Martin Cummins is perhaps best known for his role as Henry Gowen on When Calls the Heart or Sheriff Keller on Riverdale. But there are many more Martin Cummins movies and TV shows. The actor talks about how he got his start in the industry, dishes on whether Henry Gowen and Abigail Stanton may end up together, and shares a revenge prank video from his cell phone.
When did Martin Cummins know he wanted to be an actor?
I don’t know that there was a point where I thought that that was what I was going to be. I did it since I was a kid. My parents told me about doing theatre—even in school plays—and I liked to do that when I was little. I did theatre all through high school.
I was watching TV one night and on the news they had this audition for this Disney series. My grandpa drove me over to it and I did a bunch of auditions for them. I got this thing kind of randomly when I was 16 years old.
And then I got a paycheck for it. And my dad went, “Oh, so you can do this thing where you pretend to be somebody else and you get paid for it? Alright, well that’s fine. You can do that.” I was fortunate to have him.
And that was sort of it.
The only other job I have ever had—I grew up on fish boats. My father was a commercial fisherman when I was young. I did that for him and skippered for him when I got into my teens and early twenties.
So it was this and commercial fishing. I think if the commercial fishing industry hadn’t gone south, I’m sure I’d be doing that rather than acting.
Has Martin Cummins had to overcome any challenges in the pursuit of his acting career?
I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve had people who supported me. When I think about, kind of oddly, both of my parents are educated. And then my dad, he fished commercially but he was a schoolteacher in the winters and then become a federal politician for 18 years in Ottawa as a member of parliament. So they were both educated.
I don’t know how they wrapped their head around the concept of their kid being an actor, you know—that people made a living at that?
The industry wasn’t like that here at that time. In Vancouver, it wasn’t something the way that it is now.
I was fortunate that my folks were like, “Oh, okay. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine.”
And my grandmother, and that, everybody was on board with that. It was, “You know, he’s an actor. That’s what he’s doing.”
So I was really fortunate in that way that I had the support of the people that I care about around me.
Why does Martin Cummins devote so much time to working out?
I don’t know about you, but the going-to-the-gym thing is so that I don’t punch someone out in a supermarket line. You know what I mean? It just calms me down.
I’ve always gone to the gym. It calms you down. It’s quiet. And then with all the kids and chaos and everything, I go there.
My wife is a physique competitor, a personal trainer, a dietitian, and that kind of thing. That’s what she does. I train with her. That’s something we do together and I enjoy it.
I got my kids into jujitsu two years ago, so we roll jujitsu two or three times a week as well.
I enjoy that. It keeps me sane. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to walk upright when I’m 80.
You know what I hate? It’s not that I hate it—it’s just that it can be bad. I’ll train legs with my wife—and training legs with her, I have gone and literally thrown up afterwards. I can’t train with her like that. It’s just not—it’s ugly.
And then I pay for it days afterward. You’re walking around like—it’s terrible.
What does Martin Cummins recall about working with Andy Mikita on Stargate?
I did another MGM series, Poltergeist, for Legacy. Andy was AD’ing on that. I’ve known Andy since he was a second AD.
Vancouver is a small town, so any of us who have been around for a while all know each other.
I knew Andy for years. His father-in-law is John Smith, who was a regular producer on Stargate and a boat wrangler a million years ago. I know Andy’s wife. I did that Hallmark movie, The Gordie Howe Story with Andy.
I love Andy. He’s one of those guys—he’s such a relaxed guy. He’s great for veteran guys because he lets you do your thing so you feel comfortable and relaxed but know who’s in charge. And the same thing with new people too because he’s very attentive and makes you feel comfortable. I love Andy Mikita. He’s a great guy. Wonderful to work with, too.
When you hang around here long enough in Vancouver, there’s not that many people here. And then even less in terms of the film industry.
My son is a focus puller. He was the beach hand focus puller on When Calls the Heart this year. He was the A-Cam focus puller on Riverdale for a month when he came in and took over for our A-Cam guy who was sick.
I’ve done three different movies with him, and he’s my son, and he’s only 22. So it’s a small town in terms of crew and guys you work with. So if you hang around long enough you get to know everybody.
There’s not a set I can go on that I don’t know a dozen people—that we have history.
How does Martin Cummins summarize the influence of Peter DeLuise on When Calls the Heart?
You know, Peter makes things easy. He doesn’t overshoot. He’s confident and he’s relaxed.
One of the things I love about working with When Calls the Heart is that everybody knows their job. We have a lot of the same people who have been there for the whole ride, or most of the ride—people stick around because it’s a really nice atmosphere. It’s super relaxed. You always go to the same place every day. It’s like the 9-to-5 of the film industry. We only do flat 12s.
It’s a very nice atmosphere. A huge part of that has to do with the fact that Lori Loughlin and Erin (Krakow) are really nice people and they set a nice tone. Lori is a very kind, generous person. She sets a nice tone and is very relaxed, and everybody has a nice time.
And Peter is a huge part of that. He knows what he wants. He’s very relaxed and he’s having a good time. We’re all professionals. He lets everybody do their job. And I enjoy that. I enjoy working with Peter.
Which on-set prankster from When Calls the Heart most deserves a taste of their own medicine?
Paul. Paul Greene.
I actually got him—I got him back! He scared the crap out of me. He leapt out at me. You know, your head’s somewhere else and our trailers are in this dark, wooded area. It’s dark and it’s quiet and there’s nobody down at the trailers. And I come walking along and Greene leaps out and scares the crap out of me.
I got him last year, and I actually have it on my phone. Martin Wood—another one of the directors of the show—and I, caught him. He was shooting a scene and I leapt out.
What does Martin Cummins remember about his audition for When Calls the Heart?
I think everybody goes through a period of time—it doesn’t matter what you do for a living—when you go, “Eh, I don’t know whether I want to do this anymore.” I think some people will look at acting and they’ll go, “Oh, what a great job!”
But if you do anything long enough, it all becomes plumbing or pipe-fitting, or whatever. It’s all just the same. It’s different names on paper. And I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve done 300 hours of television.
This is funny. There was a person who said to me, “Wow, I really enjoyed your performance in such-and-such a series.”
And I went, “Oh, I’m sorry ma’am. I think you have the wrong person. I’ve never worked on that.”
She goes, “Oh, really? Wow…”
Later I looked at IMDB and realized I’d done 13 episodes of that show! When I read it I went, “Oh that, right!”
But in my mind, I didn’t have a recollection of it, having done that much television where you’re just like, “Oh, yeah, I’m sorry. Wrong show.”
So I think it’s one of those things where you do anything long enough and you kind of go, “Ah, well, whatever.”
I was in that kind of point when When Calls the Heart came along. I had this fear—I hadn’t worked for a while. I wondered if there was something else that I could do where I could make enough money to support the family and was just something different. Because I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I think I might have had enough.
And so I said no to the audition of When Calls the Heart three times. Leonard, my agent of many years said, “Just go in, whatever. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t want to do it, you can always say no.”
I went in there. I just remember Michael Landon (Jr.) was such a lovely person—kind and generous and respectful, he was even in the room—I just really, really liked him. And I liked the character.
And they hired me.
And now, I look back and go, “Well, that was fortunate.” I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed this.
As Gowen’s character has evolved and become more likeable, there has been debate over just how much blame he bears for the mining disaster in Season One—including the deaths of Abigail Stanton’s husband and son. How does Gowen view his own culpability?
He feels responsible for it. 100 percent.
When you’re talking about something like that, you can split hairs if you want to. But you either take responsibility for your actions or you don’t. I feel that that’s something he feels.
That’s something he’s going to have to live with for the rest of his life. It’s what it is. He’s come to a level place of acceptance of that, whatever that may be.
Does Martin Cummins think that Henry Gowen deserves redemption?
As Martin, I think that everybody—if you’re making the effort, then everybody deserves a second shot, another opportunity to right themselves. At the same time, if someone isn’t repentant and isn’t willing to help themselves, then there’s no point in being a fool to open yourself up to get kicked by somebody.
I think if he’s repentant and what-not that he deserves a second chance, for sure.
Does the character Henry Gowen think he deserves redemption?
I don’t think that comes into it at this point for him—yet. He’s done quite a bit of bad stuff and has kind of continued down line in terms of his point of view. He’s opened up to take a certain responsibility looking at his own actions, but I don’t think he’s at the point of any kind—he has not offered the forgiveness to himself that he would to somebody else.
Does Martin Cummins think Henry Gowen will ever be able to forgive himself?
If Alfonso Moreno wants to take it in that direction, then he will. And I know that he will do that in a delicate and interesting way.
I think a lot of Alfonso. I think he’s wonderful. I think how he’s handled exactly what we’re talking about—and how he handles that in the upcoming season—is done really deftly. I think he’s handled it really well. He’s not so heavy-handed as one might expect. He hasn’t been heavy-handed with any of this. I think he’s just done a really beautiful job the last couple seasons in making this work in a really interesting way. I think the show’s better with him, to be honest.
What does Martin Cummins remember about the transition period when Alfonso Moreno came to When Calls the Heart?
First of all, you saw him all the time. He was present on set. He would go to this hotel and he’d just write and then he’d come and visit us. You’d have a dialogue with him, a conversation. He’s sort of quiet and he’s thoughtful. He looks at it from every angle and then delicately puts things to pen and paper.
Man, I’ve done a lot of TV. And I’ve done a lot of really crappy TV. I work in Vancouver—this is what I do, for the most part. I have two young children. My girls are young, and when they were born, I told myself, “I’m not leaving town anymore. Whatever happens here (with When Calls the Heart) is what happens.” So I’ve done a lot of TV. It can be hard sometimes to make it work.
But I really like what Alfonso’s done. For myself, for my character, I really like how he’s handled him and brought him along over the past couple years. There have been a lot of changes in Gowen over the last two seasons and Alfonso’s been the guy that’s dealt with it.
How has Gowen’s relationship with Abigail evolved and what might be in store for them?
Lori Loughlin and I talked about this. We’ve been talking about it since Season Two. I very much respect and like Lori on a personal level and I respect her as a professional and an actress.
Lori’s exactly who she appears to be. She’s a genuine lady—respectful, kind, generous person. Wow, right? You pull up her social media and she’s exactly who she appears to be. She’s a lovely person.
We always enjoy working with each other. We talk about scenes and we talk about where we—we just sort of sprinkle in little things from about Season Two onwards. The writers started to notice these little things. I think it was when Gowen was going off to jail when the audience kind of went, “Oh, what’s going on there?” And then they started to write to it.
One of the things that I have enjoyed about Alfonso as well—as soon as the audience realized it, and the network realized it, and went, “Oh, this is interesting what’s happening here (between Henry and Abigail).”
It didn’t get heavy-handed and all of the sudden next week they’re dating and they’re married on Tuesday.
This whole thing is played out over six seasons. I think they’re standing on opposite ends of the room kind of looking at each other on and off, but we’re not moving anywhere quickly. It’s kind of nice. That’s the way it is for those two people.
It’s become this really complicated relationship. It’s let itself happen over a six-year period now. It’s become a really interesting and kind of complicated relationship. It’s hard to define, other than the fact that I really enjoy it.
What else would Martin Cummins like people to know about him and Lori Loughlin?
I really love going to work and working with Lori Loughlin. She’s such a pro. She always knows her script. She’s always ready to talk about things—little details and that. She’s super confident. Every scene I do with her, I’m always like, “I really enjoy that.”
I’ve been acting professionally now for 35—almost 40 years. If there’s one thing I realize about myself as an actor, it’s that all I have is between action and cut. I’m not the director where I’m part of the big picture. I’m not the writer where I’m looking at the arc of the whole storyline of the season like Alfonso.
All I have as an actor is between action and cut. That’s it.
At the end of that scene, I don’t think about things. I don’t worry about how they’re going to cut it or what music they’re going to lay over it, or any of it. I have to walk away from it and leave it there because I have no control over the big picture. I just have between action and cut. And I really enjoy between action and cut.
Can you give us a teaser for Season 6?
I don’t know whether I can. There’s so much that’s happened over the time period with this guy. He’s the head of the mine and then the mine goes down. And then he’s charged. And then he’s the mayor. And then he’s in prison. And I’ve had two trials. And… you know what I mean?
I’ve got to have had more stuff go on and happen with this guy than anybody in this show. As you’ll see in the upcoming season, more ‘Wow! How the heck did that happen to this guy!’ happens to this guy. And on it goes.
It’s all happened in the six-year lifetime of the show. I don’t even know how I do a tease on that.
The relationship between Gowen and Abigail kind of continues to move forward. It’s hard to define it.
Let’s say you are asked to write an episode of When Calls the Heart in which Gowen becomes a substitute school teacher for a week. What would be the circumstances in which he is asked to take over teaching duties, what kinds of victories and disasters might ensue, and why would Gowen be an even more loveable character by the end of the episode?
You know what, everybody got tired of shooting Christmas shows in July and August, walking around in our big coats in the heat—you just wanted to die. This year, we shot the Christmas episode at the end in December right before it aired. It airs first.
Nobody realized how the relationship between those two little girls and Gowen was going to play out.
I didn’t know that was coming or how it would be received by the audience. It was a really lovely thing. And another simple, lovely piece of writing by Alfonso.
When I think about the school and that kind of thing, who knows what will continue to happen with those two little girls. I think about the return of those two little girls and whether Gowen kind of ends up in there for one reason or another. Perhaps he’s fearful of this new situation in the school and he shows up there just to put their minds at ease or something.
The two little girls are wonderful to work with. Their parents are great and everything. I just thought it was a sweet thing which you may not necessarily have seen coming from Gowen. I enjoyed that Christmas episode very much—being able to work with the kids.
I don’t do that very often. It has happened a couple times. Alfonso stuck me in there once in the other Christmas episode because it was kind of comedic. It was, ‘How does Gowen behave with a bunch of children when he doesn’t have a clue what to do,’ kind of thing.
In between takes, Audrey Wise Alvarez, who plays Millie, is hilarious. At one point, I turned around and looked at her and called out, “Hey, weird kid, what are you doing?”
And she just thought that was the funniest thing. She insisted for the rest of it that I refer to her as “weird kid.” So the whole time I just called her “weird kid.” She just laughed and thought that was the funniest thing.
Kids like that, the ability to act is either there or it’s not. Sometimes you can just get real wood and you don’t know what’s going to happen. But boy, they were both really terrific.