'The Good Wife': Alan Cumming on the 'little bombs' Eli will be dropping (and preparing to play a transvestite and voicing a Smurf)

alan-cummingImage Credit: Jeffrey Neira/CBSIt’s D-Day on The Good Wife Tuesday (CBS, 10 p.m. ET), when we’ll finally learn who wins the law firm’s junior associate “bake off” — Julianna Margulies’s Alicia or Matt Czuchry’s Cary. From the promo (embedded after the jump), it’s not hard to guess who plays a surprising role in the decision: Alan Cumming’s Eli, the sharp-tongued, impeccably-dressed image consultant to Alicia’s disgraced politician husband Peter (Chris Noth), who knows that Peter will need Alicia by his side if he’s going to run again and win. (We won’t spoil Eli’s play, but after this episode, you’ll understand how he becomes a regular in Season 2.) We recently caught up with Cumming as he was finishing a five-night engagement with his cabaret show in New York and preparing to fly to South Africa to shoot a limited-run British TV series, The Runaway, in which he stars as a transvestite named Desrae in 1960s London. That explains why we end up talking about his preferred method of hair removal.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The first time Eli met Peter’s “reputation manager” Kya, and unbuttoned his pants so she could kiss his ass — scripted or improvised? I feel like it could go either way.
ALAN CUMMING: That was in the script. And I thought, Wow, I love this. In every episode, there’s always some line I think, I love this line, or I love that moment, a little brilliant gem of writing that I respond to. It’s great that he has this real bite to him.

Like in the scene where he met Peter’s mother: She just introduced herself as Jackie, and he said, “That means nothing to me.”
Yeah, that was funny. I’ve got another scene with her, actually, in the last episode [May 25]. I go to a tearoom with her, surrounded by lots of lovely ladies, and it’s really funny.

In your opinion, was there even a possibility that Eli would have snooped through Jackie’s purse had she not thought twice and taken it with her when she left him to see Peter?
I thought that was quite funny, but no. I think she was being a suspicious lady, kind of set in her ways. He’s not like a Kalinda in terms of his methods. I think he relies more on emotional manipulation to get what he wants. My story until the end of the season, I’m very manipulative. I kind of drop little bombs everywhere trying to make everyone do what I want them to do, which is to get Peter to run and to get Alicia to be there smiling beside him. The climax, I have to say, is fabulous. The last few seconds of the season are just tremendous. They involve Will and Alicia and Peter… and me.

What about Eli are you hoping to explore more?
He’s a practicing Jew, and he can’t work on Saturdays, so I’m quite curious to find out how that might affect things. I’m really enjoying this character, and you realize we know nothing about his personal life yet. I have no idea when he goes home, what happens there. What does he do on weekends? It’s exciting to have this whole mystery. One of the things I liked the least about this TV lark [as opposed to movies, which have a scripted ending] was the not knowing, and now it’s one of the things that excites me most. I feel like I have a handle on Eli, he’s established himself, and people have got an idea about him, and now [after Tuesday's episode] it’s just like, “Well gosh, what next?” It’s all going to be more icing on the cake.

We see Eli’s office this week. How would you describe it? I understand you walked in to find a picture of Eli with President Obama.
The Obama picture is my favorite thing. There’s a lot of sort of tribal things. It’s quite stylish, very chic.

Just like Eli’s wardrobe.
It’s been a great thing for me actually, because when I took the role, I kinda thought, Oh, they want to make this more of an oddball quirky person. But then when I spoke with [the creators], they wanted to make him quite a conservative dark horse. That’s really been interesting for me, because it’s not something that I’ve played before, that kind of character that’s quite muted in what he gives out to the world. Of course he’s all seething underneath, as we discover.

On the show’s hiatus, you’re shooting the British series The Runaway, based on the novel by Martina Cole. Tell me about that.
I thought after Eli Gold, it’d be quite nice to do something completely different, and I’ve never played a transvestite before. This transvestite is like the mistress of this big gangster in London, played by Ken Stott. And what I liked is that their relationship is really the nicest in the whole series. It’s very loving, warm, and conventional, actually. All the other relationships are straight ones in the show, and they’re just not very nice to each other. That kind of intrigued me.

And I’ve read that they’ve been sending you photos of Audrey Hepburn.
Yeah, we’re going for a very demure, classy transvestite. Nothing too flashy. I run a piano bar, and the songs I sing are like Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Very elegant. And my boobs are 34B. I said, “Let’s not go too crazy.” It’s funny. Right now, I’m looking down at my arm hair because I’ll only have it another few days before it’s wrenched from my body.

So we’re talking waxing? Or what is your preferred method of hair removal?
Oh yeah. They’ll trim it first, because it’s really long, then they’ll wax it. If you shave it, it comes back prickly, whereas if you wax it, it comes back soft. I had to shave my arms for another thing, and that was really horrific. Having stubble on your arm is not very nice. [According to Cumming's blog, they ended up using Veet.]

Let’s end on a happy note: You’re voicing Gutsy Smurf in the upcoming Smurfs movie. Was he your first choice Smurf?
I didn’t know Gutsy Smurf, or if he has a long history. But it’s nice because he’s Scottish and in a kilt. I’ve been in doing the voice stuff, and they let you ad-lib a little bit. I’ve been putting in old Scottish words that I don’t think anyone’s heard in many years. So I’m quite excited about reintroducing Scottish insults. “Numptie” is a word I’ve used a few times. “You big numptie.”

More on The Good Wife:
Q&A: Josh Charles talks Will-Alicia sexual tension (and getting whistled at)
Spoilers: The cast on what’s still to come this season
Ken Tucker’s recaps

Comments (10 total) Add your comment
  • j

    I love Alan Cumming and his addition to Good Wife has been the icing on the cake of a great first season- smart writing, excellent acting, and a thoroughly enjoyable show!

  • Margaret

    Sounds like Cary gets picked so.

  • Sarah

    I think Eli is going to become the third partner at the firm, which will mean Alicia a) owes him and b) Cary & she both get to stay.

  • Anna

    He’ll force Alicia do steer clear of Will.

  • elena

    I adore this show, and Alan Cumming’s Eli has been a genius casting after a couple awesome guest stars. Everyone on this cast just clicks, and I was worried that Eli wouldn’t work…but his bon mots of evil delight are things I look forward to each week now. (apart from, you know, the whole Will-is-hella-attractive-when-will-Alicia-jump-that thing)

  • Heidi

    Alan Cumming is wonderful as Eli. Such a gifted actor and so versatile!

  • ccaton

    Great interview! I love Alan Cumming and think he is great on this show. The more of him, the better!

  • BLK300

    I find “Eli Gold’ To be the most interesting character of the whole series. Even more interesting that Alan is actually Scottish but hides it quite well in this role.

  • Maryanne

    I absolutely love Alan Cumming, I look forward to seeing hinm each week. Am watching episode tonite, he was the best. MOre More MORe

  • Coregon

    Alan Cumming is great..so glad they brought him in.

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