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Alan Cumming's Casting in Christmas Movie Genie Has Some Special Significance

The reason goes back to the very early days of the Alan Cumming's illustrious career.

By Stephanie Gomulka
Split of Alan Cumming and Melissa McCarthy in Genie

From roles in Spy Kids or The Good Wife and even now as host of Peacock’s reality competition show The Traitors, Alan Cumming is a force whose career stretches to different genres and audiences.

The actor plays a domineering boss to a woeful Bernard Bottle (Paapa Essiedu) in Peacock’s new holiday fairytale comedy Genie. Acclaimed screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love, Actually, Bean) and Genie’s Director Sam Boyd (Creator of the series Love Life) spoke to NBC Insider about the casting choice.

Alan Cumming Starred in the Original TV Movie Bernard and the Genie by Richard Curtis

Key Art for the Peacock Original movie, GENIE

Curtis is known for his work on iconic romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, which garnered him an Oscar nomination, and other classics like Notting Hill.

“I started as a sketch writer, I started as a comedy writer,” Curtis said of writing jokes. “That’s the pleasure if ever you could make yourself laugh or make the cast laugh then that’s fantastic.”

Curtis’ latest movie Genie, stars Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Little Mermaid) and Paapa Essiedu (The Lazarus Project, I May Destroy You) and follows a dad trying to make things right with his family before Christmas when a genie pops into his life.

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The film is based on Curtis’ 1991 TV movie made for the BBC called Bernard and the Genie.

“The original one was a really fun project that I did with two really close friends of mine with Lenny Henry, with Rowan Atkinson,” Curtis said.

Curtis recalls them possibly discovering Alan Cumming: “I think it was his first film ever.”

Cumming plays an art dealer also named Bernard in the original who meets a genie named Josephus (Lenny Henry).

“[The original] movie is about a kind of single guy who wants a girlfriend,” Curtis said. “Everything I care about now is family and kids and so we made [Genie] about that.”

In the 2023 reimagining of the movie set in New York City, Cumming takes on the role of Bottle’s awful boss and the genie, now named Flora, is played by McCarthy.

Paapa Essiedu and Melissa McCarthy stand outside in a scene from the new movie GENIE

“We’ve changed all the big things,” Curtis said. “When I thought about doing it again I thought well what can we do that’s completely different.”

There are fun parts to expanding and changing his past film, according to Curtis.

“Every movie’s got some good bits and some less good bits, and you can just steal the good bits and leave the less good bits out,” Curtis said. “Then write a whole lot of new stuff that I like more.”

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Casting Cumming as a nod to the original was really fun, Genie Director Sam Boyd told NBC Insider.

“Getting to work with Alan Cumming in general was amazing because he’s incredible and obviously I’ve been a huge fan of his for a long time,” Boyd said. “If you look back on it now, it’s pretty incredible because it’s one of the first things Richard ever wrote before Four Weddings and Funeral, before Notting Hill, before everything and it was one of the first things Alan Cumming, if not the first thing he ever really starred in, which is pretty incredible.”

They tried to get Lenny Henry in the new film too, but didn’t work out due to scheduling, according to Boyd.

Although, there are moments of dialogue and other easter eggs calling back to the original, Boyd says he was interested in making Genie its own movie. A sentiment Curtis touched on as well.

“It’s a very different thing, but the basic kind of sweetness and magic of it stayed the same,” Curtis said.  

Stream Genie now exclusively on Peacock.