As villainous Manticore agent Ames White, Martin Cummins adds a touch of nasty menace to the proceedings on Dark Angel. Yet, for all the character’s hiss-worthiness, he is – somewhere deep down and despite the fact that he’s prone to chant “From my father before me. For my sons” – all too human. The man, you see, has a very exploitable Achilles’ heel.
“It’s funny, you just sort of do what you do,” Cummins says, trying to put into words the challenge of playing a good baddie. “There are aspects of the character that are most important to me, and because Ames is such a bad man, they give him another dimension. The key one is the way he feels about his son. We’re going to continue to get to know that in episodes that haven’t aired yet. Ultimately, Ames would turn his back on his group, on the government and on hunting transgenics for the well-being of the kid. And he would be willing to never see the kid again if he thought that would be the best thing for the child. So despite everything he goes about and everything he represents, the kid is, in some sense, his saving grace. I don’t even know if Ames is a particularly good dad, but he’s got feelings for his kid.”
But what’s the deal with White? Why is this Dark Angel newcomer so damn intent on erasing Manticore and eradicating the transgenics? He’s made it clear that that is his aim in such episodes as Bag ‘Em, Proof of Purchase, Gill Girl, Medium is the Message, Harbor Lights and Exposure, among others, all of which focused heavily on White and his machinations. “We’re discovering more about this breeding cult that he’s part of, that there’s been this selective breeding going on for thousands of years,” Cummins says, referring to the mysterious Familiars. “In a sense there’s been a break-off from the breeding cult and, ultimately, these transgenics were created. So what happens is there’s a feeling of Catholics and Protestants when they’re going at it. Ames is almost like a zealot so far as his feelings about wanting to hunt these transgenics down and wipe them off the face of the Earth. The question is, what will he gain if they are wiped out? He sees them as an abomination before God, in a sense. I think he sees for himself Nirvana, or a place in that, if they’re wiped out.”
Standing in his way time and again is Max (Jessica Alba). She thwarted him as he prepared to kill his wife, Wendy (Emily Holmes), in Medium is the Message. She prevented him from killing two water-loving transgenics in Gill Girl. And, no doubt, she’ll continue to be an obstacle for him to overcome in the weeks ahead.
“She does keep thwarting his plans, doesn’t she?” Cummins says with a laugh. “He takes it very personally, because he has this religious bent of wanting to finish this thing and it just keeps going on and on and on, it just gets worse for him with the people he’s employed by. So it is getting personal. Max is a serious thorn in his side.” Those familiar with Cummins’s career know that the Canadian actor is a genre regular. His credits include the full-time role of Nick Boyle on Poltergeist: The Legacy and guest spots on such shows as The Outer Limits, MANTIS, Highlander and My Secret Identity. His big screen and TV movie work includes Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Omen IV: The Awakening and, most recently, Strange Frequency, in which he played Dante. All those visits to the realm of Sci-Fi and Horror, however, aren’t the result of an abiding love of such things, but rather a practical reality. “To be honest, I like Sci-Fi as much as the next guy, but there are also just a lot of those kinds of productions that shoot in Vancouver,” the actor notes, during this conversation on a day off from Dark Angel. “In a sense, that’s what it comes down to. I’ve got a young child and he’s just started school. This is home for me. I’m living in the same place in Vancouver that I’ve lived in for years. I like it here. I far prefer it over Los Angeles. I love New York and I could work there too, but Vancouver is kind of where I do my business. So I have a tendency to make choices that will keep me in Vancouver. There’s just a lot of Sci-Fi that happens to shoot here. It’s what comes around, and I’m more than willing to do it.” Cummins’s professional output to date has encompassed more than acting. He’s a writer and director as well. He’s called the shots on episodes of Poltergeist: The Legacy (Wishful Thinking, Gaslight and Irish Jug) and The Outer Limits (Better Luck Next Time), and two years ago he wrote and directed the straight dramatic feature We All Fall Down, a semi-autographical tale in which he appeared with Rene Auberjonois, Nicholas Campbell (who appeared in the Cummins directed Outer Limits episode), Barry Pepper, Ryan Reynolds and former Poltergeist co-star Helen Shaver. Stating the obvious, he’d like a crack at stepping behind the camera of Dark Angel. “I enjoy directing,” he says. “It’s fun to, on some level, call the shots. I think I’d bring a reasonably good eye to the show. We’ve got a lot of real good directors, so I don’t know that I could presume to think I could bring anything so damn spectacular to the show, a knock-your-socks-off kind of thing. Dark Angel is a TV show and we have a pretty good time messing around with it and making it, in the actual shooting of it. It’s work and all that sort of thing, but we also have a pretty good time doing it. You’ve got to try to not take it too damn seriously. So you go to work every day and do your thing. It’s kind of fun, as a director, to mix it up and add something else to the pot. Writing, producing, directing, they’re different ways to keep it interesting and fun.”
Right now, Cummins is busily co-writing another script for a film he’ll direct. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to an American pick-up of the British mini-series Dice and planning to spend a good portion of his summer reprising the role of Patrick Styvesant in a Dice follow-up. Cummins also completed the independent feature Liberty Stands Still, in which he stars with Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino. Whether or not Cummins signs on for anything else will depend on whether the show’s cast and crew are merely taking a summer hiatus or moving on for good. The show’s ratings are okay, but perhaps not good enough to warrant the expense of producing more episodes of the series, one of the most expensive on television. It was recently announced that co-creator James Cameron would direct the season finale, and it’s the hope that his participation will generate viewer buzz and boost ratings, thereby convincing Fox to renew Dark Angel for a third year.
“I don’t think I die at the end of this season,” Cummins concludes. “I don’t know yet. They haven’t sent down the last script. Mr Cameron has been hammering away at it. We’ll see, I guess. That’s not up to me. Whether I’m back or not, that’s up to the kids at the network and Mr Cameron. As far as the show coming back, I would think that with James Cameron getting more involved again and directing the season finale that that’s a pretty good indication that they’ll do another year. I hope we come back. I’m having a good time. I like the work. I enjoy the relationship I have with my son and I’d like to see where that goes. I’d like to wander down that path a little bit more. It’s an interesting dynamic for Ames. He’s a pretty hard-edged guy and, as I said before, having his son around gives him more dimension. So I do hope we’ll be back.”
Cult Times #80
Visual Imagination Limited 2002