Interview : Erin Cummings

Publiée dans le magazine "Curve"

So first, tell me what attracted you to Dante's Cove.

There were a couple of things... I live with a gay couple. My mom when she was younger and she was robbed in New Orleans, she went and stayed with gay friends of hers. The friends that lived up the street from us that used to always watch our house and take care of us, was a gay couple. My manager is gay. My agent is gay. My friends are gay. So, obviously, the gay and lesbian community has a special place in my heart. So, when I found out about Dante's Cove and that it was for here! network, it really resonated inside of me... I wanted my position on gay and lesbian rights to be out there for the rest of my career. So to do a show like this as my first big role, I knew there would never be a question of where I stand.

That's nice.

So part of this was just like, wow, this a fantastic opportunity for me to show my allegiance to the gay and lesbian community. That was one factor. Another factor was what I knew what kind of journey my character Michelle was going to take, and it's something that no actress in her right mind would turn down. As Michelle I get to play every emotion, I get to take the ride of my life, as an actress.

Tell me a little bit about Michelle.

Michelle is an all-American Midwestern girl who was brought up with good values, and even though she lives an 'alternative' - I use that in quotes - an alternative sexual life, she still does follow a lot of the more conservative beliefs she grew up with, which means she doesn't do drugs, she believes in God... There's witchcraft and a lot of other things that happen in Dante's Cove; she doesn't like any of that. She's very conventional that way. She believes in a relationship; she's not the type of girl [who's] going to sleep around and date a bunch of people. She wants a committed monogamous relationship, which becomes a point of contention between her and Van. She the kind of girl that all of the guys think of as a little sister and all of the girls want to have as a girlfriend. She's the perfect girlfriend.

Is there a part of Michelle that's a lot like Erin?

Actually, yeah ... I come from east Texas. I understand completely... In Dante's Cove people are skinny-dipping and it's very lackadaisical. There's parties all of the time. In Los Angeles there's parties all of the time, people are doing these debaucherous actives. So even though I'm by no means a conservative - I'm not necessarily a stick in he mud when it comes to having fun - there's definitely the conservative background that I have. And then also, I like to date a little bit more than Michelle does. I don't necessarily need to be in a relationship, but I like being in a relationship. I like having someone to come home to, so to speak. I'm a Cancer, and I don't know if you know about Cancers in astrology, but we're very much the happy homemakers and want to have one person we come home to. So, I can relate [to] Michelle on the idea of having one person.

That's interesting. So let's go back a little bit. You started your career in Dallas, right? When did you actually come out to Hollywood?

Well ... I was doing community theater and I hadn't really thought about coming to L.A. I don't really know what I was planning on doing with theater. I think I was just getting my feet wet to see whether I liked it or not. And a scout saw me and they flew me out to Los Angeles... This was the summer before my last semester of college, so I was just about to graduate. I had one semester left and I came out to Los Angeles and I saw all these other people who were just like me. When you grow up in a small town, the idea of moving to Los Angeles and becoming an actress makes about as much sense as sprouting wings and flying to the moon - it's crazy. Who does that, you know? I mean you have to be related to someone or you have to have an in. And I had none of those things. So I came out here and I saw all these people from Iowa, Texas, Florida or wherever that were like, "Yeah, I wait tables and I go to acting class, and I try to get an agent, and now I go on auditions." And I was like, "Wow, well, I can do that. I can go to acting class and I can work hard. And so I came here a second time, for two weeks - slept on someone's floor, rented a piece of junk car, and just drove around. I knew two people in the city, so I went to them and said, "Can you introduce me to three people?" And they introduced me to three people and they introduced me to more, and I just started hitting the pavement. I said in two weeks I wanted to get my SAG card, find an apartment and make some contacts, and in two weeks I had gotten my SAG card, found an apartment and I was having lunch with the president of one of the studios, so I was doing alright.

That's great!

Yeah, it was. Because, I was so naive I didn't know that it was impossible to get your SAG card in two weeks. I moved here and people would go, "Yeah, I've been trying to get my card for two years." And I was like, "What?" There's something so beautiful about being so naive because you don't realize that things are hard. You just go, "I want to do it," and you do. So then when I had those three things done, I graduated from college in December of 2000 and then I moved here in January, so I've been here for about five and a half years. I hit the ground running and I haven't stopped since.

And it sounds like you've had a modicum of success already, too. You've had roles on a handful of TV shows and you've got few films in postproduction right now?

Yeah in postproduction. It's funny, when a film's in postproduction it seems like they're never going to finish... I spoke with a director one time who'd recently wrapped his film and he was talking about Sundance, and he was talking about this and I was like, "You know what? Just call me when it's finished." Because once you wrap me, I've got to emotionally and mentally move on. Because if I put my heart and soul and my eggs all in that basket - in that film - and it takes two years to go through post production? I'd have a breakdown.

Do you all know already from the onset whether Dante's Cove is renewed for the next season at this point or do you wait to hear that mid-season?

We wait. We definitely have to find out what the response is to the show. I've heard, through the grapevine, that after the first episode, they'll know. They'll kind of have an idea based on the viewership of the first episode. I can't imagine that it wouldn't be picked up for another season... This year they brought in a whole team of writers, so the writing just far surpasses the first season; the location - I mean we shot in Oahu, Hawaii ... so there were a lot more resources in the locations. The production value alone is significantly higher, and brought in a couple of new actors who I think brought ... a new level to the show: new characters for people to get riled up about... If season one - for the limited resources that they had - became the number one show on the network, I have no doubt that season two will be renewed. I have very high hopes for it... I think if you liked season one, you are going to love season two.

I think when viewing it, you have to allow certain concessions, knowing they were working on a limited budget. But with those things in mind, I think that it's quite entertaining. Do you think this season that the lesbian storylines are going to be more fleshed out than in season one?

Yes, absolutely. Just from what I'm seeing in season one, there really wasn't a lesbian scene; there were girls who would randomly hook up with each other, but you couldn't tell who was a lesbian and who was bisexual... [In] season two, we establish in the first episode that Michelle and Van are together... We're obviously the lesbian couple and there's a whole storyline that revolves around that, so I think the lesbian storyline is much larger, which is fantastic.

Yeah, I think it's going to be interesting to see. [Lesbian viewers are] very interested in seeing themselves onscreen, but when you pin all your hopes for visibility on this one show like The L Word, then you are missing this whole demographic of people... It will be interesting to see how lesbians are able to access this show.

I did a lot of research before I went to Hawaii [to shoot]. Like I was telling you earlier, I have a lot of gay men in my life, but I was looking around thinking, okay, where are the lesbians? And I was looking around and I realized that I didn't have any lesbians in my life that were out and living a lesbian lifestyle. I had friends that considered themselves bisexual and would occasionally, you know, have sex with other girls, but never, "Okay, this is my girlfriend. I'm legitimately a lesbian and I can give you some honest feedback."

So I go ahead and do some research [at] the Abby, which is the gay bar around the corner... I asked the waiter, "Do you know any lesbians? Because I need to talk to them. So, if you know any lesbians that wouldn't mind talking with me, let me know."

So a little while later he comes back and says, "Oh yeah, these two women over here said they'd talk to you." So I sat down with these two women who were fantastic and super friendly. I bought them a couple of beers and they just answered all of my questions... I just wanted to see if there were certain things about how they interact with one another... when there isn't a man around. Does a woman look at another woman the same way that a straight woman looks at a man? Is it a similar dynamic? So, we chatted for about an hour, it was fantastic, I was taking notes and then one woman said if you really want to see how things go down, you should come to Girl Bar tonight. And I was like, "Okay, great!" ... That was fantastic because I literally got to see the demographic, you know: women with their girlfriends, women whose ex-girlfriends were with other girls... It was fascinating and it was fantastic, and I learned a lot. I was definitely very open: "Look, I'm straight, I'm doing research." And the women were very excited to share their experiences and tell me about what their lifestyle was... They knew the show was trying to do something to accurately portrait lesbians, not just sort of Girls Gone Wild, two hot chicks getting it on sort of thing. That's not what we're interested in.

Definitely. Yeah, I think there's a lot of appreciation when someone's out there trying to get it right.

[Here! TV vice president] Meredith [Kadlec] was such a key factor in that portrayal because she was on set a lot... Sam Irving, the director let her take the reins on [some sex scenes], saying, "Look, I don't know what lesbians do, and I don't really know what lesbians want to watch, so you ladies have free rein." And that's credit to him also for saying, "Look, this is not my area of expertise." Meredith and [co-star] Michelle Wolf who obviously had done lesbian sex scenes before helped a lot. They were very instrumental in creating the reality of at least sexuality. I was so grateful to have them there.

Yeah, that's great. Now working on the show, did it change your mind about sexuality at all?

I was already open anyway, to sexuality. I don't hold a lot of the - what am I trying to say- not biases...

But, sort of preconceived notions?

Right. I don't have any sexual hang-ups if that makes sense. So, for me, like I said, I live with a gay couple, it doesn't freak me out or bother me to see two men together or two women together. So I don't think that it really changed me in the fact that I was already really open... In fact, I think it made me feel more at home, because I felt like when I was working on Dante's Cove, I was living in the world as it should be. I felt like I was at home, where women could be with women and men could be with men, and women could be with men and everyone could live together in harmony... And then to have to come back to a world where I say I was playing a lesbian and people would laugh or someone would go, "Oh, my gosh, how was that?" What do you mean, How was it? It was great! I kissed a girl and she didn't have a scruffy beard... It's just so funny to me, because I've done plays and I've done films where I've had to kiss someone twice my age, or I had to kiss someone who... wasn't attractive. And no one ever goes, "Oh, my god, what was it like having to kiss that guy?" No one says that. They know that because I'm straight and I'm an actor that I'm acting. Why would it be any different? It's the same exact thing and like I said, it's better because there's no chin scruff. It was very refreshing... I did this one film were I was playing the love interest of this guy and he was semi-attractive and it was just weird because I never felt like I could really open up to him because I could tell from his body, from his mannerisms, that he thought I was actually into him. But I wasn't. So there was a part of me that really held back. Whereas in the love scene between me and Michelle Wolf, for example, Michelle knows I straight, I know she's gay. We went for it. There was no clothes, there was no barriers... I think that made it so much easier, being with another woman, because I felt like she could really understand - I was very nervous! It was my first sex scene, and I felt like she understood that. And then with Nadine Heimann who obviously plays my girlfriend on the show, she and I had a great girl relationship. We were pals, we were buddies, there was already a love there between two people, so it wasn't hard for me to be cuddly with her and snuggling with her and playing with her hair. You know, it is sort of a call back to being a little girl and being affectionate with your girlfriends... It was very natural, and it was great.

Let me ask you a couple more questions before I let you go. You were actually on Charmed as Rose McGowan's alter ego, and then you've been on Threshold, which is a little kind of sci-fi. and then you're a regular on Dante's Cove, this supernatural gay drama. Are you typecast? Are you sort of a spooky girl?

Honestly I had never made that correlation. I don't know... There are actresses who want to be the girl next door. And I want to be everything. I do have a dark side to me; I like things that are a little off the normal track, so, maybe that's what draws me naturally to these projects... I don't ever want to be predictable.

And that's pretty sexy. I think that makes you kind of sexier too.

Great!

Also, here's another thing, You're a martial arts expert...

Expert is a very powerful word. I enjoy martial arts,

Okay, you have experience with hand-to-hand combat, guns, knives, kick-boxing. Does that stuff make you more fearless in real life?

Yes. Oh, my gosh I have this, well, I think it's a great story. When I was waiting tables I was working at this bar on Sunset... Guys were always grabbing my butt and just being idiots and I always used to think to myself, "Fuck, I wish I had the quick reflexes to just grab his hand and break it and just have this whole little martial arts thing played out in my head of what I'd do to this guy." So when I started studying martial arts, my reflexes, I became like a cat and I was just so quick that one day I was working, and I felt this hand grab my butt, and I literally - without even thinking about it - I grabbed his hand and in two seconds, put him in a hold with his arm twisted behind his back. And it just came so natural because these classes I had been doing all these fight sequences. And I remember I felt so powerful and I was like, "No one's ever going to grab my butt again." I think that there's something innately powerful about a woman who knows how to move and knows how to defend herself. As much as I'm a southern belle and just love for a man to throw a football and kill a bug, I feel like it's very important for me to be able to take care of myself, for me to be able of my girlfriends, and for one day for me to be able to take care of my children. Women who are able to defend themselves not only physically, but also verbally, the ability to stand up for yourself and for those around you and say the right thing... I think that's so vital for building your self esteem and your confidence as women. I think that we are such physical beings, we are so connected to what our bodies are doing and so when your body becomes strong, that helps your mind become strong and vice versa. All things work together, so I do definitely think that the martial arts it makes me feel like a badass, whether I am or not. I feel like it. And that right there makes me want to conquer the world.

Just one last question. You actually studied journalism, and you're also a certified massage therapist. Was that you laying the groundwork for a back-up career, or are you just good at falling into career changes?

Well I'm an air force brat, so I've had to change personalities, change locations more times than I can count. And I think that I am guided by something else. As much as I like to think that I am the master of my own destiny... I believe I have been lead on a journey. And that journey initially led me to acting ... [but] that didn't really seem to have a realistic place to go as a young girl... I ended up going back to journalism, which was something I'd done in high school, because I was editor of my high school yearbook. So it made sense that I would go into journalism and advertising... And honestly, I had forgotten I wanted to be an actress... And then I was doing an internship [at advertising agency DDB] and there was a girl in my internship program at the time who was from California and she just said, "I don't know what you are doing in this business... You're good at advertising, you're really good. But honey, you are an actress... Just trust me, you're an actress." So then when the opportunity came about for me to pursue acting ... it came together. Because at the time I was literally thinking about moving to New York and working as an account executive. And then I just realized that the part that I loved the most about being an executive was making the pitch, getting up in front of everyone, and making the sell. The massage thing, that came about because I was out here waiting tables and, I don't know if you've ever waited tables or not, but it is incredibly demeaning, especially in Los Angeles. And I just remember thinking, I have a college degree and I'm getting talked down to by B-level porn stars. And so I just said, I'm not doing this any more. So I went to work for an assistant producer and I thought [it would] be a great way for me to meet people in the business. It was not. It was a horrible experience. If you've ever seen Swimming with Sharks, that was similar to what I was going through. So I took a vacation I went to the Cannes Film festival for two weeks. I just flew myself out there and stayed at this tiny little apartment by myself and while I was there ... I thought, I don't believe in the struggling artist. I think that while you're creating your art you should be enjoying your life. You should be doing something that turns you on. I don't want to get screamed at and I want people to be happy when they see me and to be even happier when they leave, and I want to make a lot of money and not have to work that much... I found the quickest and cheapest massage school and I went there and then I started working at the Chiropractic Center of Los Angeles. I ended up getting a few celebrity clients, who then lead to other celebrity clients and before long I'd built up a pretty great rooster of A-list celebrity clients... When I had an audition, I'd go on my audition. I made my own schedule, and so I was still doing massage up until I was doing Dante's Cove. I think that there are people [who] say, "I have to be an actor because there's nothing else I can do." And I think to myself, "I have to be an actor because there's a million other things I can do, but this is what I choose to do." ... I know that this is the right path for me because of all the other , of all my other talents, this is the one that I want to stick with. And this one that has the most volatile and it has the most potential negativity surrounding it and the most doors slammed in your face... But this is my passion, and this is my love, and this is my life, and this is all I really want to do.