Causing A Stir

Much of Martin Cummins’s acting career has been spent in the science fiction universe, and although he is a man who values his privacy, his work ethic doesn’t exactly invite anonymity. Leading roles on Poltergeist: The Legacy and the TRAX pilot, guest shots on MANTIS, The Outer Limits (Nest) and Strange Frequency and a small role in Friday the 13th Part VIII have made him a familiar genre face. He has also written and directed an episode of The Outer Limits (Better Luck Next Time), as well as helmed one for Poltergeist. Currently, he’s acting on yet another SF series, Dark Angel, playing Ames White, a grim, committed government agent with an agenda that does not bode well for heroine Max Guevara (Jessica Alba).

Originally, White was only supposed to be around for a half-dozen episodes of the Fox series, but Cummins has since signed up for the entire season, and his villain will continue to stir things up. ‘There are some things [on the way] that are quite shocking,’ Cummins reveals. ‘It makes it fun for me. Fans will discover some things about Mr White – what his agenda is, and why he is the way he is.’ At the core of the character is an everyman quality that Cummins finds very appealing, especially after spending a good part of his early career playing irresponsible youths and villains – or ‘rough-and-tumble kinds of people,’ as he puts it. ‘I’m 32 years old with a mortgage and a kid, and it has only been in the last year-and-a-half that I’ve played adults,’ Cummins notes. ‘It’s fun to play the equivalent of a cop. This guy has a pretty white-bread, ordinary home life going on. After work, White still goes home and mows the lawn and does the dishes.’

Although Cummins is able to justify the humanity of his character, he understands that White doesn’t match today’s heroic image. Planting bombs in people’s heads and caging expectant mermaid mummies, aren’t typical law-enforcement actions, but this radical juxtaposition is the whacked perspective that makes the character all the more enticing to Cummins. ‘I like it that he’s kind of sick’; the actor says. ‘White has a 1950s approach, where he believes everything that the government tells him. He goes out and does his job, and then he goes home to his wife and kids and leads this normal life. I find that to be really twisted and kind of appealing.’

To date, White’s mission has been simple: cover up the mess left by Manticore, the show’s secret evil government agency. This involves: 1) catching escaped super-soldiers (Max and friends) and Manticore’s biogenetically engineered human experiments (mermaids, dog-men, cat-women, et al), 2) seeing what makes them tick (dissecting them) and 3) hiding the evidence (death and mayhem).

‘I’ve racked up a body count at this stage of the game that’s pretty absurd,’ states Cummins, who laughs heartily at the idea that the characters he appears with on screen are the equivalent of Star Trek’s red shirts. But the fact is, Cummins rarely gets the chance to appear with the other regulars. ‘If White finds out where Jam Pony is,’ says Cummins of Max’s workplace, ‘then Jam Pony’s going to be toast. That will be the end of that storyline. So I don’t interact with them too much. I’ve only done around seven episodes so far, and I’ve only done three where I come in contact with Jessica. I can’t be meeting her every episode, with her twisting my mustache and getting away.’ One episode where White does catch up with Max results in the inevitable physical showdown. ‘It was pretty neat,’ Cummins recalls. ‘I’ve never done [action] before. My kid loved it, too. He thought that it was just great. Jessica was jumping around with the wires and kicking me. It was grand.’

Special FX fan

It may come as a surprise that Cummins has little experience with action sequences, but he’s a pro’ regarding another SF staple: special FX. ‘It can become [absurd] if you don’t throw yourself into it,’ he says. ‘If you’re on some level watching the effects as they’re going on, then you’re either impressed by them or you think they’re semi-ridiculous, so you’re going to come off that way. You’re going to be watching them unfold along with the audience, and you can’t afford to do that. It takes the audience out of any kind of suspension of reality. I’ve acted with people and things that aren’t there, and you just have believe what’s happening and throw yourself into it. If you don’t, then you’ve got nothing.’ Working from Home When the chance to do Dark Angel came along, Cummins admits he was swayed by its association with industry heavy James Cameron, and offered Cummins opportunity to work on network television which could further his career. Best of all it was shooting right in his own backyard

‘For me, Vancouver is home. I was born in Port Smith in the Northwest Territories, land of the midnight sun, but this is where I’ve spent most of my grown-up life. That was certainly part of the attraction [in accepting the Dark Angel role].’

Now very much a fixture on the show Cummins is in his element playing the bad guy. ‘It’s fun to play the villain,’ he declares. ‘Way more fun, especially in TV, because you’re not at all responsible to the audience. it doesn’t matter if they like you or they don’t. I can say all the bad stuff [the hero] can’t say.’ Moreover, playing the bad guy keeps Cummins out of the limelight. I’m never going to be the star of this show he adds with a laugh. ‘Which is great. That [burden] doesn’t fall on my shoulders. That falls squarely on Jessica’s. I dont have the responsibility of being the hero.’ Avoiding the kind of fan and media attention a star like Alba receives Ieaves Cummins with plenty of time to spend on other things. ‘There’s a whole big thing that comes along with being a terrifically famous person. If I was Tom Cruise I wouldn’t be able to live where I do. But nobody [knows] who the hell I am and nobody cares, so I can still make a good living and get to do the things I love to do.’ Of course, Cummins is likely to find himself more recognizable in the future. Yet after all the alternative worlds, strange phenomena and bizarre creatures he has encountered, a little fame might not be so frightening. ‘Lets face it,’ Martin Cummins says matter of factly: ‘Its entertainment. The Arts are important, but at the same time, its just TV or the movies. I try not to take myself too seriously. I think that would be a monster mistake.’

Starlog #24
April 2002