Chasing Angels

Martin Cummins has been a bad boy, a very bad boy. Well, at least he played one on Dark Angel’s second and final season. The show’s genetically-engineered heroine Max thought she had it bad when Colonel Lydecker was on her trail. She had no idea that when Ames White (Cummins) came on the scene he would do his best to make her life and those of her transgenics a living hell. Of course, in the eyes of the government agent, he was just doing his job.

“It’s always more fun to play the bad guy, especially on TV,” notes Cummins. “You’re not responsible to the public insofar as being the hero and having to do the right thing. I mean, the show was called Dark Angel. I knew it was never going to be ‘The Ames White Show’, so my character wasn’t going to be held accountable for anything. He was just the villain of the piece. That said, it’s all in people’s perception of things. I’m sure some fans looked at Ames and thought, ‘What a bastard’. But if he actually thought he was the enemy he would have shot himself in the head. Ames didn’t see himself as the bad guy. As far as he was concerned he was the good guy. My character was supporting the government by wiping these dangers to society – otherwise known as transgenics – off the face of the Earth.”

Cummins is no stranger to TV Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans. For four seasons he played Nick Boyle, a young, headstrong, former Navy SEAL who joined an ancient and secret society called The Legacy to help battle the evil lurking in the supernatural world on the show Poltergeist: The Legacy. It was, in fact, on the strength of the actor’s previous work that he was offered the chance to go directly to the Showtime network to read for the role of Ames White in Dark Angel.

My agent in Vancouver sent my demo reel to Showtime in Los Angeles,” he says. “Somebody there obviously watched it because I got a call from them on a Wednesday afternoon asking if I could audition that Friday. I said, ‘Sure’. When I arrived there, I was introduced to the various producers and executives and then began to read for them. I’ll never forget this one guy who was staring at me as if he was trying to decipher the inner workings of my personal life,” jokes the actor. “One side of my brain was trying to remember my lines and spit them out, while the other side was wondering what this guy was up to. Unfortunately, I lost track of what I was doing and veered off into what I can only describe as this comedy act, which was the total opposite of what the White character was all about. I remember there was a line at the end of one of the speeches where he’s talking to a bunch of his troops and says to them, ‘Okay, you’re dismissed.’ In the audition, I turned to these executives and said to them, ‘I’ve been waiting all afternoon to tell you guys you’re f**cking dismissed!’ I thought for sure that I’d blown it at that point. Luckily for me, I hadn’t. When I first walked into the room I sensed a great deal of tension because it was down to the wire for them to cast the part. My little ‘act’ apparently broke the ice. They all ended up howling with laughter and I got the job.”

For the Canadian-born actor, working on Dark Angel was like old home week. “Being a local guy there aren’t many film sets in Vancouver that I go on where I don’t know most of the people or where they don’t know me,” says Cummins. “The Dark Angel set was like that, which was cool. I also knew the show’s leading man, Michael Weatherley [Logan Cale]. We did our first TV pilot together six or seven years ago down in Florida. So Michael and I had been friends for quite a while. And, of course, I was and still am a fan of John Savage [Lydecker], too.

“One of the people that impressed me right from the start was Jessica Alba [Max],” he continues. “She’s only 22 but you would never know it when talking with her. For someone so young Jessica has her head firmly on her shoulders, and that was a pleasant surprise. Sometimes you don’t know what to expect. The star of a series establishes the tone of the set in a lot of ways. If they’re nice and easy to get along with as well as approachable then it makes for a much more congenial atmosphere, and that was true of Jessica.”

Unfortunately, the very nature of Cummins’s character kept him from working most of the time with his fellow cast-members. “If I had, White would have killed all of them and the show would have been over,” chuckles the actor, “After all, he racked up quite an impressive body count in the first few episodes alone, and those were only the people he killed directly. That’s not counting all the orders he gave to his men to waste a bunch of other people. So, yes, in a lot of ways White wasn’t a particularly charming or nice fellow. Still, it’s kind of fun for someone like me, a suburban dwelling husband and father of a five-year-old boy, to play a guy like that every once in a while.”

Although he is passionate about his craft, Cummins once considered a career in commercial fishing. “My dad was a school teacher and in the summer he would fish commercially,” he explains. “When I was nine he gave me a job as a deckhand, and at 16 I began skippering for him. I continued to do this even after I became an actor. For example, when I worked on Poltergeist I still fished during my summers off, and it’s something I may do again in the future. It’s a part of my life that I’d like to teach my son about.”

Besides the aforementioned Poltergeist, the actor has guest-starred in such series as 21 Jump Street, The Outer Limits and Highlander. He also had a featured role in the British mini-series Dice as well as in a variety of made-for-TV movies. Behind the camera, Cummins has worked as a writer, producer and director. He did all three jobs along with starring in an independent feature called We All Fall Down.

“My mother died when I was eighteen and after that I began having a difficult time getting along with my father. So I began spending a lot of time in downtown Vancouver’s East Side,” he recalls. “A lot of guys in that neighbourhood don’t get out alive; I was lucky. We All Fall Down is loosely based on that time in my life and the people in it. It’s a piece of work I’m especially proud of.” Cummins may have only spent one season on Dark Angel but he feels it was an important stepping stone in his career. “I’m 32 and I’m now finally getting to play adults,” he says, “In that regard, being cast as Ames White was a terrific break for me and I enjoyed my time walking in his slightly twisted shoes.”

Steve Eramo
TV Zone Special #49
January 2003