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The Brampton Guardian

Local actor heats up screens as X-men's Iceman
Shawn Ashmore enjoying success as comic book hero in blockbuster sequel
- Katharine Sealey

Rick Ashmore wants to set the record straight about his son Shawn.

"The girls at my dentist's office wanted to know when they would be able to get Shawn's doll," he said. "I told them, my son is not a doll, he is an action figure."

Shawn Ashmore can currently be seen on big screens everywhere as Iceman in the hit film X-Men 2.

Now in it's fifth week of release, the film has already grossed $192 million, surpassing the entire take of the first film by nearly $40 million.

Born in Edmonton, Shawn, 23, came to Brampton at the age of 10 when his father was transferred to the area. By the time they arrived, Shawn and his twin brother Aaron, who is older by one minute, had already started their acting careers when a casting agent contacted their mother through a twins support group.

"Aaron actually got the part but he was sick on the day of the shoot," said Shawn, who spoke to The Guardian from Los Angeles. "We were seven and it was for Irwin Toys, for a board game called The Boogeyman. I've never seen it in a store, so I think it's gotten lost somewhere, but I got paid for spending the day playing games, and I knew this was the job for me."

Rick said he knew it was going to be hard to dissuade his sons once they had a taste of showbiz.

"You can get a paper route and make $25 a month, or you can do commercials and make substantially more," he said. "They enjoyed it, so they kept at it."

Opportunities grew for them when they moved to Brampton, a short drive to Toronto, one of Canada's busiest filming spots. The twins had a steady string of roles, with Shawn appearing in such locally-made shows as Katts and Dog and Mr. Dress-Up.

"Instead of being on teams at school, I was preparing for auditions," said Shawn. "I would do movies and TV, and in the summer I would skateboard, in the winter I would snowboard, so I had a pretty full plate."

Teacher Heather Deslippe, who taught the Ashmore boys Family Studies at Earncliffe Senior Public School in the early-90s, said they were very low-key about their growing fame.

"I didn't know he was into acting until his mother showed up at the office one day because she needed to take the boys out of school for a month," she said. "They were going to Alaska to shoot scenes for the Brian Spencer story (Gross Misconduct)."

Gemini nomination at 13

At the age of 13, Shawn was nominated for a Gemini award for his work on the made-for-TV film Guitarman. Despite the success, he continued to attend school full-time.

"They were both model students," said Deslippe. "The kids liked them, the teachers liked them. They were very well-rounded, and you could always count on them. They were the kind of kids you hope your own kids will be like."

Shawn's mom Linda said she was proud of the way the boys juggled school, where they were in the French Immersion program, and acting, but said they still found plenty of time for goofing off and hanging out with friends.

"They were good students," she said. "But their social life was probably the most important thing to them. Let's just say they had very good high school years."

While at Turner Fenton Secondary School, the twins and their friends also had a punk alternative band called Pre-Occupied, which even cut a demo. Although the friends went on to pursue careers in the music industry, Shawn and Aaron-- who can be seen in the upcoming film Safety of Object with Glenn Close and Joshua Jackson-- decided to stick with acting.

"I would love to be able to pursue music as a career but honestly, I'm just not good enough," said Shawn, with a laugh. "I still play guitar though, and it's a nice hobby, but I knew it wasn't going anywhere for me."

Shawn's big break

Shawn's acting career really took off in his senior year when he got a starring role on the teen sci-fi show Animorphs, which was based on the Scholastic Book series. The show marked his first action figure, as well as his first real taste of fame, and, he recalled with a laugh, fans.

"There were times in high school when my Mom would say, 'Shawn, look out that window, those girls have been walking back and forth in front of the house for the last hour, do you know them?'," he said. "I think it's flattering and very funny. Sometimes it still happens, my mom says, even though I haven't lived there for years."

Linda said they are ready for more visitors now that Shawn is an internationally celebrity, and action figure, thanks to his Iceman role in both of the X-Men films, a role which she said nearly didn't happen.

"The first time around, filming was already underway when he was cast," she said. "He had a bit more notice this time, but he still only found out a month before that he was in the second movie."

Top secret sequel

Before he could read the script for the top-secret second film, Shawn first had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

"He was really happy when he found out he didn't die," said Linda, with a laugh. "That was a big relief, but he couldn't tell us anything."

Shawn reported to the X-Men 2 set in Vancouver in June 2002 and spent six months filming the action flick.

"We had a lot of 18-hour days on the set, fighting special effects which weren't there and sometimes it seemed like really hard work, but then you realized that you are making a really cool movie that lots of people will actually see, so that motivates you," he said. "Getting to play superheros is a pretty good job."

Having already gone through one film together, the cast and crew were already pretty close, and when the set shut down for the day, the social life heated up.

"We would play paintball and Ian McKellan (Magneto) would throw great parties at the house he rented," said Shawn. "I was one of the newest and youngest members of the cast, so it was a great ice breaker."

The cast included Oscar winners Anna Paquin (Rogue) and Halle Berry (Storm), Shakespearean actors Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) and McKellan and Broadway stars Alan Cumming (Night Crawler) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), and Shawn said he was initially intimidated by all the serious talent.

"These are acting legends, but they are also really nice people and I was lucky to be a part of it all," he said.

"But sometimes Ian would strike up the piano and Hugh would sing and it all gets a bit surreal, to see him with his Wolverine chops, singing showtunes."

Rick and Linda visited the set on Shawn's birthday when they were shooting scenes in the X-Jet.

"It was an amazing sight and a very busy set, and we saw Alan in his full blue Night Crawler make-up, which is very amazing even close up," said Linda. "(Director) Bryan Singer showed us some of the footage from the day, and after our two-hour visit, I felt very ready for a nap."

The crew finished filming at the beginning of December, which allowed Shawn to come home to Brampton for a quick Christmas visit before heading down to Los Angeles in mid-January to begin doing promotional work on the film.

When he returned to Toronto for the premiere in early-May, Rick said the hype was unbelievable.

"We are just in awe of the whole experience," he said. "We went down to see him on Muchmusic on the night of the Toronto premiere, and people were yelling and screaming and waving. It's funny for me to see people get so excited over someone who's diapers I've changed. To them he's a big star, but to us, he's still just Shawn."

He said they've been doing their best to read all of the articles and watch all the TV appearances.

"We're going broke buying two or three copies of newspapers and magazines," Rick said. "Everywhere you look, there he is."

Shawn's promotional responsibilities have also taken him to New York, Hawaii and London.

Jeans on E-Bay

On the United Kingdom's E-Bay site, a pair of jeans which supposedly belonged to Shawn recently sold for nearly $400 Canadian.

"It's really freaky, because they were just a plain old pair of Gap jeans," said Shawn. "I doubt I even ever wore them, but if I did, that's even weirder. Why would people spend good money to have my pants?"

Linda said they are learning just how devoted followers of the comic book series can be.

"There are some very hardcore X-Men fans out there," she said. "We go on the Web sites sometime to see what people are saying, and it's pretty intense stuff."

Deslippe, who's now a guidance counsellor at Greenbriar Public School, said she's having trouble convincing her students that Ashmore was once a Brampton boy.

"One of my kids had a magazine on his desk and one of the stories was 'Meet Shawn Ashmore'," she said.

"I told him, 'I used to teach him', and they thought I was giving them a line. I like to tell my students about him, to tell them to follow your dreams, and to show them someone who did, and succeeded."

She said the autographed picture Shawn brought to her class during his days on Animorphs is still the feature on her bulletin board of 'stars'.

"We had lots of kids who went on to become Olympic athletes or get into the movies, but Shawn's probably the most well-known," she said.

"Shawn deserves all the big billing he's getting now. Brampton can be very proud to have had him grow up here."

The Brampton Guardian