Alumna Stars Opposite Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack

Cell PosterCOLUMBUS, Ga. --- A mysterious smartphone signal mutates users into killing machines, and Columbus State University alumna Erin Elizabeth Burns’ character is caught in the zombie-apocalypse fray.

Her rescuers: actors John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson in this summer’s science fiction horror, “Cell.”

The ’04 voice graduate and former Miss CSU showcases her silver screen chops Friday, July 8, in the Stephen King thriller, which will also show on Amazon Video, iTunes and On Demand.

Burns’ road to cinema success started at CSU’s Schwob School of Music where she studied voice. She followed up this talent by studying acting at the Maggie Flanigan Studio in New York City.

Today, she constantly applies the undergraduate skills developed at CSU on film and TV projects. And before the sci-fi flick debuts, the always-on-the-move actress gives her alma mater the inside scoop about becoming part of “Cell” and its A-list cast and crew:

Q: What character do you play in ‘Cell?’

A: I play Denise — without giving too much plot away. John’s and Sam’s characters find me in the woods surviving from the phoners attacks on the human race.

Q: How did you land this summer thriller?
A: I did a taped audition. The casting director didn’t even see it initially. They sent a few girls to the producers for the callback, and the producers said, ‘Nope. Start Over.’ Casting went back through their auditions, found mine, sent it to producers, and the rest is history. I was the only actress called back for the role. It was kinda surreal. Oh! And I showed up with broken ribs, but that’s another story.

Q: And this film looks physically and mentally taxing. How did you prepare for the part of Denise?
A: After I booked it, I did coaching sessions with my coach in Los Angeles, Victor Villar-Hauser. We’d worked together at the studio in New York City where I trained. He is my go-to coach for any big roles that come up.

Q: How is this role different from others you have played on film?
A: It’s different in every way. I typically get cast as the ‘sweet, girl-next-door assistant.’ Denise is a badass, rifle-carrying, tough girl who also happens to be six months pregnant in the story. These are the roles that I crave.

Q: Well, we have our popcorn ready. So what’s next on acting fronts?
A: I’ll be working on a show on the IFC network next. Currently, I’m on Season 1 of ‘Satisfaction’ on USA. I have a Web series on YouTube called ‘The Adventures of Lizzy Belch,’ and you can see me from afar in the latest ‘Divergent’ film, ‘Allegiant.’

Q: As you know, CSU is now part of the Georgia Film Academy, which is a statewide effort to train Georgians for jobs in the film industry. Why is a program like this one crucial for CSU students entering the entertainment business?
A: Training is everything. Some productions are still bringing crewmembers from Los Angeles to work here in Georgia because — until now — we haven’t had the training for those positions. We have to build an infrastructure of both experienced crew and actors if we’re going to be seen as the ‘go-to place’ for film/TV production in the United States.

Q: Lastly, what advice can you give current CSU students and graduates working hard to break into the film and TV industry?
A: Work your butt off; get on any and every set you can; and talk less, listen more. For actors specifically, 2.5 percent of actors make their living doing this, so if you’re pursuing acting to become famous, you’re living in a fantasy world. It’s one of the most challenging fields to get into with daily rejection. That said: If you’re passionate about acting and can’t see yourself doing anything else with your life, by all means dive in headfirst. Also, create your own content. Buy a camera and some lights, and start writing the roles you want to play. Don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity. Create it yourself. Just do it.

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