A Chat with Erin Cummings (“Bitch Slap”)

Haaaaaaave you seen “Bitch Slap“?

Yes, that’s an unabashed cop from the Barney Stinson playbook, but given the film in question, we’re pretty sure he’d approve, especially since among the plot keywords listed for “Bitch Slap” on IMDb are such gems as “breasts,” “sex,” “stripper,” “beautiful woman, “female nudity,” and – wait for it – “lesbian scene.” Mind you, you also get “non-linear timeline,” “nun,” “Tourette’s Syndrome,” and “yo-yo,” but let’s not lose our focus here.

Here’s the two-sentence summary of “Bitch Slap” that’s been floating around the internet:

When three curvaceous babes arrive at a desert hideaway to steal over $200 million from an underworld kingpin, things quickly spiral out of control. Allegiances are switched, truths are revealed, criminals are unmasked and nothing is quite what it seems as the fate of the world is precariously balanced among this trio of sexy femmes fatales.

“Bitch Slap” is definitely an acquired taste, with its attempt to offer up a tongue-in-cheek version of the kind of motion pictures that are virtual parodies to begin with, but if you approach it with the right mindset, it’s a laugh riot. It also looks gorgeous, and that’s even when the aforementioned trio of curvaceous babes aren’t on the screen, but when they are…? Look out.

Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with one of those lovely ladies – Erin Cummings, who plays Hel – in conjunction with the release of “Bitch Slap” on DVD…and when we did, you can bet we made sure to ask her about as many of those plot keywords as possible.

Stay tuned for…

Erin Cummings: Hi, Will, how are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m good. How are you?

EC: I’m excellent, thank you. I was just telling Jennifer that I’m in the Phoenix airport, so if you hear a little bit of background noise, I apologize for that. Hopefully it won’t be too bad.

BE: No problem. You’ve got a good excuse. Well, the first thing I’m curious about is how a film as unique as “Bitch Slap” was first pitched to you. (Laughs)

EC: (Laughs) Well, it wasn’t really pitched to me as much as it was that my agent at the time basically just sent me the audition information. I kind of looked at it and went, “Really? Is this what my career has come to: doing something that’s basically on the level of soft-core porn, almost?” (Laughs) I just assumed it was low budget, and a movie called “Bitch Slap” about sexy women…you just kind of assume that it’s going to be poorly-written material. And then I read…actually, it was the scene with Hel and Deputy Fuchs, and just from that one scene I could tell that it was something that was really interesting and well-written. I thought that Hel was such a lovely, well-rounded character, and also she’s really strong and intelligent. And…I’m going to go ahead speak for the other women quite a bit during this interview, just so you know… (Laughs) …because we’ve done over a year and a half of publicity together, so we can almost finish each other’s sentences at this point. But it’s a bit of the same for them, too, which is that we all kind of had the immediate reaction of, “Absolutely not, I’m not going to be in a movie called ‘Bitch Slap,’” to reading a page or two of the script and going, “This is actually really funny, and I get the joke, so I definitely want to do it!” Interestingly enough, we all – each of us – really responded to our characters. I know that, for me, I never really had any interest in playing Trixie or Camaro. It was always Hel for me, and I know Julia was very adamant about that as well (with playing Trixie).

BE: Rick Jacobsen (writer/director of “Bitch Slap”) obviously came into the film with a vision. Was it ever difficult for you as an actress as he tried to bring that vision to fruition?

EC: No, because when I first met the guys…interestingly enough, my agent was supposed to have sent me the script, because they knew when they saw my tape that I was the one they were going to hire, so they wanted to have a meeting with me. Obviously, there’s a great of fighting, there’s the lesbian love scene, and there’s a great deal of sexuality about the film, so they really wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with all of that before they started making any offers. So they brought me in for a meeting and asked me what I thought about the script, and I said, “Well, my agent didn’t send it to me.” Which is part of the reason why I fired him later. (Laughs) But it actually gave us a really great opportunity for them to pitch me the movie. And they said, “Well, since you’re here, we’ll go ahead and tell you what we think.” And they filled me in on what their vision was, their idea and the motivation behind a few of the choices they made, and I think that really made a difference when I was reading the script, because I knew not to take anything too seriously. I know that there were certain actresses who turned down the project after reading the script – fortunately! – because they just didn’t really get it. They didn’t understand that it was all supposed to be tongue in cheek. I think Eric Gruendemann and Rick Jacobsen did a really fantastic job of being open and honest with us about what the requirements were going to be and what the tone and the vision of the whole film was. I think that when you have such clear direction like that…I mean, Rick Jacobsen, who I’ve worked with multiple times, not just on “Bitch Slap” but subsequently on “Spartacus” as well, he’s just one of those directors who knows exactly what he wants and knows how to ask for it. So, yeah, it wasn’t very difficult, because we were given such good direction.

BE: So how familiar were you with the films that this is sort of paying homage to?

EC: You know, I wasn’t really. I mean, when I was high school, one of my favorite films was “Student Bodies,” which was… (Laughs) …sort of a classic B-movie, but in more of the horror genre. Otherwise, I wasn’t familiar with these kinds of films at all. But it’s kind of one of those things where I also knew that I couldn’t let my performance be sort of skewed to be a B-movie performance. If you do a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the camera, it takes a little bit of the authenticity of the film away, and one of the things that adds to the ridiculousness of the film is that these characters really do take everything incredibly seriously. I mean, if Hel knew that some of the things that were coming out of her mouth were so obnoxious, like when I’m talking about how to keep the trillions of self-replicating robo-viruses away from the crazed libertarians…I mean, that’s an absolutely insane line. It’s ridiculous! But as an actor, if I played the ridiculousness of it, it takes away the humor. So for me, my choice was to play everything as straight as possible, and I think that’s where a lot of the comedy comes in. And not only that, but if someone takes one scene out of the movie to isolate my performance, I would actually like people to think that I’m a good actor! (Laughs)

BE: Which scene was the hardest for you to deliver from a dialogue standpoint?

EC: Well, there’s a couple. Having to remember the name of the K-49 Corsair Belt-Fed Rail Gun with Zion Laser Scope Hellfire Dampening System and blah blah blah…? (Laughs) That was very difficult just having to memorize the actual title of the gun. And then I think the greatest level of difficulty was probably just the scene towards the end when Hel gets very emotional, and it’s this big character arc. That was, more than anything else, because of the environment. If you’re going to work yourself into an emotional place, that’s not necessarily difficult, but when you’re outside and you can’t control things that are going on…I mean, we would have to stop every five seconds, because either a plane would fly by, or you could hear someone over at Craft Services, which was down the road, but everything was echoing out there, and they’d be yapping up a storm, and I’d be, like, “Could someone please tell them to shut up so I can actually concentrate over here and try to cry?” (Laughs) So there were a lot of difficulties in just the sound and controlling the elements when you’re working outside, and we were working in such harsh conditions, as far as there was wind blowing and there was sand everywhere. I mean, we were finding sand in places… (Starts to laugh) …for about a week after we’d performed, to the point where we couldn’t even shoot sometimes. So the sand was very difficult. Or there’d be blistering heat and the sun’s beating down on you, or it’d be freezing cold. So there were definitely harsh conditions. But the great thing was that we had such an amazing crew, and as actor, you kind of feel like a bit of a jackass complaining about anything. You have a little trailer to sit in, and there are people doing your hair and make-up and taking care of you, whereas the crew is out there much longer than the actors are, setting everything up, breaking everything down, and just working hard. Rick Jacobsen’s wife, Rachel, was our script supervisor, and she was actually eight months pregnant during this whole thing, so anytime any of us had a little “woe is me, this is hard” moment, we would just look over at the pregnant lady. (Laughs) “Oh, right. It could be much more difficult.”

BE: You and Julia (Volt) obviously had to be pretty comfortable with each other, given the big scene you’ve got together in the film.

EC: Yes. (Laughs)

BE: How did you come to reach that level of comfort? Did you discuss the scene beforehand?

EC: Yeah, well, first of all, since this was Julia’s first film and I’ve been going at this for almost a decade now, we had a really great dialogue back and forth about, y’know, just certain expectations and things. Our trailers…we actually had a door that connected our trailers, so we would a lot of times have the door open, and we would have lunch together, and we really development a friendship. I’m not saying that we didn’t develop the same friendship with America, but it was definitely a different level. I think Julia and I became really close during the filming, but we really got a chance to know America (Olivio) a little bit better and on a different level once we’d wrapped and started doing publicity. She’s really nothing like her character. (Laughs) Thank God! But, yeah, Julia and I got to know each other and felt very comfortable with one another. But for me, anytime that I have to do any sort of sex scene or anything physical like that, even if it’s a fight scene, I like to be very vocal with the actor that I’m working with and go, “Okay, what are your personal boundaries? What are you comfortable with? What’s the intention behind this scene?” I rented a couple of episodes of “The L Word” and actually, y’know, looked at a few of the scenes and how they were done, and I showed them to Rick and Eric and asked, “Is this kind of on the level of what you’re looking for?” And Julia and I watched it, and I asked, “Would you feel comfortable doing this? Would you feel comfortable doing that?” So we did kind of have a dialogue beforehand, which I think is, for me, the best way to do it. It’s what I did with Julian McMahon on “Nip/Tuck,” and it’s what I did with Andy Whitfield on “Spartacus,” and I think it allows for much more freedom when you’re shooting, because you know what the boundaries are and you know how far you can push things without having to worry that you’re in some way hurting or offending your co-star.

BE: So what’s it like becoming a hyper-sexualized object of desire?

EC: Is that what I am? (Laughs) “A hyper-sexualized object of desire”?

BE: I think so. Certainly, you must be at some point during the film.

EC: (Laughs) You know what? It’s actually really funny, because you just become so comfortable with sexuality, especially with “Bitch Slap.” I mean, really, at very twist and turn of the movie, you are realizing how funny sexuality can be and how funny it is. So I think that we just became very accustomed to having massive amounts of cleavage in every outfit… (Laughs) …and there were a lot of boob jokes on set. Pretty much any time that we could make a joke at the expense of our breasts, we were doing that. So it actually became really fun. And, you know, what’s really surprising – and a lot of people noticed – is that we had quite a good mix of male and female crew members, but…you would think on a movie like this one, with all of the sexual plots going on, that there maybe would’ve been a certain degree of inappropriateness or sexual harassment going on. But there really wasn’t, and I think part of us was just because we had such a free, open dialogue, and you could make a sex joke and know that it was all in good fun and games. It created…I mean, it was almost like we were sitting in a sports bar all day when we were shooting. (Laughs) It was just constant jokes about all sorts of things, and, obviously, by a lot of the dialogue that Gage and Camaro have, there was really no term for male or female sexual organs or sexual acts that didn’t have some crazy term made up for the film.

BE: Yeah, I lost track of the number of the number of euphemisms pretty quickly into the film.

EC: (Laughs) In fact, we would have days where we would go, “Okay, exactly what is a Rusty Anchor? What does it mean to sluice someone’s badger?” (Laughs) Just all of these different things, and half of them we were, like, “We don’t even know what that means. We’ll just assume that it means this and go with that.”

BE: There’s definitely some serious, uh, manhandling in the film…like, to the point where I can’t imagine any guy watching this movie without cringing a couple of times. Was it hard to film some of the scenes?

EC: Oh, you mean when Camaro puts her hand down the front of Gage’s thong and basically punctures his testicles…?

BE: (Audibly cringing) Uh, yeah. Like that.

EC: You know, I didn’t really have too many of those. I mean, my scene with Deputy Fuchs was more of a seduction scene than anything else, a mind manipulation, so I didn’t really have as many of those. I know that, for America, Michael Hurst was wearing a cup underneath his thong underwear that he was wearing, so when she would reach her hand into his crotch, she’s actually gripping his cup and not, obviously, his manhood. But there were a few times when she would stick her hand down his pants and would go inside the cup, so they joked that they got to know each other quite well during that scene. (Laughs) I’m trying to think if there were any other times. I know that when Hotwire – who’s played by William Gregory Lee, who we all just adore – gets the electrical, uh, car jumpers on his crotch, that’s not exactly a favorite for the guys, either.

BE: So what was it like seeing the completed film for the first time?

EC: You know, the first time that we saw the completed film was a rough cut, because we had to go in and do ADR, and Eric and Rick and Brian Peck, our associate producer, they made an executive decision to go ahead and show us the entire film because they knew we were so excited to see the movie. We shot it in April, and I don’t think we even saw the rough cut until…I mean, it was, like, the end of the year. Because there was just so much post-production to be done, with over 780 special effects shots. So they showed us a rough cut because they knew that, as we were doing ADR, we’d be, like, “Oh, I wanna watch the scene, I wanna watch the scene!” So they said, “Oh, fine, we’ll just show you the movie.” (Laughs) And that was actually very difficult to watch, because so many of the special effects hadn’t been put in yet, so they would go, “Okay, this is actually going to look really cool, because this is actually going to be flying through the air,” but in the rough, it just looked terrible. And we’d go, “How are they ever going to make that work?” So actually seeing the finished product on screen over at Fox was just so exciting, because we had a cast and crew screening, we invited a bunch of friends, and everybody that was there…it was a very warm audience, because they were there to have a good time and have fun. It really is the kind of movie that I think will do well on DVD, because it’s just got this sort of built-in cult classic thing, and it’s also one of those movies that you want to see it on DVD, you want to rent it or buy it, because there’s always going ot be something that oyu missed or a word that you didn’t get. And, of course, since there’s a big twist at the end of the movie, you have to go back and watch it a second time to go, “Wait a minute, I didn’t get that. Oh! Oh, that’s what they were talking about!” That whole thing. It’s like going back to watch “The Sixth Sense” again. (Realizes the comparison she’s made, then starts laughing) Yeah, because that’s really what our movie is like: “The Sixth Sense.”

BE: Yeah, that was my first point of comparison, too. (Laughs)

EC: (Laughs) But, yeah, it was really fun. But I also think that it’s going to be one of those movies kind of like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The first 500 times I saw “Rocky Horror” was on DVD, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t want to go and enjoy it in a theater with people. I mean, I really would not be surprised if, at some point in the future, there are people going to midnight screenings of “Bitch Slap” dressed up at Hel, Camaro, and Trixie. It would not surprise me at all. Especially because, like you said earlier, they are these sort of hyper-sexualized superhero kind of women that are just such caricatures of these iconic sort of bad-asses…the sexy boss lady, the supermodel… (Trails off)

BE: Last one. There’s obviously a fine line between making an homage to a B-movie and actually making a B-movie. Was there ever any point during filming where you found yourself wondering, “Is this really going to work?”

EC: Um…no, it’s kind of, like, there was such a wonderful dynamic on the set of just having complete faith and trust in our producers and our director, which rarely happens, actually, because sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a project and go, “Uh, yeah, these people have no idea what they’re talking about or what they’re doing.” But with “Bitch Slap,” it was kind of one of those things where I think we all just knew that we were in good and capable hands. We weren’t concerned about how it was going to look because we knew that they would figure it out, and at the end of the day, sure, we had to cry on cue and fake a punch, but I have no idea how green screen works, so I figured, “Whatever they’re doing, they know what they’re talking about.” And, also, Rick and Eric came from the “Xena” / “Hercules” school of training, and there’s this term called Kiwi Ingenuity, because the people of New Zealand have an interesting way of…you know, they’re on the other side of the globe, so they don’t always necessarily have certain resources. They just have to figure out another way to do it. So that’s what they brought into this.

For example, there’s a scene which actually got cut out of the movie – I think it’s maybe going to be on the DVD – about how Hel and Trixie meet for the first time, and Trixie’s being attacked, and Hel takes off her stiletto heel and throws it at the guy who’s attacking her. And the heel is spinning through the air, it hits him in the head, and it flies back to her like a boomerang, where she catches it and throws it back onto her foot. (Laughs) It’s actually a really great scene. I wish it hadn’t been cut! But I was, like, “Well, how are they going to make it look like this high heel is spinning through the air?” They took an electric screwdriver…no, wait, it was an electric drill, actually. And they painted it green, then they drilled it into the heel of the stiletto, and they had our prop guy holding the green drill up against the green screen with this heel stuck on it, and he pressed the power button. All of a sudden, the heel just started spinning around, and I just went, “Well, would you look at that?” They matched it with the green screen, and it looks like the stiletto is spinning through the air. So it’s little things like that that just made me say, “Hey, these guys obviously know what they’re doing, so far be it for me to question what’s going on.” (Laughs) When I go back and get my film studies degree and learn all about how to work special effects and green screen, I might have an opinion about it, but otherwise I’ll just let them handle it.

BE: Excellent. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Erin. I’ll keep my eyes open for you on “Spartacus” as the season unfolds.

EC: Yeah, absolutely! By the way, Rick Jacobsen directed Episodes 1, 2, and 6 of “Spartacus”! Oh, and one more thing, Will: if you want to add “Bitch Slap” on Twitter, it’s @bitchslapmovie, I’m @ErinLCummings, and you can follow the girls at @JuliaVoth and @esotericam (America). And…I have a Facebook fan page, and I don’t know if the other girls do, but I think they probably do. (Writer’s note: Actually, both Julia and America have personal pages.)

BE: I’ll be sure to include links to them all.

EC: I really appreciate it, Will, and if you have any additional questions, just drop me a line. I’ll be happy to fill in the blanks! (Laughs)

BE: Will do. Thanks, Erin!

EC: Thank you!

  

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