oh is that in 3D, is it? Oh well that’s good, that’ll start the whole thing then.”

SR: Will it be reminiscent of  Frida where they used the template of the art itself? Does the art come alive or is it more organic?

“It’s not quite as—you look at the picture and the picture comes alive—it’s more messy than that. More of, in his mind, suddenly someone’s naked and then these drunks turn into, I don’t know, you know, sandwiches. It’s more kind of, it’s a little more surreal than ‘Frida.’”

salvador dali clocks Interview: Alan Cumming Puts The Scottish Into The Smurfs

SR: I feel like with Winnie the Pooh, and The Smurfs and these sort of reminiscent films, that what they have in common is they take these separate characters that kind of create a unified whole. There’s Clumsy, Gutsy, Brainy, all these different aspects that make a whole person. Do you think that’s kind of the appeal of these classic characters?

“Yes, they do create a Universe, and the Smurfs have got their own Universe because they’ve got their own land. I think we like complete other worlds to look at, we learn lessons from them. I mean it’s kind of almost a religion, isn’t it? Smurfs are a bit like Scientologists or something.”

SR: That’s my favorite line of the junket.

You can see Alan Cumming create an entirely new Smurf for a new generation when The Smurfs opens in theatres this Friday, July 29th.

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  1. There wasn’t a Scottish Smurf, was this Smurf necessary? Nothing against Alan Cummings but this movie looks like a big pile of blue poo.

  2. I hope this movie bombs

  3. What the Smurf? I don’t remember a Smurfing Scottish Smurf in the cartoon.

  4. Never mind Dali – from that photo at the top of the page, if anyone’s considering a biopic about Pee-Wee Herman I think we’ve found our man! :-P

    • Good call! But I must confess I am pretty interested in the Dali film as well! It seems like it could be a lot of fun to watch, and I have a soft spot for Dali.

      Roth

      • Me too. I’m actually really intrigued to see what he does with this, and how much of Dali’s life the film is going to cover: whether we’ll get to the stage where he’s basically descending into self-parody.

        Also very interested by the casting of Judy Davis as his wife/muse Gala. Same age difference, and a great bit of post modern casting after her dual role as victim/catalyst William Burroughs’s wife in Cronenberg’s more autobiographical take on Naked Lunch.

        • Did I just mention David Cronenberg on a Smurf thread??

          • You did — and I am for one impressed sir :).

            • :-D

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