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Ashmore Honoured to Play Terry Fox
- Glen Schaefer

VANCOUVER -- Doing justice to Terry Fox onscreen meant six weeks of work for Richmond, B.C.-born actor Shawn Ashmore before filming even began this summer on the CTV movie Terry.

The movie filmed for a month in Newfoundland and Ontario, but Ashmore had already been hard at work by then, working with trainers to perfect the cancer marathoner's distinctive gait. The movie airs Sept. 11 to mark the 25th anniversary of Fox's journey from Newfoundland to Thunder Bay, Ont., where the cancer that had earlier taken his leg reappeared in his lungs.

"One of the things I was really concerned about was having enough time to train and get the physical aspects of the character down," says Ashmore. "For Canadians especially, it's such an important image to all of us, it's something that's very recognized. I just wanted to make sure that I had time to do that properly, because if that wasn't right, then people would not necessarily be able to connect."

Ashmore, currently reprising his role as Iceman in the Vancouver-filmed X-Men 3, worked with a theatre movement coach from Stratford and with amputee athlete Grant Darby to capture Fox's physicality. During filming, Ashmore wore motion sensors on his right leg, which enabled computer graphic artists to add the prosthetic leg in post-production. As well, Darby doubled for Ashmore in wide-shot scenes filmed from behind.

The TV movie focuses on the time from when the 21-year-old Fox started his fundraising run in Newfoundland, to when he became a national hero while running through Ontario, and ends with the recurrence of the cancer in Thunder Bay. Fox later died in hospital in Vancouver.

"We didn't tell the story of a cancer patient. This movie is about the run and the great thing that he did," says Ashmore. "It's a really personal story, too, just four main characters, Terry, his friend Doug Alward, his brother Darrell and a guy named Bill Vigars."

A daunting but inspiring highlight of the movie is the recreation of the speech Fox gave to a huge crowd at Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square. Ashmore says Fox's sister Judy was among those in the crowd of extras when they filmed the scene, and many people showed up that day who had seen the real Fox speak. Ashmore studied footage of Fox's speech to prepare for that sequence.

"There were a couple of hundred people there (for filming) in period garb," he says. "It was pretty emotional. It was difficult, but there was an amazing energy. It was kind of eerie in a way. It's also amazing how many people who were there had been there originally. A lot of people who were little kids, their parents had brought them. Even some people on the crew."

Ashmore himself was born in 1979, a year before Fox's run, and learned about the fallen hero as most kids do, by participating in the annual run for cancer.

"I didn't discover Terry until I was 10 years old, he was a legend by that time," says Ashmore, who talked at length with Darrell Fox to get a feel for that time.

"They had food fights all the time, they were three young guys in a van, for the first time going across the country. They were excited more than anything, especially in the beginning. As much as it was serious and hard work and all that, there's no way they could have done what they did without having fun."

Vancouver actor Ryan McDonald plays Terry's friend Doug and Noah Reid plays Darrell.

"We were out in the country running for a lot of the shoot," says Ashmore, who learned from Terry Fox's own journals how the trio battled the elements, did laundry, cooked meals, and tried to get news coverage -- all while Terry was running 26 miles a day.

"He was unknown at first, even through Quebec. The first couple of weeks at least, a month even, two guys living in a van, staying in motels, eating beans and peanut butter and jam sandwiches. That's what's so great, these guys were doing it when nobody was supporting them, and Terry was working just as hard when he started as the day he stopped.

"The biggest thing, especially in the beginning, was the monotony of the run. The journals were very dry: 'Woke up today. Ate two cans of beans and a peanut butter sandwich, did 50 pushups and got on the road.' But then, every once in a while, there'd be a journal entry where it would talk about a town they went into, a person they met or a little kid who gave them five bucks. And it would suddenly get personal.

"Until you read in his words, you don't understand how hard it was and how much of a beating his body was taking, and how moved he was by people who helped him."

Twenty-five years later, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised more than $360 million worldwide for cancer research. Production company Shaftesbury Films is donating any net profits from worldwide sales of the movie to the foundation.

CanWest News Service 2005