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        23 August 2015

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


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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.

 

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