Born in Lafayette Louisiana, with a father in the military, actor Erin Cummings is used to relocating. After living in Louisiana, Korea, and Nebraska, she eventually grew up in Huntsville Texas. She attended Kilgore College for two years to be a Rangerette, which was the first college dance team ever created. She went on to graduate from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. Erin began her professional acting career after being spotted by a Los Angeles talent scout while performing in community theater near Dallas. She later went on to study Shakespeare at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, before embarking on a successful television career including roles in Dante’s Cove, Spartacus: Vengeance, Mad Men, Detroit 1-8-7, and Pan Am.
It was a television series that eventually ignited her love for Michigan. She was cast as Dr. Abbey Ward in ABC’s now defunct series, Detroit 1-8-7, which meant taking up residence in the Motor City, where the show was filmed. From the moment the actor arrived on the scene she set about to discover the sports and culture of the city, and to support nearly every charitable cause that came her way. Eventually, she witnessed an underserved need for gloves and mittens during the cold winter months and founded her own nonprofit, Mittens for Detroit, a community initiative whose sole purpose is to collect and distribute new gloves and mittens to children and adults in the city of Detroit.
BMN: You originally chose to attend a community college, primarily to be a part of a famous dance team, and the experience had a profound impact. What did you learn from being a Kilgore College Rangerette that sticks with you?
ERIN: The lessons that I learned as a Rangerette really shaped me into the woman that I am today. Some may think that it was just some fun little dance team, but it’s actually steeped in history and tradition and it’s a 2-year school so essentially the sophomores are the big sisters to the freshman and teach them all the things that you need to know to become the perfect Rangerette. And also it was started in the 1940’s so there were certain rules that were put in place at a time when women carried themselves with a little bit more class and dignity. Rules like no chewing gum in uniform, and that sometimes turned out to be no chewing gum when you’re representing yourself as a Rangerette, and I remember these things. I was at this very fancy fundraiser, and I sat down at my table. I looked at the woman next to me, who was beautiful, and well dressed, and she was chewing gum. It was just the tackiest thing. I mean obviously I love to chew gum myself, but, you know I learned a lot about carrying myself with grace and poise at certain times when I’m representing something other than myself. And then also being able to cut loose and have fun when I’m not so in uniform. I think those are lessons I learned through Rangerette.
BMN: You studied journalism and advertising in college, yet here you are as an actor. Was it merely opportunity or something else that changed your career path?
ERIN: I think it was a little bit of both. I always had aspirations of being an actress. I loved doing plays. I loved performing. I loved being in front of crowds. I was never nervous about public speaking or anything, but I also never knew how I could do it. I wasn’t related to anyone in the business. I didn’t have nepotism on my side. I didn’t even know anyone who had ever tried it, much less had any level of success. So I was going down this path of journalism and I did an internship…One of the girls was childhood friends with Reese Witherspoon, and was telling me stories about Reese’s ascent as an actress, and I was fascinated. Finally one day she said, “I don’t know why you’re pursuing advertising when it’s so obvious you were meant to be an actress.” At the time I thought that was a compliment, not realizing that it was kind of not. It got my wheels turning. So I found a coach in Dallas who I started taking private lessons from. I used my money from waiting tables to get headshots taken…I started doing theater in the Dallas area and then by a random fluke chance, a scout from L.A. happened to see me and said, “Do you want to come out to L.A.?” I said, “yeah, sure,”and they flew me out.
BMN: What happened when you got to Los Angeles?
ERIN: It turned out to be a hoax, and even though I didn’t meet anyone that would ultimately change my career, what it did was it brought me to this place that seemed so far away and unreachable. Every time I would go out to lunch or something, every person I would meet I would say, “Are you an actor? Are you in the business? Tell me three things you did that were productive for you, and tell me three things you wish you had done or had not done, that weren’t productive for you.” And every person that I met who seemed to genuinely take an interest in helping me out or giving me advice I would ask them to introduce me to three other people…I was fearless…the reality is it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
BMN: What advice do you have for Michigan kids looking to become actors?
ERIN: Finish school. The ability to be a good actor, so much of that depends on having life experience that can fuel your performance. I would never advise anyone to quit school ever. If I have kids one day, and my kids say they want to quit school to pursue an acting career, that’s not even an option. The reason why my parents support me so much with my career, and stand beside me, and pick me up when I fall is because I finished what I set out to start. I finished high school, I finished college, I got a degree. I proved that I was able to start something, work through it, and commit to it, so my parents’ belief in me is really solid because of that.
BMN: While Michigan’s entertainment industry is growing, we certainly don’t have the long-term opportunities here, yet, that New York and Los Angeles have. How do you suggest a young person gets started here?
ERIN: Do as much theater as possible. If your friends are making student films, do them, but know that that will not necessarily be something that gains you opportunity in Los Angeles. What it will be is great experience for you to build on. You’ll learn all of your lessons of you know, working on a stage, developing a character, learning what your process as an actor is. Actors act, just like writer’s write. As an actor, you always have an opportunity to act, even if it’s not in a big budget movie or in a television role. I have no doubt that if you want to be an actor, you probably have friends that are like-minded people. Somebody probably wants to be a filmmaker. Somebody probably has a Flip camera. Get together and make a little short film. Post it on YouTube. Do stuff. It doesn’t have to be great. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Get together with your buddies and write a short script and then film it. Then put it out there. Just do stuff, and don’t wait for anyone to invite you to the party. Make your own party. Another thing that I would suggest is to contact the casting offices that ARE in the Detroit area. There are casting directors that do have access to these projects when they come in. Reach out to them. Send them your headshot. If they do workshops, or something where you can go and read for them and it’s like twenty or thirty bucks, do those. I did casting director workshops and that’s how I met most of the casting directors that I’m still friends with to this day.
BMN: What’s the best career or life advice anybody has ever given you?
ERIN: It’s better to light one match than to curse the darkness. That is sort of what I try to do even with Mittens for Detroit. I think it’s true for anyone that is going down a sort of insurmountable path. You can sit around and complain about why things aren't going the way that you want them to i.e.: why can’t I be famous? why don’t I have more money? why can’t I lose weight?--all these different things that we as a society love to moan and complain about. But if you just do one thing every day. One thing that will get you closer in some way to where you want to be. Ultimately you’ll turn around and you’ll look at the mountain that you’ve climbed, never realizing that every day, taking one step up the mountain, got you that much closer to the top. That’s what I did as an actor in taking those really small roles and doing student films, which allowed me to make those mistakes that later I didn’t make when working as a professional actor.
BMN: Given your upbringing and chosen profession, you’ve lived in a lot of places, yet seem to have developed a special affinity for Detroit. What makes the city so special to you?
ERIN: Detroit is in the midst of a renaissance. Sometimes living in Los Angeles you can feel very insignificant. The great thing about L.A. is that nobody knows who you are and nobody cares who you are. That can also be quite isolating and when I came to Detroit I saw that, you know maybe it was because of the TV show, maybe it was because I happened to make some really good friends right off the bat, I found that I was able to make a difference. I think that’s another cool thing about Detroit. It is going through so much change that everyone has an opportunity to be a part of that change. That is exciting to me. Also I feel like Detroit has everything that you would want. It has all the seasons, it has all the sports teams, it has all the casinos, if you’re interested in that. There is a big nightlife scene. There are really wonderful restaurants, beautiful hotels, the river, great opportunity for outdoor activities. There’s the D.I.A. for culture and art, the Fisher Theater always has the top Broadway shows coming through. The music scene is just unstoppable. I think when you have a city that has a small town quality, in the help out your neighbor aspect that I’ve found doing Mittens for Detroit, but also has so many things to offer the citizens by way of things to do, I think Detroit could be a mecca of tourism if people start properly promoting that.
BMN: What are some of your personal favorite places around the city?
ERIN: I love going to Comerica Park. I really like going to the Fisher to see shows and that other cool theater next to the Fox (the Fillmore) with the art deco. I really just like driving around the city, and every time I go I try to go someplace new or attend a different event. Of course I’m always stopping into American to get a coney. Those are my staple places, but I really just like exploring the city and seeing places I haven’t seen before.
BMN: While in Michigan you ended up founding your own nonprofit, Mittens for Detroit, after handing out Halloween candy with your cousin and discovering the profound effect a simple pair of mittens could make on a child who had none. Starting an organization in a new town is a pretty big step, given the potentially transient life of an actor. What prompted you to do it?
ERIN: I didn’t try to start a charity. I saw a need, and I realized that no one else was really doing anything about it and thought let me make a few phone calls and see if WE can do something about it. And it’s through the enthusiasm and generosity and support of people in the Detroit area that we were able to do what we did. And I NEVER, I was hoping in the beginning to collect five hundred, I mean in a perfect world, a thousand gloves would’ve been AMAZING. In the beginning that’s what I thought I was gonna get, five hundred to a thousand. So four months later when we not only had created these beautiful relationships with these charities and I had gotten to know what they do, and also created these relationships with some wonderful companies and organizations that were supporting us, and we looked back and saw that we had collected almost ten thousand pairs of gloves, it dawned on me that we really had something special.
BMN: What are your hopes for the future of Mittens for Detroit, especially now that your career has you living elsewhere again?
ERIN: The ultimate goal would be to expand Mittens for Detroit. Once we are able to take care of all the schools, I mean I would love to be able to have every school in the city be able to give every student a pair of gloves. I’d love for all the churches to be able to have gloves for the people that come there. Then I would love to be able to expand to take care of the metro area. It would still be Mittens for Detroit, but we would expand into areas because, you know, I mean Royal Oak is great, but guess what, there are still homeless shelters in Royal Oak. There’s still people in need and just because you’re in Plymouth or Livonia doesn’t mean that the temperature is any warmer. So those needs should be fulfilled. Right now it’s very important to me to maintain the quality control of keeping it small, keeping it in the city, and making sure that we fulfill the needs of the city first, and then as Mittens for Detroit becomes more successful we can hopefully branch off and service more people in Michigan.
BMN: Obviously we want to encourage people to donate money, or gloves, but are there other ways they can help?
ERIN: We would love to get a really solid team of volunteers that we could depend on. One thing I told a couple of our volunteers is that charity is not convenient. If you want to help Mittens for Detroit we need someone who is willing to drive forty five minutes to wherever and drop off a box for us. We need someone who is willing to take time out of their day and go visit some charities in Brightmoor and areas where they might not necessarily feel comfortable. But we need those things to happen, and we would love to have help.
BMN: You’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of the Buy Michigan Now campaign. Why do you think it’s so important for people to support local businesses, especially here in Michigan?
ERIN: It’s important to support local businesses because everybody understands the danger of outsourcing is losing jobs…For me, my experience in Michigan has taught me that I would probably never buy a foreign car, like ever. Number one, it’s about keeping jobs here locally, and number two, it’s about the beauty of these mom and pop shops. You know, there once was a time that you could go to your local pharmacy and it was run by a family and it was more personal. Now you have CVS and Rite Aid and it’s almost impossible to find a family-owned pharmacy these days. I think we lose a certain degree of the familiarity, the sense of community, the sense of we’re all in this together, when everything becomes corporate. And also, it creates more jobs! We need more jobs in Michigan. If you’re not interested in buying products that were made or are being sold in Michigan, then you can’t really complain about the job situation.
BMN: What Shout Out do you want to share with your friends and fans back in Michigan?
ERIN: Thank you for the continued support and for welcoming me as a Michigander, no matter where I happen to be. It makes me want to keep coming back and it makes me feel very appreciative.