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Interview: Alan Cumming On His New Children's Book, 'Honey And Leon'

Actor Alan Cumming is best known for his work in theater, films, television and as host of MASTERPIECE Mystery! on PBS. Now he’s adding children’s book author to that list. The book is titled The Adventures of Honey and Leon. It’s about two dogs, Honey and Leon, who go on a secret mission to protect their two dads on a trip to Cannes. Cumming and his husband, artist Grant Shaffer, collaborated on the book.

Alan Cumming recently spoke to WSHU’s All Things Considered Host Bill Buchner about the book. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Welcome.

Thank you very much.

This book is an homage to your two late, but most beloved, dogs. Would you tell us a little bit about them?

Well, Honey and Leon were both rescue dogs. I had Honey, and Grant had Leon, and when we got together they were about 4, and so then they became, you know, brother and sister. And so this book is kind of about us.

We used to, well we still do, we travel so much for work and one time I was missing them on some trip and Grant said, “Oh but they’re here, they followed us.” He said “Honey’s around the corner wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses, and Leon’s at the bar having a cigarette.” And we set up this whole kind of story that the dogs followed us around the world to protect us and that’s what that book became. They decided they couldn’t wait anymore for us to come home and protect us, that they’d actually get their disguises out and go around and stop things happening to us.

In the book Leon and Honey have distinct personalities. Leon seems to be more sensible, while Honey is a bit more theatrical. Do they reflect the personalities of your own dogs?

Oh very much so, these are completely based on real things. I mean Honey was...I still have never met a dog like her, she has quite a resume as an actress ‘cause she was in a lot of films that I were [sic] in, she normally played my dog. But she would do a thing where, if you took a picture of her, she’s doing something cute, and you didn’t get the picture, you weren’t happy with it, she would understand the concept of recreating that moment again for the picture to be taken. It was really fascinating, I don’t know where she got it from. Leon was a little more…he’s more of a guy, he’s a tiny little Chihuahua, we thought he was a sort of a Boxer or something.

The illustrations in the book are done quite nicely, the light pastel colors brighten the story, especially when the dogs decide to dress up in different disguises to fool their dads. Any thoughts on the way it was put together like that?

We’re both big fans of children’s books from the past and so we wanted it to sort of a…almost a nostalgic feel to the aesthetic of it. It’s kind of like books I remember as a little boy, there’s a softness to the edges of the drawings that I kind of think is really sort of reminiscent. And also, it’s kind of this fantastical tale.

Have you received any negative feedback because Leon and Honey have two dads?

No, not so far. When we wrote it, it didn’t seem as portentous a thing. I think the fact that we’re now living in a country where, you know, Trump is President and people who are different, who are gay, who are transgender, who are immigrant, people who are perceived as different, are in danger of having their rights taken away and having violence against them condoned by the very highest office in the land. The fact that we have this book with two dads in it seems to be much more of a positive political message than we ever intended. But I think that’s just the circumstance and timing of Trump’s election. But I hope if it can do any good to kids or to people who don’t know same-sex couples, then I’m very happy about that.

Is this the first project that you and your husband collaborated on?

Well, sort of. I have a thing called Club Cumming, I just opened a bar called Club Cumming, and we had some Club Cumming glasses and trays and things, he drew those. And actually he’s done a really beautiful mural on two walls of the bar. So this week actually, they’re opening up the bar and the launch of the book, it’s kind of a big celebration of our two major collaborations.

Is the bar in New York?

Yes, it’s in East Village on 6th Street. It’s such fun, the last couple of nights I’ve been there and I sang a song occasionally, and danced about. It’s such fun.

Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer will be at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, Long Island, for a film screening, a question and answer, and book signing on Monday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m. Mr. Cumming, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, and best of luck with the book and the rest of the projects.

Thanks, so much.

Bill began his radio journey on Long Island, followed by stops in Schenectady, Bridgeport, Boston and New York City. He’s glad to be back on the air in Fairfield County, where he has lived with his wife and two sons for more than 20 years.