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The Legend of Earthsea
- Edward Douglas

On December 13, the SCI FI Channel begins a four-hour mini-series based on the first two books in Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" saga. Published between 1968 and 1972 with an epilogue in 1990, the series of fantasy books were extremely popular and influential on the genre.

At the center of this classic fantasy tale is Ged, a boy with magical powers who must learn to master them, sending him on a quest to find a girl he sees in visions. That girl, Tenar, is destined to becoming a high priestess, but they aren't aware that their fates and that of the world of Earthsea are intrinsically linked to them meeting and working together to stop the dark forces of the despotic Tygath. Shawn Ashmore, best known as Iceman in the "X-Men" movies, is Ged in the SCI FI mini-series, and the beautiful Kristin Kreuk, Lana Lang on the WB's popular show Smallville, plays Tenar, while Danny Glover and Isabella Rossellini are their respective mentors.

Shawn told how he got involved with the project. "I've always been into fantasy and sci-fi stuff but I wasn't aware of 'Earthsea' or Le Guin's work," he said. "After I was approached with the script seven months ago, I picked up the books and totally fell in love with the story and the character. I liked Ged's dark side and the fact that a lot of the bad things that happened to him he brought upon himself. He's a strong-headed young man, growing up in the middle of nowhere, who feels destined for something else. It's a classic story about a young man coming of age and learning to deal with responsibility and consequences."

Kristin Kreuk didn't have a chance to read much about Tenar before playing her in the mini-series. "I haven't read all the books, but I've heard she's very different, maybe darker and more self-centered in a lot of ways," she told us. "She doesn't seem that way in this story at all. Tenar's character arc is interesting, because being an orphan, she has clung to this faith that she believes in. I'm pretty sure she's never left this island and has been stuck in this temple. Then she has these visions about this boy Ged, who is doing what she sees as evil, but she also feels he's good."

"Ged and Tenar's relationship is this love story," Shawn continued, "but they never meet until the last three-quarters of the movie. It was interesting to have our first scene together, because there was so much tension built-up between the characters. It's really about them finding each other and becoming whole together." Kristin agreed: "Tenar comes to a point where she can accept that there is something else besides faith, and that magic can exist in the same world, so it's all about these yin and yang -- man and woman, magic and faith, good and evil -- all of that coming together to form a whole that will save the world."

After playing Iceman, what was it like playing a hero that may not be altogether good all the time? "It's more fun to play a hero with a bit of an edge," Shawn admitted. "I've only gotten to be a villain a few times, but it's fun to be bad. It's nice to challenge yourself by trying to have a little bit of both, which is why Ged is perfect. He's not a classic hero that does good all the time; he's very human and he makes mistakes."

Of the two young stars, Shawn was already a comic book and sci-fi fan having fallen in love with the "Narnia" books when he was growing up, but Kristin could appreciate what can be done with the genre. "My sister was more the sci-fi and fantasy person," she said. "although it allows you to tell really great family stories and access your imagination. With sci-fi and fantasy, the characters are still very much based in reality--the situations they go through are the same things we go through as we grow up in our lives--but they add other elements to heighten those realities."

"I've always been interested in this genre, because it's an escape and something you can really get into," Shawn confirmed. "The reason I really connected with 'Earthsea' was because there's this idea of fantasy and you can escape with it, but these characters make you feel grounded, which is nice."

Shawn was a bit nervous on his first day, not only because it would be his first time carrying a film, but also because they were trying to create a vivid world based on someone else's work, which already had a very strong fan base. The elaborate sets helped to make that world more real to both young actors. "Being on the 'Earthsea' set was pretty incredible because they're amazing sets," Kristin said. "They're really well done down to the littlest detail, the paint, the way the wood has been carved. It's beautiful." Shawn elaborated on why having such ornate sets helped make the world of Earthsea more believable to him. "We filmed outside on location a lot, and it's easier to put yourself in that space when you're not surrounded by green screen all the time. Obviously, with all the magic effects and the added set pieces, there was a bit of CG involved."

We asked the young stars to talk a bit about the two more experienced actors that play their teachers in the movie. Shawn told us why he thought Danny Glover was perfect for the part of his mentor Ogion. "The character he plays is such a huge part of who Ged becomes, and Danny holds himself with such grace and great power that it was amazing to just watch him work."

Kristin had similar praise for actress Isabella Rossellini, who played Tenar's teacher Thar. "The woman is a legend and she's so lovely and graceful and warm. She's so good at what she does, and she's constantly trying to make things better and more interesting. She's definitely someone that I look up to as a professional and as a person." Rossellini may be best remembered for her breakout role in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.

When you're the star of a television show, it must be hard to squeeze out three months on the set of a four-hour mini-series. "We shot in June and 'Smallville' started in July, so it overlapped for a few weeks, " Kristin admitted. "I don't work every day on 'Smallville', and 'Earthsea' was willing to adjust their schedule."

It's hard to watch Earthsea without thinking of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. We asked Shawn how he felt about the similarities. "There's always going to be comparisons made," he answered. "But the core of the story is different, as is Ged's journey. 'Lord of the Rings' was a good thing for us, opening the door for the fantasy genre, but anyone that's read the books already knows that there are huge differences in Le Guin and Tolkien's stories."

The first part of the four-hour Earthsea airs on the SCI FI Channel on Monday, December 13, at 9pm Eastern. The conclusion airs the following night at the same time.