Alan Cumming plays a character on Traitors, but season 2’s surprises snapped him back to reality

If you think Alan Cumming, host of the U.S. version of The Traitors, gives off “guy who killed someone” vibes, he’ll laugh — you’re picking up what he’s putting down. It’s why, in episode 8 of season 2, when he sent the contestants off on their mission, he gleefully turned to the camera and said, “And they were never seen again.”

“I said that many times, on every task,” Cumming admits. “I wanted that to be my new catchphrase, but they only used it a couple times.”

This is exactly why the team behind Peacock’s hit reality game show wanted Cummings in the first place, even if he didn’t understand it at first. He met with producers, initially, out of confusion and curiosity.

“I couldn’t understand why they would want me to do it. Then I realized they wanted a sort of character. And I said, ‘Do you mean you want it to be sort of like a James Bond villain?’”

The answer was an enthusiastic yes. And suddenly Cumming could see the whole persona: “He’s the sort of Scottish Laird, and he’s kind of Machiavellian, [and] brings all these people here,” Cumming says. The look would be a sort of “dandy” Scottish tartan. Cumming’s dog could even come with, so the actor could menacingly pet her while staring down contestants.

[embedded content]

“I really love this character. And it’s funny, life just flings these things at you that you never would have seen coming. I never thought I would be hosting a big, successful competition reality show in Scotland and a castle with a bunch of reality stars. I mean — you couldn’t make it up. But I obviously go out going through life open to certain things. I’ve always been quite eclectic. And these things come to me and actually, this one I really, really enjoy.”

And it’s a role he takes really seriously. As he gets ready in the morning he listens in on the players’ breakfast discussion, watching on a big screen so he can “really feel a part of it” as he gets ready to make his big entrance. “It’s good for me to understand, when I walk into the room, the mood of the room and the atmosphere,” Cumming says.

Cumming is often around the castle, but not with the contestants — after his breakfast entrance he usually has a little break when he can look over scripts for the next day, then he and the players go to film the mission. After that, the contestants hang out and Cumming has another break (he says he’s usually eating or walking Lala the dog), but stays briefed on what’s happening. “When the roundtable comes it really does feel like this big theatrical moment because they all go in and they play this scary music in real life,” Cumming says. “It’s like these little performative spurts. And in between I’m trying to keep an eye on what’s happening and trying to get an understanding of how the wind is blowing.”

Even still, he’s just as on the edge of his seat as the rest of us. He likes to maintain a distance between himself and the cast (he feels his character should always have “quite a stern, daddy demeanor” that leaves the contestants scared), and Cumming has been surprised by how things went once he got into the room. “That’s what’s great about the games — there was a person I thought was doing really well, a faithful, and was going to help tear the whole thing apart. And people turned on them. It was like hyenas going for a baby elephant, it really was. I was gobsmacked.”

While he wouldn’t say who that was about, he would say some of the contestants he’s most surprised by: Bergie (when he became the MVP of the graveyard challenge), Phaedra (he appreciates her showmanship and the way it provides her cover), and Parvati (he hadn’t watched Survivor, and she seemed like a “sweet little thing with a hairband”).

But even with a closer view, he’s just as eager to let it all play out as the rest of us. Well, sort of — at least the rest of us don’t live in fear about bumping the wrong shoulder when selecting traitors at the roundtable.

The Traitors season 2 (the U.S. version) airs new episodes on Peacock every Thursday at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST.