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23 August 2015

A Q&A with Erin Cummings, Marge Slayton in ABC's 'The Astronaut Wives Club'


Filmed in New Orleans, ABC's "The Astronaut Wives Club" reaches its series finale at 7 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 20) on WGNO. I met the astro-wives cast members during a visit to the show's far-suburban sound stages back in January, when the production was nearing wrap.

Erin Cummings, who plays Marge Slayton, was a standout, mostly because she was so interested in how I was going about my work that rainy day -- what my angles were, who I was talking to, the coolness of the story the show was telling.

She eventually explained that she'd majored in journalism in college, and so a story hook was born.

Here's en edited email Q&A with Cummings:

Q: Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you'd pursued a career in your college major? Where would you be working? What would you be doing? What kind of stories would you be reporting?

A: I sometimes think about my potential life in journalism, but it's rarely with any sort of idealized fantasy that I would be happier. My specialization within the journalism major was advertising, specifically as an account manager. Once I started doing internships at major ad agencies in college, I realized quickly that an office job was not for me. I think I would face a lot of the same frustrations as I do in acting: always reaching for a new client, always traveling, feeling the need to please others, etc., but I can't imagine it would have the same creative and emotional payoffs. Being an actor is not an easy lifestyle, especially for the vast majority of actors who aren't at the top of their field. I would encourage anyone who would be happy and satisfied with another profession to go do that profession. However, I do have the training and education to do something else, and I wouldn't trade what I do for anything.

Did your major help you at all in your career? Are there things from school that you still have in your tool kit for life?

Being a journalism major will teach anyone the skills they need to be successful at anything. Above the technical background that I need as an actor or that one might need in any other field, the ability to effectively communicate is invaluable, and I got that by majoring in journalism. It's also come in handy during interviews because I have a genuine interest in the people interviewing me, and I usually speak to them as if I'm speaking to a friend. It always makes for a better interview from both sides.

I'm not saying you chose poorly, career-wise. You've got credits on some iconic titles. Which was the one that convinced you acting was going to work out? Favorite set? Favorite co-star?

The one job during which I knew that this was the only thing I ever wanted to do and that I COULD do and be successful at, was when I guest starred on an episode of the CBS series "Cold Case." I played a pinup girl who was murdered by her jealous best friend. On "Cold Case," the victim is really the star of the show. I got the experience of working every day and creating a character with meat and bones, who was the central character to the story. I was just so happy. I was being paid to live my dream, and people treated me like I belonged there! I finally felt like I had found my place. So despite the tough road ahead, I never looked back.

Was there a role you were up for you didn't get that feels like the one that got away?

I don't feel like there's a role that got away, because I firmly believe that every role is right for someone, and sometimes you're that person and sometimes you're not. I don't even remember most of the roles I auditioned for after it's over. The one that sticks out that I didn't get is the role of Cersei Lannister on "Game of Thrones." I knew the show was going to be something special. I also knew that Cersei was an incredible role that would change the life of whoever played her. I'm a huge "GOT" fan and, when I watch Lena Headey on the show, all I can think is, "Yep, they made the right decision. She is incredible."

You grew up in Texas, so I'm wondering if New Orleans was a family destination growing up, or later. You've worked here a couple of times, it appears. What are your favorite things about the city? Any adventures this time you can relate?

I did grow up coming to New Orleans. I was born in Lafayette and my mom grew up in Lockport, so I have spent an incredible amount of time in south Louisiana. My favorite things about New Orleans include walking along the river. The city that's known by outsiders as this wild time also offers such serene peace if you stop and just soak it in. And the incredibly preserved mid-century architecture was a wonderful surprise to find when we were filming in a lot of the homes by the lakefront! One fun adventure that I introduced the cast to was a swamp tour. I've been on plenty of swamp tours growing up, but our cast-mates from Australia, Ireland and England certainly had not! I was thrilled to be able to share a little of my bayou background with our friends from across the pond.

When I met you and your fellow cast members on-set, it appeared that you'd all approached the shooting experience here as your characters did. There appeared to be genuine esprit, to me at least. Or was that just acting? (If so, bravo.)

The beautiful thing for me about watching the show is getting to relive the moments between scenes. We, the actors, were becoming friends off-camera as well as on. We all came from substantial acting backgrounds and each brought something powerful to the table so there was a trust and a respect that we had for one another. And on top of that, we loved to laugh and cut up, so days on set were always fun!

Tell me about Marge. What about her did you enjoy playing? What was hardest? Did you research her?

I loved playing Marge because she is a true rags-to-riches story, and the writers gave her the best lines! She's so quotable that I had a lot of fun with her. And those moments of bravado are balanced with her love for Deke and her desire to be accepted that lends itself to moments of vulnerability. The hardest part was "smoking" the entire season without actually being able to put the cigarette in my mouth! But that's what happens when you work for Disney! I didn't actually do any research on Marge because there wasn't any information about her. That's why this story is so important. These women made a major contribution to the space race and were essentially erased from history. It's time we start telling more stories of the women upon whose shoulders America's heroes stood.
erincummings.jpgErin Cummings in 'The Astronaut Wives Club.'ABC

To me, the book paints the wives as kind of tragic figures, in a way. The astronaut divorce rate is a compelling statistic. Do you see them that way? If not, why not?

I see their experience as being tragic in the way that they were, as many women are, told to be a certain thing to appeal to a very male sensibility. Their personalities and opinions were repressed by NASA and they were forced to showcase themselves as the Stepford-type wives, making other wives of the era feel like that was the norm and follow suit. As for the divorce rate, I'm sure many of the wives were much happier not being married to an astronaut! I certainly wouldn't want to marry one.

Did you enjoy living in the period depicted?

I enjoyed "playing" in the '60s. Of course, the wardrobe, the hair, the makeup, the food, the colloquialisms and the architecture were fascinating and fun. However, there has never been a better time in history to be a woman than right now. I'm proud of how far we have come, and look forward to the advances my generation and my daughter's generation will create.

What's one moment from the production you'll always remember?

The one moment I'll never forget is when Yvonne Strahovski taught me how to say "Who farted?" in an Australian accent.





6 August 2015

Talk Nerdy interviews Erin Cummings


Erin Cummings plays Marge Slayton on ABC’s Astronaut Wives Club. Erin took some time to chat with Talk Nerdy With Us. Read on to hear what’s coming up for Marge, the magic of costumes and working alongside Kenneth Mitchell, and what Erin has coming up next!

Before you started filming, did you read Lily Koppel’s book, Astronaut Wives Club?

“I did read the book. After I had been cast, I hadn’t read it prior, but once I’d been cast, the first thing I did was go to Amazon and get her book and really familiarize myself with not just Marge’s story, but also the world in which these women were living. As we’ve said, the show is based on her book, not necessarily based on the real events that have happened. So it’s certainly important for me to be familiar with that particular story.”

Is this the first project you’ve worked on where you’re portraying a historical figure?

“Yeah…I think it is. This is a really fantastic question, but I’ve never been asked it so I’ve never thought about it. But, yeah it is. So there’s a whole other mentality that goes behind that, ideas that come into play when you’re playing a character who actually lived, and also lived not that long ago. Unlike playing a historical figure like Marie Antoinette or someone lived many many years ago, there are people alive today who knew Marge. Her son, Kent Slayton, is still alive. So there’s certainly a responsibility that I have felt in making sure that the portrayal is…it’s hard to say accurate because so little of who she was was actually documented, so not necessarily being an accurate portrayal but more of a portrayal that would make her proud if she were still alive and a portrayal that people who knew her would feel was an honoring of her life versus in any way a mockery or an exploitation of her life. And I hope that that’s what I’ve done.”

Absolutely. I obviously didn’t know her, but it doesn’t feel like an exploitation.

“I like to think that Marge would like the way she’s being portrayed as having a bit of sass, a bit of class, not putting up with anybody’s crap.”

From the beginning, I’ve thought Marge was one of the characters who really stands out. In an ensemble with seven women, not every episode can feature every character, but Marge’s personality has really come through from the beginning.

“I feel the exact same way. When I read the script in January of 2014, the head of casting at ABC said ‘There’s a couple of characters I think you’d be right for, pick which one you want to audition for.’ Immediately, it was never a question, it was always Marge that I knew I was going to respond to the most. And I think that’s really important when you do have, as you said, a cast of seven women, and let’s face it, it’s a cast of seven white women, it’s difficult to distinguish yourself because there physically aren’t a lot of defining characteristics right off the bat. [Marge’s personality] really has come through in the writing, which I think is there, we have a fantastic writing team.

And then also, Eric Damon, our costume designer did a beautiful job of really working with me. My body shape is different from some of the other girls and he found a way to really take every woman and make her the most beautiful for her shape and size. I think that’s really important because part of Marge’s appeal is in the way that she dresses, and the way that I dressed affected the way that I walked and the way that I walked affected the way that I stood and the way that I stood did affect the way that the words would come out of my mouth. And then the way the words came out of my mouth would affect the expression on my face. The wardrobe really does so much. People see a period show and they say ‘oh it must’ve been so much fun wearing all those clothes.’ Well, it’s not. It’s not fun at all. You’re wearing corsets and they’re tight and it’s often old material that’s not necessarily comfortable, but it’s beautiful to wear. And it really helps inform that character. I certainly give Eric Damon so much credit for really helping me find Marge’s true essence.”

Do you have a favorite outfit that you got to wear of all of the costumes?

“One of my favorites was a tan and white polka dot dress that I was wearing by the pool when all the girls go to find Mrs. Carpenter when they say ‘hey you’re gonna need a friend.’ I have a thing for polka dots, I don’t know why, so I loved that. And then there was also a dress when we were at a fancy party and it’s red and black and it’s very form-fitting and not very long, and I’m used to wearing longer dresses, but people just went crazy over it and it made me feel very sexy and much like a vixen. So those are two that pop out, but really every day I just thought ‘Wow, you hit it out of the park, again’.”

All the couples on the show do a great job connecting to each other. Did you and Kenneth Mitchell [who plays Deke Slayton], do anything specific to get comfortable with each other?

“You know, it’s funny. I watch the show, and not to take anything away from any of the other couples, and maybe it’s because I’m obviously biased, but I think that the Marge and Deke storyline is so powerful and I think that Kenneth and I have such incredibly chemistry, not just sexual chemistry in those moments when you see them being intimate, but also the chemistry with us when we really know how to fight with one another or when we have those moments of kindness. To me, it’s really kind of heartbreaking because you really feel the love that these two people have for one another. Not just an adoration love, but really a friendship. They operate as two people who aren’t just the portrayal of a married couple being in love, but they’re just two people who wake up every morning they make coffee, they eat breakfast, they live life, they snap at each other, they may have sarcastic eye rolls to one another, but they really love each other.

Kenneth and I didn’t really do anything, I think it all happened organically when we got on set. We’d be on set and we would just try things. What’s so wonderful about Kenneth is that he has such a deep well of emotion, and he doesn’t have to say much to have so much going on. Sometimes on network television because they don’t have a lot of time, there’s so much story to tell and so little time to do it in, very rarely are actors given room to breathe in the same way you are in a cable show, for example. There’s not a lot of those delicious pregnant pauses where someone’s just holding on to a thought and trying to figure out the right way to say it before they put their foot in their mouth. And I’m really happy that in the editing process they allowed Kenneth to have a lot of those moments because he’s so good at it. He speaks volumes without even saying a word, and I feel like the scenes I did with him were some of my best. Every time we did a scene together it was so magical because sometimes you do a scene and then you finish and you go ‘oh man, that really sucked, hopefully they’ll fix it in post, because I was a steaming pile of crap in that.’ I try not to talk to myself like that too much, but you hear actors muttering, and you know when it’s a powerful scene and when it’s not. But with Kenneth, every single scene. On the way home, he would send me a really nice message saying ‘great working with you today’ and how energized he was and I always felt the same way. Even some of the other actresses. It’s funny cause as the season wore on and Kenneth would have scenes with other wives, which you’ll see later in the storyline, they’d call me and say ‘Oh my god, Kenneth is so wonderful, you’re so lucky that you’ve been able to work with him all season.’ And I go ‘I know! I have the best husband!’ I love all the guys, but Kenneth is really the only one I worked with. I don’t know what the other wives were working with but for me every day with Kenneth was an absolute blessing.”

That’s a great segue to my next question, which is: Is there anyone in the cast you didn’t get to work with much that you would have like to work with more?

“I would have loved to have scenes with Desmond Harrington. Desmond and I got along really well off camera. We lived in the same building as well as Odette Annable, Bret Harrison, Dominique McElligott, and the head of our makeup department, we all lived in the same building. And so I was with Desmond a lot, and he’s such a fascinating person in so many ways. He’s such a talented actor. I had one scene with him sort of, but I can’t give away a plot point. You’ll see later on that Marge does have an interaction with Alan Shephard. I really enjoyed my time with him, and I see the magic that he brings to the screen in every scene that he’s in and I certainly would have loved to explore that and work with him in that way. And then, Aaron McCusker became a really good friend, and I know that he and Wilson Bethel were pranksters off camera, and of course they’re phenomenal actors but in addition to that it would’ve been fun to see the humor and levity they bring to the set.”

I don’t know how much you can say, but when the show started part of what the women bonded over was their shared position as wives of men going up in space. Now, your husband, Deke, has been promoted. Is that going to change the dynamic among the women and how will that affect Marge?

“It’s not going to be a spoiler alert, because it’s not the Marge Slayton show. It’s really about all the astronaut wives and I think had there been more emphasis on Marge’s different position it would have taken the show in a direction that wouldn’t have been as conducive to the story of sisterhood and friendship that it really is. So we don’t dive too much into that. But, what we wills tart to see is Marge’s acceptance of herself. In the first couple episodes, a lot of what we explore with Marge is her insecurities, her concerns about feeling like she isn’t good enough, whether or not she belongs in this world. Also, her desperation of not knowing if her marriage is going to work and if Deke didn’t go up, all those unknowns about the future. What we’ll start to see coming up is Marge relaxing into her position a little bit more, and a newfound confidence is going to start to emerge in a really beautiful way. And that’s one of the other things in terms of Marge as a character; it’s not just that she has this rough-and-tumble past and these obstacles to get over, but the fact that she actually does come out the other end a transformed woman. For me, personally, I can relate to that on so many levels. I certainly didn’t come out to Hollywood thinking I was going to end up starring on TV shows or talking to reporters. It’s such a strange thing to even acknowledge that this is where my career has gone, but I think that’s a story so many people can relate to, being a fish out of water and feeling very unsettled and not really knowing what the future holds and then being able to look back and say ‘Wow. I really did it. I accomplished this particular task.’ Or ‘I got that promotion,’ or ‘I started out as the assistant and now I’m the boss.’ That’s a very common story hat I think people can relate to, so that’s one of the reasons why I’ve fallen in love with Marge and why I think other people are falling in love with her as well.”

Last question, is there anything you’re working on right now that your fans can look forward to seeing you in?

“Actually I just did a role on Halt and Catch Fire on AMC that just aired last week, so if anyone needs to catch up on their Halt and Catch Fire on their DVR, I did a couple of episodes of that. And right now I’m in New York, sitting in the lobby of the ABC building, waiting to go back in for my fitting, I’m working on a miniseries for ABC about the Bernie Madoff scandal, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner. I’ll be playing Bernie Madoff’s secretary Eleanor Squillari, who played an essential role in getting him put behind bars after she and many other people lost a lot of money. Then I’ll go back to LA and hopefully not get on a plane anytime soon, I’ve been traveling a lot. And then of course, my biggest role that I’m preparing, that’s going to be the most life-changing is Mrs. Thomas Degnan and I will be getting married next summer.”

Congratulations!! That’s wonderful.

“Yeah it’s been a really great year. All the heartache and tears over thinking I’d never find love and never be a working actor, fortunately I just had to wait til 2015 because it all came together at the same time.”





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