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The Globe & Mail

X2: Iceman Speaketh
He's the nice-guy mutant in love in X2, but Shawn Ashmore really wants to try his hand at playing the evil rebel
- Amber Nasrulla, Special to the Globe & Mail

Ice has set Shawn Ashmore's career on fire. The sparks come from the role the 23-year-old British Columbia-born actor reprises in the long-awaited X-Men sequel, X2, playing mutant Bobby Drake/Iceman. But ask him which superhero he'd really like to be and the answer is unequivocal.

"Who the hell doesn't want to be Wolverine?" Ashmore bellows. "He's definitely my favourite character. He's the bad-ass, he's the rebel and gets to kick butt." At the mention of butt kicks, Ashmore lunges forward in his chair for an instant. "But I don't get a combat role," he sighs, and sits back.

As lean as a stalk of wheat, Ashmore's brown leather jacket and baggy pepper-coloured trousers hang on him. His naturally blond hair has frosted tips and his eyes are bluer in person than on-screen. He's a young cutie straight out of a teen magazine. When the publicist introduces us, we improvise a SARS greeting and confirm that neither of us has visited a hospital. Then Ashmore extends his hand with a huge smile and a laugh. Minutes later, he demonstrates Iceman's signature move -- an energetic swoosh of the hand he's dubbed the "ice blast" -- that, in the film, creates streams of ice to douse fires and build protective walls.

Based on the popular Marvel comic books about mutants with superpowers fighting for survival in an inhospitable human world, X-Men hit theatres in 2000. Directed by Bryan Singer on a budget of $75-million (U.S.), it grossed $157-million in the United States and $295-million worldwide. For X2, which opens in theatres tomorrow, Singer reportedly had twice the money to play with, and promised more stunning special effects, action and fantasy.

In the first film, Ashmore freezes water molecules into a rose for Rogue (played by Anna Paquin); in X2, Iceman and Rogue are officially boyfriend and girlfriend. True love and lots of training make Iceman's powers stronger and give the young actor much more time on-screen alongside Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman and Brian Cox, all stage and screen giants.

It is daunting to work with them, Ashmore says, particularly because he's never taken acting lessons. The set has always been his classroom. Of McKellen, Stewart and Cox, Ashmore says, "They approach those superhero roles and characters as if it were Shakespeare." In the same vein, Ashmore jokingly classifies Iceman as Hamlet. "He's pretty indecisive. . .."

In X2, Iceman makes a crucial decision in a "coming out" scene, admitting to his on-screen parents, for the first time, that he's different. "Have you tried not being a mutant?" his mother responds wearily. This could just as well be a discussion on sexuality or a controversial career choice. It's a loaded conversation and, ironically, one that Ashmore has never had to have with his parents. They've supported his career path since day one. This helps, particularly because navigating the politics of Hollywood can take a lifetime. Ask Ashmore which superhero powers he'd like to possess and he says telepathy. Reading minds in an industry that isn't exactly lauded for its sincerity, would be most useful, he figures. "We're lied to everyday," he says. "And I want to be able to figure out what's really happening."

Ashmore and his identical twin brother, Aaron, first stepped into the spotlight at the age of 10, after being spotted by a casting agent at an outing organized by a local Twin and Triplet Club, to which their mother belonged. The encounter led to the pair's first audition, which was for a toy commercial. Aaron got the part, but was sick on the day of the shoot, so Shawn, who is one minute younger, went in his place. That paved the way for more commercials -- sometimes together, other times auditioning against each other -- community theatre and TV acting gigs. "We were butting heads about everything in high school and were compared daily by family and friends," says Shawn, "And [we] got over any jealousy as actors then." Would he want to work with Aaron on a film? "Of course, but it's hard to find a good project for twins without it being gimmicky." The two played twins in Atom Egoyan's Gross Misconduct in 1993 and since then have taken separate routes. Aaron starred in Skulls and The Skulls II, about misconduct at an Ivy League school. "I usually get cast as the nice guy while Aaron is the jock or the bad boy," Shawn says. "People say our personalities, styles and energy are different."

In 1994, Shawn was nominated for a Gemini Award for best actor on the made-for-television movie Guitarman. "I didn't win so it didn't change my life," he laughs. "Career-wise it gave me the confidence to say okay, I'm doing something right here." In fact, he says, acting never felt like work, it was a hobby. When he realized he was the happiest on-set, he decided to pursue it full-time. He finished high school and applied to Ryerson University's theatre program. At the same time, he was offered the lead role of Jake on the Nickelodeon series Animorphs. He took the job and hasn't slowed down long enough to go back to school, taking on roles in The Outer Limits and Smallville.

Ashmore says in a few years he'd like to study the classics and English literature. For now, he divides his year between Los Angeles, where he moved three years ago, and Toronto, where his brother lives. He spent five months in British Columbia and Alberta for the X2 shoot, a bonus, as most of his family still lives in B.C. "I got to eat Sunday dinner with the family, the grandparents, a lot."

As for the future, he's looking forward to watching Matrix Reloaded, which goes head-to-head with X2 at the end of May. And Ashmore is already onboard for yet another X-Men sequel. There are five other scripts on his desk at home but he hasn't signed anything yet. "I'd really like to tackle a small independent film, something a little darker, . . . to be evil," he says. Which is no surprise considering this Iceman has never been a rebel on-screen or off.

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