NEW YORK — Alan Cumming gives new meaning to the word versatile. On Wednesday, the actor finishes his run playing the Pope in “Elle,” the Jean Genet play that he adapted and that is being staged by his theater company, the Art Party, for the first time in English. Cumming cofounded the troupe this spring with co-artistic director Nick Philippou and executive director Audrey Rosenberg “to do work that was more provocative and less commercial,” he said in a phone interview, his voice raspy from back-to-back performances the previous evening. “We called it the Art Party because we wanted it to have the feeling of people coming together to do something they all believed in and became a member of — like a political party. We thought it should have the excess and fun of a real party as well.” For their next production, Cumming and his cohorts are considering Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” or a work by Jean Cocteau.
Meanwhile, Cumming is about to add author to his distinguished list of professional accomplishments — he already has director, screenwriter and Tony Award winner on his résumé. On Aug. 20, his debut novel, “Tommy’s Tale” (ReganBooks), hits bookstores. The story follows Tommy, a raunchy hard-partying Londoner who realizes, on the cusp of turning 30, that his lifestyle is not fulfilling enough. “Everything I write has an element of autobiography,” says Cumming, who surprisingly took time off last year to finish the book. “Essences of things I feel, people I know and experiences I’ve had.”
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Perhaps Cumming will distill some of his experiences on the set of “X-Men 2” into his next tome. Once “Elle” wraps, he will return to Vancouver, where he’s been brushing up on his action-movie antics with the rest of the cast including Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Halle Berry. The film is slated to hit theaters next May. “It’s been quite an odd experience,” says Cumming, who plays Nightcrawler. “Because one minute you’re in your first production of a theater company, playing the Pope in a big Vivienne Westwood creation, and then literally the next day I’m jumping around in hooves and a tail in Vancouver.” For the actor whose signature move is mooning the audience, however, such a quick costume change shouldn’t be too difficult. Slyly, he adds, “I’ve never been a superhero before.”