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On 'The Traitors', Alan Cumming Is Dressing the Part

As the host of Peacock's breakout reality hit, the Scottish actor is delighting fans and opening minds with his bold fashion.

<p>Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

Whether you're chronically online or only scroll for a few minutes a day, you've likely caught wind of The Traitors—and for good reason. With an impossibly well-dressed Alan Cumming as its host, the reality show has seen a massive rise in popularity since Season 2 premiered in January, claiming the spot as the number one unscripted TV show in America.

A play on the party game Mafia, The Traitors finds 22 cast members—all reality alumni from Survivor, Bravo's Real Housewives, The Bachelor, and MTV's The Challenge, among others—sent to a gorgeous, real-life castle in the Scottish Highlands to compete for a grand prize of up to $250,000. The stakes are high, and the jokes are hilarious. Thanks to iconic one-liners from Cumming like, “I’m a less butch Agatha Christie,” plus ridiculous dialogue from its cast, fans have generated countless theories, Reddit forums, and of course, memes about the show. It's arguably the hottest thing on TV right now.

And while each episode is fantastic, so too is Cumming's on-camera style, replete with lush fabrics and tartan prints, a nod to his Scottish heritage. As Cumming himself says, “I’m just here to say cryptic things and look absolutely spectacular.” And with the help of stylist and costume designer Sam Specter, look spectacular he does.

<p>Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

With a decades-long career across film, theater, and television, Cumming has never shied away from bold looks. "When I first started to become famous, one of the things that I liked about fashion was that it was like dress-up," Cumming says. "It covered up my insecurities or my lack of familiarity with being famous and being on a red carpet. I gravitated towards bolder fashion choices because I felt it was more like a costume.”

<p>Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

"Fashion favors the bold," Cumming says. "The Traitors is an extension of that. It's not really me. I don't wear all those capes and berets all day, every day. Do people think that's what my life is always like? Do they think I go to the supermarket in a limo or I'm picking up my dog's poop wearing a tartan suit and a beret or something? I’m not!”

For Cumming, fashion is a way to get into character. “Just as I'm subverting the form of a competition reality show host by playing a character on The Traitors, I do that in my celebrity life as well. I feel I'm playing the celebrity of Alan Cumming and it's got to be somehow connected. If you're going to be in public, then you should dress up. It is a party!"

Below, Cumming opens up about his looks this season, what viewers can expect from the Season 2 finale, and where we're headed with Season 3.

<p>Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

Many of the outfits you share on Instagram have appeared on The Traitors. Are these from your personal wardrobe?

AC: Yes, a lot of my good clothes right now are in Traitors. The first season, a lot of the outfits were mine. There's this really great designer I love called Paisley & Gray, and they dressed me for a lot of things. And in this season as well, I wear them all the time.  And then of course, Sam did all the sashes and hats and things and juiced them all up.

Have you and Sam been shocked by the positive response to your style?

AC:
I think I can speak on Sam's behalf when I say yes, we've both been shocked. As we go into Season 3, it's very empowering for both of us because we wanted it to be a thing, and I thought about him as this dandy character. It's now a very intrinsic part of the show. It means going into the next one, we’ve got to top ourselves and the bar a little bit.

<p>Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

Are you already thinking about your Season 3 looks?

AC:
Yes! It's a conversation. Designers are reaching out, wanting to design stuff. There's a place in Scotland, down the hill from the castle, called Prickly Thistle. This great woman has revamped this old mill and I got to go and create my own custom tartan print.

How do you and Sam work together as collaborators? 

AC: I love costume designers. Their ideas are the first time that you encounter the aesthetics of the whole vision. I had a vision of the character. Oh my God, Sam just texted me as we're talking! What did he send me? Oh, it's another outfit. Oh, look at that. [shows photo]

Oh my goodness! That's amazing. 

AC: This is from a Scottish designer called Charles Jeffrey Lover Boy. He's going to design something for me. With this past season and next season, Sam is also talking to the producers ahead of time about the missions. What we're trying to do was for my outfits to reflect the missions.

<p>Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

Yes, like the scarecrow look.

AC:
Yes! Another one had netting. Last week, the jacket had gold because they had to sort of jump across these floating islands with gold. It is hilarious because they all get wet again. I said, “Come on Phaedra [Parks]! Team spirit. Have another go!” And she was like, “Alan, you just want to see me get wet!” I was like, “Yes, that's true. I do.” I just love seeing them fall in the water.

<p>Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

It must be such a thrill for you be out there in couture-like, bespoke clothing, watching. I love the armchair moment.

AC: I'm sitting on my armchair, with my dog. Oh, my God, I love that.

<p>Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

Your dog Lala finally made an appearance this season.

AC: I know! My producers said, “Yes, we've listened to the internet. Everybody wants more Lala content.” She's had a few little outfits and things.  I'm going to try and plan more set things for her to be in. She loves this. It's interesting with dogs. She just wants to be near me. It's actually nice when she can sit in a basket beside me and kill time. She loves it.

How practical are the outfits during filming? Were there any challenges? 

AC:
They're not waterproof, a lot of them. And so they're not great for the Scottish weather. Ask any drag queen. It's not good to get wet. I feel I'm sort of like a drag queen in this show. You don't want to be damp when you're all tarted up like that. So that's my biggest challenge, is the Scottish weather.

<p>Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

Through your fashion, you’re paying homage to your Scottish heritage while also bending gender norms. Why is it important to you to bring both types of representation onscreen?

AC:
When you're Scottish, we don't think it's girly to wear a kilt. It's very manly, actually. People don't understand it. So I think when you come from a culture where an item that looks like a woman's piece of clothing is actually a very, very masculine thing already, you're kind of in a different mindset about it. So many of the things that we now think of as feminine or being daring gender wise were actually much more common in previous times in history, in terms of what men wore and how they were presented.

As a queer man with a big platform who is being venerated right now for fashion and style, I think it's a really great opportunity for me to change people's minds about what is scary in terms of the gender binary and gender norms. I've got an opportunity to expand people's minds a little bit.

You're broadening their view and their horizon.

AC:
Exactly. And in doing that, hopefully that will mean the next time they see someone on the street who is wearing something that is not necessarily, you know, a traditional male- or female-gendered item, they will be more accepting and welcoming to them. So, it's definitely a sort of political act on my behalf. It's a responsibility that I don't take lightly.

Oh! Now I'm getting some more texts from Sam. [He's showing me] a white ruffle at the neck and sleeves. He said, "I also want to make a clear rain cape with matching bucket hat.”

You in a bucket hat will send the internet to oblivion!

AC: I'm loving all this. I'm sending him a voice memo: "I'm doing an interview with InStyle right now and they are freaking out at these messages about a bucket hat. She said to me… What did you say?

You'll send the internet into oblivion!

AC:
Sam, so be careful.

<p>Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

OK, what can fans expect from The Traitors finale?

AC: It gets more brutal. Last season, the finale was so devastating and so upsetting and I was jaw-on-the-floor. And that was why they had to cut away from me. They didn't have any footage of me because I was like, oh my God.  

Is it hard for you to have composure in these intense moments?

AC:  Yes, I'm more conscious of it now. But you know, there was just that part at the end of Season 1.  In this season, similarly, it's devastating. The fans are in for a ride. The thing is careering towards a climax. And careering is really the best verb to describe it. Yeah. It's a lot. There's a lot going on. So just fasten your seatbelts, everybody. That's what I say.

<p>Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK</p>

Getty Images/ Euan Cherry/PEACOCK

What do you think about the fans' response to Phaedra Parks, Parvati Shallow, and Peter Weber's dynamic as contestants?

AC: I'm really fascinated as a bystander, and with a great view of it, all right in the thick of it. Obviously, there's a lot that has to be cut out. I see it unfiltered and unedited and [I see] the pack mentality. The whole group turns on people and there's a Lord of the Flies kind of nature to it. It's really disturbing, actually, because when you think about it, this is a sort of a microcosm of our culture, you know? 

There's also two key things to remember: Number one, everyone is saying people who are in game shows like Survivor or Big Brother, they're gamers and they've got this strategy. Clearly, doesn't follow in this show because look, there's a little cutie Bachelor strategizing up the wazoo and then...

All the Bravo people.

AC: Yes, the Bravo people, too. And so you have to let those things go. But at the same time, you have to have good PR on the traitors. You've got to have good PR with other people [as contestants]. So, fans are turning on Peter because he worked it out and he knew. The cast did turn on him and it was brutal and I just felt it was, it's devastating. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and had a little chat with him about it and he goes, “Yeah, it was devastating.” And it must be when you're right and you know you're right and you've played the game a certain way and everybody kind of turns on you for it. It screws with your head. But sociologically and anthropologically, it's fascinating.

The Season 2 finale of The Traitors hits Peacock at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 7, followed by the reunion episode.

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