Movie star Alan Cumming’s secret to work success: ‘Smother people with kindness’

Alan Cumming is one of those much-beloved stars who can do it all: sing, dance, act, and win a Tony. But for all the glamor, Cumming’s rise is instructive for anyone in an office: he knows the value of skill, a good attitude, wit and staying power.

The Scotland native has done it all in the entertainment field over the course of three decades, starring in hit movies like “X-Men 2”, “Goldeneye” and “Spy Kids” as well as his Emmy-nominated turn in the hit CBS series “The Good Wife.”  He’s also a Broadway vet on legendary shows like “Macbeth” and “Cabaret,” the latter of which won him a Tony Award.

With all of this cross-platform success, we looked to Cumming for thoughts on how we can grow our careers with such zest and positivity after so many years.  I recently chatted with Cumming briefly and we talked about why he can’t stand being bored, how kindness really is the best way to get through any situation, and above all, to always be yourself.  

You’ve been able to have such longevity in your career and do so many different aspects of it so well.  Where does that drive come from?

I have always been eclectic and had eclectic tastes.  I’ve been good at multitasking I suppose, and I get bored real easily.  So I always have a lot of things planned at once, and within that I’m just inspired by people and really enjoy life.  

Just today, for instance, I left my house to go get my hair colored and there was a taxi right there.  

And I thought, “How exciting is it that I live in a city where you can do that?”  I don’t ever think, “Oh god, I wonder when that cab is coming”, or something like that. It’s very exciting, so that sort of spirit I dig into my work as well.

What has been the toughest hurdle in your career and how did you overcome it?

There has been certain things or people that I have been like, “God, what a jerk you are”, or jerk-type experiences, and in those situations, I just smother people with kindness and love.  Even people I don’t like, because I think that is the best thing to do.  

My mum said there is no situation in life that won’t go better for you with kindness.  

My dimples help sometimes, but I really do think in anything in life I do it with respect and kindness.

Also, even when people are being crazy and badly behaved and a mess, if you just say “What’s wrong?” instead of being scared or put off by them. Don’t let them dictate your own experience.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to have a successful career like yours, in any capacity?

Just be yourself and have fun.  Don’t try and become a generic version of yourself —it’s as simple as that.