Lord protect us from ghoulies and ghosties, long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. Well, the ones that aren’t contained by a television screen, that is. If trepid souls brave enough to face creature even more horrific than the ‘characters’ on Big Brother can tune into Poltergeist: The Legacy when the fourth season of MGM/Trilogy’s creepy show premieres on Sci-Fi (UK) in December.
For those unfamiliar with the story, The Legacy is a secret and ancient society dedicated to protecting the known world from all the horrors of the Underworld, including unwelcome poltergeists. Various members of this exclusive club inhabit big posh homes all over the globe and keep in touch by spiritual messaging, astral travel, telephone and other mystical phenomena. Stuck in a house with a bunch of psychic do-gooders is down-to-earth (ish) Nick Boyle played by Vancouverite Martin Cummins. Possessed of classic, wholesome good looks and a wicked sense of humour, Cummins takes the whole ghost-busting premise in his stride. “Nick is a bit of an odd bird,” grins the actor. “I mean, anybody who lives in a house with three people who are forever off chasing ghosts has got to be kind of an odd person. But I try to keep kind of a Joe Regular feel to him. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wild or special about Nick but it’s difficult for me to describe him objectively because I’ve been playing him for so long that it’s almost like trying to describe myself.”
Similarities between Cummins and the character he portrays, however, are hard to come by. Nick Boyle is an ex-Navy SEAL whose natural scepticism means he likes to punch first and get the crucifix out afterwards. Martin Cummins is an accomplished actor and director who won his first professional award at the age of 16 and has successfully overcome a period of drug abuse and petty crime to go from strength to strength, creatively and in his personal life. “I think you have to hold your cards pretty much to your chest when you play a character for a long time, in order to retain your own identity. But I think if you take certain parts of your personality, photocopy them and make them larger than life, then add the script, the result, in Poltergeist: The Legacy for example, is Nick Boyle. I mean, I don’t go around punching people out or gunning them down, but you get the idea.”
A dedicated family man who spends much of his time with his wife and their four-year-old son, Cummins suggests, “Nick’s lifestyle isn’t one I’d particularly like to follow but I tend to think of it rather like a detective or a cop who spends their life dealing with and investigating difficult situations. Nick deals with dead people. It’s not pleasant but after a while it just becomes the way it is. He’s been dealing with these supernatural phenomena almost like a job, and he sees the irony of it and has a certain sense of humour about it. He’d have to or he’d go mad.” Pausing for a moment, he goes on, “Of course, Nick does get a little crazy every now and then but who wouldn’t?”
Despite the actor’s claims that Nick Boyle is less than wild, the series ‘bible’ has him down as a bit of an impetuous bloke ready to rush into the fray before his flatmates have even finished talking over their plans. He is also described as a man who will use practical, rather than spiritual, skills to invent tools and devices designed to combat vengeful sprites. Think ghost gun, a weapon that can blow apart the energy of evil spirits, and you get the picture. “Nick does have a habit of tinkering with mechanical things,” laughs Cummins, “but the fruits of his labours are just as likely to get the gang in trouble as get them out of it. He was actually asked to join the group in deference to his dead father, who had been a prominent Legacy member, but they soon discovered that Nick’s talent for mapping out and undertaking the physical requirements of their missions can be construed as a curse as well as a blessing.”
Whether or not the members of the Legacy House feel blessed with Nick’s presence, Cummins offers his own prayers of thanks to the show’s producers, particularly for affording him the opportunity to hone his creative skills. “I gained a lot from Poltergeist. It was my film school. I learned to direct there. I directed an episode in Season Three, have a couple of episodes coming up in this season and loved every minute of all of them. The episode “Irish Jug” is my particular favourite. It’s kind of a dark comedic piece which meant I got to indulge everyone’s sense of humour.”
Cummins also put the lessons learned from his directorial debut to good use in his latest project, the semi-autobiographical feature film We All Fall Down. Written and produced by Cummins, who also takes a leading role, the film is a hard-hitting but uplifting tale which concentrates on a particularly turbulent time in his past when a lethal combination of drug abuse and exhaustion almost wrecked his life. “It’s the old thing about wanting to write about what you know, and I’d been wanting to do the film for several years. When I took on Poltergeist: The Legacy, I knew that it was something I was going to be doing for an extended period of time and that I was going to making ‘x’ amount of dollars, which would enable me to finance the film project. I made a promise to myself that when I finished Poltergeist I would make the film and I did. What is so wonderful is that half the cast and crew are Poltergeist people who joined me and worked their butts off for free. Nobody got paid. From top to bottom it was a complete volunteer effort.”
One such sterling individual, Helen Shaver, aka Dr Rachel Corrigan, blew her Legacy reputation as a stalwart, upright member of the medical profession right out of the water by playing an enthusiastic and totally believable tart-with-a-heart. “Helen was fantastic—she went balls to the wall,” beams the director. “I wrote the part for her, but what she did with it was amazing.”
Although We All Fall Down has yet to secure a UK distributor, hopes are high in the Cummins camp. Clearly superstitious about revealing too many details, he shrugs, “We are in discussion with a company in London but we’ll just have to wait and see. The film has been a great success here at the Vancouver Film Festival and if this is where it stays, so be it. At the Toronto Film Festival we had some people who work with young offenders, and kids who are in the same boat as I was, come to see it. They were so blown away, they wanted to know if they could have copies to show to people who are going through it now to illustrate that they can come out the other side. To me, that is better than any good review or deal. Turning my bad time into something inspirational for others is the pinnacle. Everything else is a bonus.”
That said, Cummins does have one unfulfilled wish. “The film has become more than we hoped. People are liking it and hopefully it will encourage people to fund the next project, but the top of my rainbow would be to pay my crew.” Given the extraordinary events that usually surround that team in Poltergeist: The Legacy, Cummins might just get his wish. Stranger things have happened.
Cult Times #16
December 28, 2000