AUSXIP Interviews Erin Cummings

by Lori Boyles / MaryD

06 December 2009

Erin Cummings, the star of the movie Bitch Slap and the upcoming Starz series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", took time out of her busy schedule to talk to AUSXIP reporter Lori Boyles. Erin talks about working on Bitch Slap in front of the camera and behind the camera, how working with Zoe Bell on Bitch Slap helped her with her role on Spartacus, working with her co-stars and what's in store for this very talented actress.

“Hel” is one lady you don’t want to mess with. What was your favorite thing about portraying her?

Well, you hit one of the things that I like about Hel right there - she's not a lady you want to mess with! I love that we are at a time in history when women are more accepted than ever before in leadership positions - in the boardroom, in politics, etc. And women are able to be strong leaders who command attention and respect without having to hide our femininity or make ourselves more manly in order to do so. Hel really exemplifies the strong, intelligent, woman who is still sexy, but will kick your ass if you cross her.

How hard was it to do the fight scenes in sand and wearing high heels? What is the hardest thing for you about doing fight scenes?

Oddly enough, I don't remember much about the heels in the sand during the fight scenes because I was so focused on the fight itself. It was harder to just walk in heels in the sand because I kept sinking with every step and I was trying to look sexy without breaking an ankle. The hardest thing about doing the fight scenes is actually the breathing. You have to work yourself into a state of rage and exhaustion before each take, but conserve your energy to do the same piece of the fight over and over for hours in the heat. Trying to maintain the tone of the scene while protecting yourself and your fighting partner is actually much harder than the actual physical stuff - that's the fun part!

You had some crazy flashback scenes as “Hel”, which were done with green screen. Did you have a favorite?

Yes! Well, I have several - I LOVED the flashbacks in which I'm dressed in the "Lucile Ball goes to prison" outfit and the Vegas showgirl, simply because it channelled the little girl inside of me who likes to play dress-up. However, my favorite flashback scene is with Kevin Sorbo - we just had so much fun that day. Kevin is a really fun, generous guy who came ready for a good time - he totally got the movie and has been a big supporter of the film and of me.

You were Julia’s partner for her first “sex scene”. How do you generally prepare for those scenes? Did you give Julia any tips about doing those scenes?

I look at sex scenes like I look at any other scene. You must prepare, you must work from the emotional place of your character and you must set your boundaries with your co-star and be aware of his/hers. For this scene, I rented episodes of The L Word and chose a few scenes that I thought were on the level of where we were going with our scene. I showed them to Julia, Rick and Eric to make sure I was in the right "tone." On the day, Rick gave Julia and I a skeleton of how he wanted the scene blocked. For example, "Erin, you pin Julia up against the refrigerator and do some stuff, then flip her around and prop Julia up on the counter, where you will then lower your head out of frame." From there, he let Julia and I fill in the blanks, based on what we were comfortable with. "Is it okay if I kiss you with tongue? Are you comfortable with me touching your breast? How about if I lift your skirt up to here?" Those sorts of things. Once you know your boundaries and how far you can go, you have the freedom to just let loose and have fun with the scene, knowing that everyone is being respected. I did this with Julian McMahon on Nip/Tuck and Andy Whitfield in Spartacus (coincidentally, that sex scene was also directed by Rick!). It just makes for a more passionate scene that is believable and sexy when you don't have to worry that someone's going to do something they aren't supposed to!

You’ve worked with the multi-talented Michael Hurst as your co-star and director. What have you learned from Michael?

Being in the same room with Michael Hurst is like taking a master class in acting. He and I both have Shakespearean backgrounds, so we instantly bonded over that during Bitch Slap. Then, getting to spend time with him in New Zealand while working on Spartacus was a blessing. He really works from a place of truth, no matter how ridiculous the dialog may seem at the time. In Michael, I really saw how being a good actor is something that translates between every genre and isn't limited to stage work and one-hour dramas. You must always work from truth and the humor will come from that.

You also worked with Greg Lee previously in “Dante’s Cove”. How did you keep a straight face with his portrayal of “Hot Wire” and Minae Noji’s as “Kinki”?

Greg Lee was one of the selling points to me doing Bitch Slap! He and I became such good friends while shooting Dante's Cove in Hawaii and, aside from being wonderfully talented, he is a master of disguise. That handsome man is unrecognizable as Hot Wire! It was very difficult to keep a straight face, especially when he would improv a few lines here and there during rehearsals. In fact, the names that he calls our characters are sometimes things that he blurted out during the take and were so offensive that they kept them in! And Minae is always funny - as Kinki and in real life. She took a character that really didn't have a lot to do or say and made her one of the more memorable characters in the film. I really want to know what she's saying in Japanese....

When will the “BS” DVD be released and what extras will be on it??

Right now, we are looking at a March 2, 2010 DVD release with FOX. The DVD will have some great additional scenes, as well as the 1-hr behind the scenes documentary, "Behind Bitch Slap: Building a Better B-Movie."

You not only acted in “BS”, but you’ve worked behind the scenes as well helping out. What has the whole “BS” experience been like for you and what have you learned?

Yes, I've been quite fortunate that Eric Gruendemann has entrusted certain duties to me during the last year and a half since we wrapped shooting. I was open with him during filming about my eventual desire to produce and he has taught me so much about a side of filmmaking, publicity and distribution that many actors never take the time to learn and are never exposed to by producers and directors. Not only am I running the @BitchSlapMovie Twitter site, but he also let me run point on all of the coordination of our Scandinavia press tour with our distributors, Scanbox. This was a massive learning lesson for me on many points, but also gave me the chance to develop relationships with distributors, coordinators and producers in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway - contacts that I'm sure will be mutually beneficial as my career continues to develop.

What one word would you use to describe each of your co-stars:

America - Unpredictable
Julia - Demure
Michael - genius
Greg - unapologetic
Minae - fascinating
Zoe - badass
Kevin – generous

Loved your episode of “Cold Case”. What was it like working on that show?

I LOVED working on Cold Case! It was one of my favorite on-set experiences and I still can't watch the "Pin-Up Girl" episode without smiling and thinking back to how lovely everyone was to work with on that show. First, it was so easy to pretend that Chelsea Hobbs was my best friend, Todd Grinnell was my boyfriend and Patrick Fischler was my beloved manager because all of those people are just gorgeous individuals and we had a blast together.

The great thing about guest-starring on Cold Case, as my director Chris Fisher pointed out, is that you really get to shoot a mini-movie for 5 days. We were the stars of that episode in that regard, which is sometimes really nice when you are working in television and having to watch out for the egos of the series regulars. Fortunately, all of the series regulars on Cold Case went out of their way to make me feel at home.

Katherine Morris would come into the makeup trailer everyday, wanting to know which cute pinup outfit I got to wear and would giggle with glee. The scene in the nightclub where I am singing and dancing was just magical - we were shooting out at the racetrack, in the bar/ballroom area, which has vintage architecture and I was wearing the most delicious green dress that really made me feel like a princess. Chris let me do all of my own choreography for the number and all of the background actors looked amazing. That was a day that I thought, "wow - I have the best job on the planet."

What’s your favorite TV show that you would love to have a part on?

Mad Men. I'm obsessed with the show, with Joan, with Roger Sterling, with the language, the clothing, the cigarettes... all of it! I'm setting my sites on Season 4!

You've played a variety of Shakespearean roles including Gertrude and Lady Macbeth. What's your favorite Shakespeare play/role? Are there any other Shakespearean parts you would like to play? What do you bring from your theater background that helps you in your film work?

My favorite Shakespearean role is certainly Lady Macbeth. She was my first Shakespearean character and I was offered the role based on a previous non-Shakespeare show I had done with that theater company. It was also my first Equity job and got me my Equity card and a nice paycheck (getting paid to do theater? I'd never heard of such a thing!

It was an incredible challenge and one of the most difficult jobs to date. I am really looking forward to getting into my 40s and 50s so I can play Margaret in Richard III. She's just a strong, powerful woman who commands a presence and is, like Lady M, one of Shakespeare's best female roles. My preparation for theater has greatly prepared my work ethic for film and television. I just go about my research in a more meticulous, detail-oriented way than I think I would without the theater, which feeds my characters and gives them more depth and greater weight.

You are now working on “Spartacus”. What can you tell us about your “Spartacus” character, “Sura”?

Sura is the wife of Spartacus, taken from him before he is put into slavery. She is the source of his strength and the beating heart that keeps him alive. She is a strong Thracian village woman who knows how to fight and is madly in love with her husband. She visits him in his dreams, in visions, in flashbacks while he fights to bring her back to him.

Did all the training you did with Zoe Bell for “Bitch Slap” help you prepare for the fight scenes in “Spartacus”?

Working with Zoe absolutely helped me with my fight scenes for Spartacus! After all of the things Zoe made me do that I didn't think I would have been able to do (kick her over my head, flip back over her and punch her in the face), I was ready and excited for whatever Al Poppleton (Spartacus stunt coordinator) threw my way. Also, having worked with Rick really helped because we developed a shorthand way of speaking with one another that made it so easy to knock out fight scenes in Spartacus when we were on a time crunch.

“Spartacus” films in New Zealand and you’ve been doing international promotional tours with “Bitch Slap”. What’s it like going to a foreign country to work on a project?

Working in a foreign country is great! I am lucky to have a strong support system around me - my family visited me in New Zealand, as did my three best friends while I was there. Travelling to other countries has allowed me to have more of an understanding of international cultures and has introduced me to some amazing people who have taught me a great deal. It also makes it really easy to go back and visit these countries once you've established a relationship with people there.

You and Julia were a big hit at the Xena ’09 con. What was that experience like for you? Were you surprised at the reaction you got?

Xena '09 con was a blast. The audience was so receptive to the trailer for Bitch Slap and had some great questions which allowed us to have a fun time on the panel. When we were asked to sign a few autographs on our way out and ended up staying for 2 hours, we were thrilled! Luckily, neither of us had to run off anywhere so we were more than happy to meet people, take pictures and hang out. the attendees of Xena Con are our audience and are (mostly) women who get the joke we're telling - those are people we like!

Any other projects you would like to mention? always does a great job of letting fans know about my upcoming projects like Nip/Tuck and Spartacus. For more updates, people can follow me at @ErinLCummings on Twitter and join the Erin Cummings fan page on Facebook!

Many thanks to Erin Cummings for taking the time out of her busy schedule to speak to AUSXIP and we wish her all the very best. Bitch Slap is released on DVD on 2 March 2010 and Spartacus Blood and Sand premieres on Starz on 22 January 2010.

Photo Credits:
▪ Photos of Erin for this interview are courtesy of Erin Cummings.
▪ Photos of Hel (Bitch Slap) are courtesy of Epic Slap, LLC
▪ Photos of Sura (Spartacus Blood and Sand) are courtesy of Starz Entertainment.

Interesting Links
Official Erin Cummings Site
Official Erin Cummings Facebook Page
Official Bitch Slap Facebook Page
Official Erin Cummings Twitter Page
Official Bitch Slap Site
Official Spartacus Blood and Sand Site
AUSXIP Spartacus Blood and Sand
AUSXIP Erin Cummings News & Multimedia
AUSXIP News and Multimedia Network