The new ambassador for VisitScotland show's he's got #ScotSpirit.

Heidi Mitchell
February 16, 2016

The red-nippled Emcee of Cabaret fame—not to mention a proud owner of a couple of Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a thick Highland brogue—came out on a blustery winter's night to premier NBC's First Look travel program, in which the impish actor takes host George Oliphant romping through Edinburgh, Glasgow, and his mum's town of Aberfeldy. Cumming even recreates the spooky "Milk of Human Kindness" monologue from Macbeth in Glamis Castle where the Shakespeare tragedy took place.

The intimate gathering at Glasgow Calendonian University New York in Soho allowed about two dozen guests and friends to view clips of the program and get a sneak peek into VisitScotland's first-ever ad campaign, narrated (for no fee!) by Scotland's most-beloved native son. The goal is to entice more than last year's 450,000 American visitors to the tiny country of just 5 million, focusing on the British country's ineffable spirit—and a brand new hashtag to promote it (#ScotSpirit).

After many sips of Glengoyne and a private screening of the NBC show, the star of The Good Wife posed for selfies then sat down with Travel + Leisure for an exclusive interview.

How did you become Mr. Scotland?

Scotland has been really good to me. I feel really loved there. I was educated there, I went to drama school there for free, in a country that understands the importance of the arts and education. I started out in a subsidized theater. So I really owe my training and my early work to Scotland. And I think that a lot of why people like me is because I'm Scottish: the openness, the sense of justice, the sense of fun, the sense of mischief, the ability to let things go.

What's a common misconception about Scotland?

Americans are sometimes in danger of just looking at the clichéd versions of Scotland. And we Scots are guilty of that "heather and bagpipes" view, too – we end up at a ceilidh, we wear our kilts—but it's also such a living culture, it's modern and vibrant. Politically and socially it's so engaged, and there is a lot going there in terms of science and technology and culture. Grand Theft Auto is based in Edinburgh. J.K. Rowling lives in the same town as my mom. It's really a creative place, and this television program and ad campaign were good ways to show the world what a great mesh the culture is.

How did your childhood in Dundee inform your adulthood?

Where I grew up was in the middle of a country estate. My father was a forester. I was a beater, which means I would beat the trees to get the pheasants to come out. I once was jumped by a giant stag and knocked out. It was a pretty intense childhood, and it gave me a great sense of imagination. 

Film, TV, or stage?

I love them all but I would choose the theater. The connection you get with the audience—you can't get that any other way. That's why I got this tattoo last week that says "Only Connect"! It's an E.M. Forster quote. It was my gift to myself when I turned 51. I think it's very Scottish to pursue authenticity in your life as well as in your work.

Is it true you don't wear skivvies under your kilt?

Of course it's true! Real men don't wear anything under their kilts. People think wearing a kilt is a feminine thing but they don't know. It's very masculine, and it actually feels really nice to have a bit of air up there. And truthfully, the sporran keeps the fabric down to cover you in the wind, so you're really in no danger of being exposed.

When's your next trip home?

I'm going to the isle of Barra in the Hebrides for a week once The Good Wife wraps in April. I'm obsessed with the Hebrides; it's so remote. To arrive we either land on a beach by plane or by ferry. Then I'm filming in Ohio, which is like the opposite. But I'll be back to perform my show, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, that I just did at Carnegie Hall, at The Edinburgh Festival in August. I love it there. I keep a flat in Edinburgh.

Where's your favorite secret spot in Scotland?

I love Inverness. My granny—who was crazy—was from there. She would take me to this pedestrian suspension bridge, and we would bounce on it. The day after she died, my husband and I went to the bridge and he was taking photos while we jumped on it, and I thought, Wow, I really feel Granny's presence. And then we were racing each other back along the bridge his camera went up into the air, boinked onto one of the suspension cables, and went right into the water. We both felt such a strong sense of Granny telling us: You don't need these photos. Be in the moment. I think that is a very Scottish way of living.

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