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Nick Boyle (Martin Cummins)
LORD protect us from ghoulies and ghosties, long-Iegged beasties and things that go bump in the night. Well, the ones that aren't contained by a television screen, that is. If trepid souls brave enough to face creature even more horrific than the 'characters' on Big Brother can tune into Poltergeist: The Legacy when the fourth season of MGM/Trilogy's creepy show premieres on Sci-Fi (UK) in December.
For those unfamiliar with the story, The Legacy is a secret and ancient society dedicated to protecting the known world from all the horrors of the Underworld, including unwelcome poltergeists. Various members of this exclusive club inhabit big posh homes all over the globe and keep in touch by spiritual messaging, astral travel, telephone and other mystical phenomena. Stuck in a house with a bunch of psychic do-gooders is down- to-earth (ish) Nick Boyle played by Vancouverite Martin Cummins. Possessed of classic, wholesome good looks and a wicked sense of humour, Cummins takes the whole ghost-busting premise in his stride. "Nick is a bit of an odd bird," grins the actor. "I mean, anybody who lives in a house with three people who are forever off chasing ghosts has got to be kind of an odd person. But I try to keep kind of a Joe Regular feel to him. I don't think there's anything particularly wild or special about Nick but it's difficult for me to describe him objectively because I've been playing him for so long that it's almost like trying to describe myself."
Similarities between Cummins and the character he portrays, however, are hard to come by. Nick Boyle is an ex-Navy SEAL whose natural scepticism means he likes to punch first and get the crucifix out afterwards. Martin Cummins is an accomplished actor and director who won his first professional award at the age of 16 and has successfully overcome a period of drug abuse and petty crime to go from strength to strength, creatively and in his personal life. "I think you have to hold your cards pretty much to your chest when you play a character for a long time, in order to retain your own identity. But I think if you take certain parts of your personality, photocopy them and make them larger than life, then add the script, the result, in Poltergeist: The Legacy for example, is Nick Boyle. I mean, I don't go around punching people out or gunning them down, but you get the idea."
A dedicated family man who spends much of his time with his wife and their four-year-old son, Cummins suggests, "Nick's lifestyle isn't one I'd particularly like to follow but I tend to think of it rather like a detective or a cop who spends their life dealing with and investigating difficult situations. Nick deals with dead people. It's not pleasant but after a while it just becomes the way it is. He's been dealing with these supernatural phenomena almost like a job, and he sees the irony of it and has a certain sense of humour about it. He'd have to or he'd go mad." Pausing for a moment, he goes on, "Of course, Nick does get a little crazy every now and then but who wouldn't?"
Despite the actor's claims that Nick Boyle is less than wild, the series 'bible' has him down as a bit of an impetuous bloke ready to rush into the fray before his flatmates have even finished talking over their plans. He is also described as a man who will use practical, rather than spiritual, skills to invent tools and devices designed to combat vengeful sprites. Think ghost gun, a weapon that can blow apart the energy of evil spirits, and you get the picture. "Nick does have a habit of tinkering with mechanical things, " laughs Cummins, "but the fruits of his labours are just as likely to get the gang in trouble as get them out of it. He was actually asked to join the group in deference to his dead father, who had been a prominent Legacy member, but they soon discovered that Nick's talent for mapping out and undertaking the physical requirements of their missions can be construed as a curse as well as a blessing."
Whether or not the members of the Legacy House feel blessed with Nick's presence, Cummins offers his own prayers of thanks to the show's producers, particularly for affording him the opportunity to hone his creative skills. "I gained a lot from Poltergeist. It was my film school. I learned to direct there. I directed an episode in Season Three, have a couple of episodes coming up in this season and loved every minute of all of them. The episode Irish Jug is my particular favourite. It's kind of a dark comedic piece which meant I got to indulge everyone's sense of humour."
Cummins also put the lessons learned from his directorial debut to good use in his latest project, the semi-autobiographical feature film We All Fall Down. Written and produced by Cummins, who also takes a leading role, the film is a hard-hitting but uplifting tale which concentrates on a particularly turbulent time in his past when a lethal combination of drug abuse and exhaustion almost wrecked his life. "It's the old thing about wanting to write about what you know, and I'd been wanting to do the film for several years. When I took on Poltergeist: The Legacy, I knew that it was something I was going to be doing for an extended period of time and that I was going to making 'x' amount of dollars, which would enable me to finance the film project. I made a promise to myself that when I finished Poltergeist I would make the film and I did. What is so wonderful is that half the cast and crew are Poltergeist people who joined me and worked their butts off for free. Nobody got paid. From top to bottom it was a complete volunteer effort."
One such sterling individual, Helen Shaver, aka Dr Rachel Corrigan, blew her Legacy reputation as a stalwart, upright member of the medical profession right out of the water by playing an enthusiastic and totally believable tart-with-a-heart. "Helen was fantastic -- she went balls to the wall," beams the director. "I wrote the part for her, but what she did with it was amazing."
Although We All Fall Down has yet to secure a UK distributor, hopes are high in the Cummins camp. Clearly superstitious about revealing too many details, he shrugs, "We are in discussion with a company in London but we'll just have to wait and see. The film has been a great success here at the Vancouver Film Festival and if this is where it stays, so be it. At the Toronto Film Festival we had some people who work with young offenders, and kids who are in the same boat as I was, come to see it. They were so blown away, they wanted to know if they could have copies to show to people who are going through it now to illustrate that they can come out the other side. To me, that is better than any good review or deal. Turning my bad time into something inspirational for others is the pinnacle. Everything else is a bonus."
That said, Cummins does have one unfulfilled wish. "The film has become more than we hoped. People are liking it and hopefully it will encourage people to fund the next project, but the top of my rainbow would be to pay my crew." Given the extraordinary events that usually surround that team in Poltergeist: The Legacy, Cummins might just get his wish. Stranger things have happened.
Dr. Rachel Corrigan (Helen Shaver)
In Poltergeist: The Legacy, Dr. Rachel Corrigan, played by actress Helen Shaver, has to juggle the not inconsiderable duties of being a mother and a practising psychiatrist with the extraordinary challenges faced as a member of The Legacy. A 3,000-year-old group whose charter is 'to combat evil in all its many forms and protect the innocent from the forces of darkness which constantly threaten to engulf Mankind', The Legacy is the spirit world's equivalent of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, sending nasties to Hades and helping the good guys get to where they need to be.
Now, protecting a child from the evil around us, messing about with malicious minds and fending off spiteful spirits would be enough to send most of us screaming for the nearest strait-jacket, but Dr Corrigan is made of sterner stuff. "Rachel has a lot to do in her life," understates the actress, "but she's come from a place of darkness herself and knows how to survive. She's had a traumatic childhood and growing-up time. She's fought to get where she is in the medical profession and, despite all she's encountered on The Legacy's missions, still has to fight her own sense of scepticism to overcome the supernatural nature of the circumstances in which she finds herself. But she does it. I like her. There's a lot of me in Rachel. She's a survivor -- a 'do-er'. She will see what has to be done and get on with it."
The good doctor certainly has a lot to be getting on with. From dealing with her aforementioned daughter's looming adolescence craft, to dispatching a ' Legacy colleague's brother back to Hell, then facing and destroying her own personal demons, Corrigan has her work cut out. As an actress, Shaver doesn't bat an eyelid. "We have a punishing schedule and the stories we tell can be a little intense. After 88 episodes it's a battle to keep the momentum going, but it's hard not to see the fun side of what we do too. I defy anyone not to raise a smile when a friend gets turned into a genie in a bottle." As a director Shaver is just as enthusiastic, although she admits that the amount of work she did during the show's fourth season imposed a slight strain on her mental and physical resources. "Of course, I was acting in the show and directed a number of episodes of Poltergeist: The Legacy, and at the same time was pulling together some other projects including directing the celebratory 100th episode of The Outer Limits. It was a crazy time, and a little hard to organize, but I love working under that sort of pressure. It was a good kind of challenge for me."
Although a firm believer in the existence of "the presence of negative and positive influences on our lives", Shaver maintains that every individual has the power to overcome adversity in whatever form. "I think that strength sometimes comes from within ourselves and sometimes we need a little outside help. The circumstances that befall Rachel and all of the other people in Poltergeist: The Legacy are simply metaphors for the perils we have to surmount in our real lives. In the show the demons may well be the embodied form of our conscience or our guilt, and we fight them with everything we have at our disposal. In real life, we have to confront our fears and prejudices and conquer them too, and I think that's a much scarier prospect."
Already an award-winning performer on stage as well as screen -- she won an award for her performance in Neil Simon's Jake's Women on Broadway -- Shaver continues to expand her creative talents in other areas and to use those talents to highlight the various issues dear to her heart. When Cult Times met her in Toronto, it was to discuss the completion of her first feature film as a director. Entitled Summer's End, it's a gentle, poignant tale about an older black man and a young white boy overcoming a tide of racial prejudice. Shaver says, "I'm incredibly proud of the film. I believe that we should use the media we have available to make people aware of certain issues, and that we should be strong in our presentation but not necessarily bang people over the heads with it. Summer's End is really a rites of passage type film, incorporating many facets of growing up and the choices we have to make whatever chronological age we may be."
Never one to stand still when there's life to be lived, Ontario-born Shaver is bright, mercurial and can turn her hand to anything. The first time we met she was in casting mode. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, without a scrap of make-up, Shaver was conducting auditions for an episode of Dead Man's Gun, a Fantasy Western-type production which chronicles the history of -- surprise, surprise -- a hand-held pistol as it passes through the hands of various owners in the original WWW (Wild Wild West). The second time, she was seriosly glammed up in designer clothes and impeccable make-up, off to meet some potential backers for a new film venture. Currently, she's enjoying the critical acclaim garnered for her performance as a drug-addicted prostitute in fellow spook-scarer Martin Cummins' film We All Fall Down. "Making that film was wonderful," she grins, "I had such a blast." However, needless to say the multi-talented Canadian has her eye on the next goal. Having launched her own production company MAWD (Mother, Actress, Wife/Writer, Director) the writer has almost finished a children's book called The Rainbow Body.
Rachel Corrigan may have to contend with two or three major demands competing for her time and energy in Poltergeist: The Legacy, but it all pales into insignificance compared with the amount of activity packed into one day in the life of Helen Shaver. Is there any chance of Ms Shaver just sitting back and letting life take its course around her. "I may take a holiday some place warm," she sighs. She deserves it.
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