The Verge: Shawn Ashmore

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Shawn Ashmore just can't help it -- he's drawn to the cold. (Perhaps it's because he's Canadian?) The 30-year-old actor first gained notice as Iceman in the first three X-Men films, but he'll have the opportunity to take the lead in the buzzed-about Sundance entry Frozen later this month. In director Adam Green's thriller, Ashmore plays Lynch, a skiier who is mistakenly stranded fifty feet in the air on a chair lift along with two of his friends (Kevin Zegers and Emma Bell), then must dig deep to survive and escape or stay and freeze.

Ashmore talked to Movieline about how brutally real the shooting of the movie was, the pact he and his fellow actors made for verisimilitude, and his thoughts on Bryan Singer returning to the X-Men franchise.

Is this your first Sundance?

It is! You know, I think it's a great film to go to Sundance with because we actually made it in Utah, and the setting is the slopes...

The people at Sundance are cold enough as it is! You're going to make them feel even colder when they watch this.

They'll be eating out of the palm of our hand, hopefully.

Obviously your characters go through the wringer in Frozen, but how arduous was it for you as actors? Did you know what you were getting into?

Adam Green, our writer/director, kind of laid it out on the table right away. It was really important for him to make the film practically, to be on the lift fifty feet above the ground at all times. You know what you're getting into, but it's part of why you're so terrified...you're like, "Can I actually spend eight-hour chunks of time on the lift in the cold, not moving, for a month?" It was a scary proposition. That being said, half the job as an actor is sort of taken care of for you because of the sheer fact that you are freezing. There's that aspect of physicality that's helpful because you're freezing your ass off on a lift.

Were you ever allowed to get down?

We couldn't get down off the lift because of safety issues, they had a crane come and take us down. Because it was an older lift we were on, it couldn't go backwards, so if we wanted to get off to use the bathroom, we'd have to go all the way around and it would take forty-five minutes. Basically, once we were at the spot we needed to be at, we were there until lunch or the end of the day. They were long days.

It's interesting how many people I mention the premise to and they all say, "I have a fear of that happening!" Does making a movie like this cure you of that fear or exacerbate it?

For me, it cured me. I'm a snowboarder myself -- I grew up in Canada, so I ride a lot -- and as soon as I heard the idea, before I even read the script, I thought, "That is really fascinating." I don't know if you ski or snowboard or anything, but the pit of your stomach just drops as soon as this huge piece of machinery you're relying on stops working and you're stuck at this height. There's no help, you don't know when you're getting moving again, and you're just so vulnerable. After spending thirty days on a lift, even spending eight-hour days there, you know that the conditions are such that you're going to be safe, so I guess it sort of cures you. I think for people to watch the film, though, the idea that you might be stuck up there draws on some real primal fears: the fear of heights, the fear of being alone, man vs. the elements.

I know you were already friends with Kevin Zegers, which I'd imagine is important on a project like this. You don't want to be stuck up there with actors you hate.

Honestly, that was something that went through my head. With a movie like this, you could use whatever the situation was gonna be to your advantage -- literally, there were three blizzards while we were shooting up there, but that helped us in a certain way. You dread going up there some days. When you wear snowboards and skis on a chair lift, your legs get a little numb for ten minutes, but then you stand up and ride. When you're sitting there for hours, though, even that five-, ten-pound weight on your legs...you can't feel your legs after a while. It's rough, but you can use all that. So either way, whatever the situation was with the actors, I think I could have used it.

Did you figure out ways to cope with the isolation, or did you use that too?

We made rules like, "No cell phones up there." I've been on a million sets where, between takes, actors will pull out their cell phones and start texting their friends. Between Adam and Kevin and Emma and I, we made a pact that there was going to be none of that. This is a film that needs to be carried by three actors -- there are no set pieces to cut away to -- and you need to believe and be with these people for an hour and a half. We were nervous and excited to pull that off, and a part of that was to be completely focused while we were up there. Also, it was really a strange filmmaking experience because we couldn't talk to the crew since we were fifty feet above the ground. I had a walkie-talkie in my pocket to talk to the director and that's how we communicated. We weren't hanging out with the A.D. or the grips between takes -- it was just us, isolated, fifty feet above in the air.

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Comments

  • Matthew DH says:

    I still remember when he starred in the short-lived Nickelodeon show: Animorphs wherein he often morphed into a lion! Poor guy can't catch a break. Always typecast as the mutant boy next door.

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