Often confused for his twin brother Aaron, Shawn Ashmore got his start on the small screen, playing Jake in the kids’ TV show Animorphs before eventually hitting the big time with his “coolest” role ever, as Iceman in the X-Men film franchise. In town shooting X-Men: Days of Future Past – set to hit theatres in 2014 – we caught up with the Canadian actor to find out more about the man behind the mutant mask.
You were born in B.C., grew up in Edmonton, and now live in Toronto. Were you a confused hockey fan as a kid?
SHAWN ASHMORE: Yes, I was a very, very confused hockey fan. (laughs) If I had to make choices, I’d pick the Oilers and Leafs. When I was about 10 years old, it was [Wayne] Gretzky and [Mark] Messier and Edmonton was winning Cups. That was really my introduction to hockey when I first started being able to remember the games. I remember going to the West Edmonton Mall to watch the Oilers practice. I have a soft spot for the Oilers. But when you move to Toronto, you kind of have to wear blue. I’m definitely a Leaf fan now.
How much did you hate the Canadiens?
SA: I didn’t hate them at all, actually. I’m not a die-hard fan. I’m wearing red very proudly tonight.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
SA: Gretzky. He was that iconic player that I looked up to as a 10-year-old kid. He was the “Great One”.
Did you play any hockey? Were you any good?
SA: I played hockey, but I was never good. I usually played defense. My brother and I played a lot of street hockey at home. We were always on the same team.
Being a twin yourself, do you have a soft spot for the Sedin brothers?
SA: I think it’s amazing that they not only both got to do what they wanted to do, but that they got to do it together. That’s kind of incredible. My brother and I have worked together in the past and it’s ideal. I’ve always envied that relationship.
How often do you make it out to Kings games when you’re out in L.A.?
SA: I tend to see more games when I go home to Toronto. I have friends who have tickets there so it’s easier. I don’t get to see as many games as I’d like to.
What’s the greatest prank you’ve ever pulled off as a twin?
SA: We shot X-Men 2 in Vancouver and my brother Aaron came to visit us on set. Everyone thought it would be funny to fool [X-Men director] Bryan Singer. They dressed Aaron up like my character and he walked up to the monitor where Bryan was sitting and everyone was watching with anticipation to see what was going to happen. He just said, ‘You’re not Shawn!’ and that was it. That was our big attempt at a prank and it didn’t work! Most of the time we don’t have to try; people mistake us all the time. Any time we’ve tried to fool people, it’s never worked.
Are you basically filming X-Men in your slippers at this point?
SA: I’m definitely much more relaxed than I used to be, but there’s a lot of pressure with these films. You know how many people are going to see them and you know how much money the studio has invested, so there’s always an element of pressure. Having Bryan Singer come back after working with him on the first two movies makes it more comfortable because you trust him and he’s the director that cast you, so you know he trusts you as well. There’s a certain sense of a family reunion with the cast and the filmmakers on the set, which is nice.
What’s the coolest thing about being Iceman?
SA: Just getting to be a superhero is cool. Being able to say you’re part of the X-Men is amazing.
How come you’re always being cast as the nice guy while your brother Aaron always seems to plays the bad guy? You’re identical twins!
SA: I think as actors you sort of find a rhythm you’re comfortable with. That trend of him playing those kinds of characters and me playing nice guys has sort of changed over the years. When we were younger, it was a consistent thing for us. People see you in one particular type of role and they continue to cast you as that. As an actor, it’s a fun challenge to try to break the mold and keep it interesting.
The NHL is putting on a lot of outdoor games this year. Do you think Iceman could help them out?
SA: Absolutely. The ice is his natural habitat. No question Iceman could help them out.
You played Terry Fox on the big screen. Is he the ultimate Canadian athlete?
SA: Yes, it’s Terry Fox, by far. He’s my personal hero. He’s probably one of the greatest Canadians and he’s definitely the ultimate athlete. I’ve talked to a lot of professional athletes and the strength you have to have to essentially run a marathon every day, if you ask them, they’ll say it’s impossible. The body needs to recuperate. He just ran and ran and ran. He was like Superman – he was a real-life superhero. I think he’s one of the greatest athletes of all time.
What was the toughest part of filming Terry?
SA: It was probably one of the hardest movies I’ve ever had to shoot and also one of the most satisfying. We shot in Ontario and in Newfoundland and every time we shot a running scene, people would come out of their homes and line the streets with tears in their eyes, just seeing the van and seeing me running down the street. Everyone had a story; when they were kids, they met Terry or their parents had. It was a very emotional experience and it fed me, because they were looking at me with the emotion they had felt for him. It really helped my performance to deal with that emotion. It was such a gift and an unreal experience. When they looked at me, they saw him. No one is worthy of the love they felt for him, so it was a very strange experience. It was moving.
You’ve starred in a few horror movies: The Ruins, Frozen and Mother’s Day. Do you have a soft spot for the genre?
SA: I love horror films. I love being scared. There’s that sense when you’re sitting in the theatre and your heart is racing and your palms are sweating that you really can’t get from any other entertainment source. It’s such a physical, palpable reaction. It’s fun to try to scare people and to try and create that for people. It’s hard to genuinely do that, and it doesn’t always work.
Some of your characters have come to untimely ends, most notably in The Ruins and Frozen and you took a pretty big beating in The Following. Is it fun as an actor to go through those scenes or is it exhausting?
SA: Both. It’s fun and exhausting. It’s interesting to see yourself die several different times. I feel like I’m facing death and thinking about it as I work through my career. It can be tough. They’re always emotional, especially in the example of The Following in the fight scene where I almost got killed. It was very physical, very excruciating. I woke up the next day with bruises all over my body from throwing myself on the ground. I have bruises today from things we were shooting on X-Men.
You’ve spent a lot of time with Kevin Bacon shooting The Following. Are Footloose jokes off the table?
SA: (laughs) I don’t think they’re off the table! When we were shooting the pilot in Atlanta, about halfway through the second day of shooting, I caught myself whistling the Footloose song. I was like, ‘Oh my God, did I do that in front of him?’ I think he has a great sense of humor about everything, like the Six Degrees of Separation stuff. He’s pretty open about all that and he actually has a charity that involves that theme. He’s a nice guy and he gets a good laugh out of it.
How’s life now that you’re a “First Degree” member of that club?
SA: It’s kind of fun! You’re part of an elite group being one degree away from Kevin. In all honesty, he’s just an incredible actor and a really nice guy. I feel lucky to be able to work with him on a daily basis on the show. He makes you better as an actor, he challenges you as an actor and he’s a nice guy to be around. I really enjoy him.
Learn about Shawn’s upcoming projects at imdb.com, stay tuned for Season 2 of The Following, set to air in winter 2014, or follow him in real-time on Twitter @ShawnRAshmore.
This article, written by Alexandre Harvey, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 27 No. 5.
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