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The Globe & Mail

In Person - Shawn Ashmore
- Tralee Pearce

Squeaky-clean Vancouver-born actor Shawn Ashmore is known best for his turn as the superhero Iceman in the X-Men movie series, seconded by his credible turn as Canadian superhero Terry Fox in last year's CTV telefilm.

Suffice it to say that when indie director Thom Fitzgerald tapped him to play a sketchy Montreal AIDS sufferer named Denys in the heavy drama 3 Needles, it was a tad out of the ordinary.

"When I first got the script, it was like what? I have to play a porn star? Not the typical thing I get cast for," he said at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. "I'm in my underwear for half the thing."

He signed on, having worked with Fitzgerald on a low-budget 2001 thriller filmed in Romania called Blood Moon (or Wolf Girl, depending on the country it was released in.) "I really liked the way he works. Even the simplest thing, he challenges you to bring something extra to it. I trusted that Thom would take care with the character."

Not an easy feat, considering Denys isn't a likeable guy. Ashmore said his co-stars' roles -- ChloŽ Sevigny as a nun trying to beat back AIDS in an African community and Lucy Liu as a rural Chinese mother who exploits the epidemic to support herself -- were possessed of more redemptive characteristics.

"He's definitely the most selfish of the characters. He makes pretty difficult decisions and bad moves," the 27-year-old said. "That being said, there's a naive trait to him. He's sort of boyish, which is sort of charming. There's his skill, he is a seducer, that's what he does. The fact of the matter is the only thing he's ever been good at is porn. He's endowed. That's what he does. Coming from a working class family, he does what he has to to survive."

Fitzgerald has chosen to focus in on the repercussions of Denys's choices, especially on his mother, played by Stockard Channing. It's so tightly wound, the word AIDS is never uttered. "It's simple and unsaid -- you don't need to be spoon-fed. Thom really lets you feel like a voyeur -- you're really close to these characters."

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