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Shawn Ashmore Interview, 3 Needles
- Sheila Roberts

Movies Online recently caught up with Shawn Ashmore at the Los Angeles Press Day for his new film, "3 Needles," written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald. The film examines the worldwide AIDS crisis through three distinctly different narrative threads. In Montreal, a porn actor, Denys (played by Ashmore), schemes to pass his mandatory blood test; in Africa, a young novice nun (Chloe Sevigny/Clara) makes a personal sacrifice for the benefit of a South African village; and in rural China, a black market operative, Jin Ping (Lucy Liu), poses as a government-sanctioned blood drawer and jeopardizes an entire village's safety.

Ashmore is best known for his role as The Ice Man in the popular "X-Men," "X-Men United" and "X-Men - The Last Stand" franchise, for which he was named the MTV Breakthrough Star of the Year in 2004. His recent roles include "The Underclassman" for Miramax, Jamie Babbit's thriller "The Quiet," and the title role as the Canadian icon Terry Fox in "Terry" for CTV.

Director Fitzgerald explains why he chose Ashmore for the role: "Denys, fictional porn star, is a victim of his own imagination. He can't imagine who he would be if he were not able to become the fireman, the doctor, the instantly desirable man his porn videos allow him to be. Because he can't cope with just being himself, he is willing to risk other peoples' lives. Shaw was an ideal actor because he could imbue a despicable action with his innate amiability. He has excellent comic timing and is simply a wonderful guy to work with."

Shawn is indeed great guy and we really appreciated his time. Here's what he had to tell us about how he approached his character, his naughty nurse scene that didn't make the final cut, and most importantly, why he chose to do this project:

Q: So do you have a deep interest in the porn industry?

SA: I do now. [laughs} I mean originally reading the script, I'd worked with Thom before and I knew who was involved, and I got the script and about ten minutes of raw footage from the segment in Africa so I fully knew what kind of film it was going to be in the sense that I understood it was going to be a pretty amazing film. You know, flipping through the pages and being like 'underwear again, sex scene, okay.' You become self-conscious very quickly when you start to realize that you're going to be in front of a crew in your underwear for half the time and like you know there's going to be a camera and so that was difficult but yeah, you get over that pretty quickly when you realize you get to work with Stockard (Channing) and work with Thom again. It's okay.

Q: So you guys would dress up. Sometimes you were a fireman...

SA: The pilgrim, the fireman. [laughs] There's actually a couple scenes that didn't make it. There was a housewife and a plumber scene. There was a naughty nurse scene. There was all sorts of stuff.

Q: You have to have a naughty nurse scene in porn. You just have to.

SA: It's a staple. I mean it should be there. So, yeah, we had fun doing all that stuff. And the interesting thing too is that -- I think it's a nice balance specifically in the North American segments to the other segments because there's almost a sense of humor to it in a way. It's a dark sense of humor because the porn stuff is never sexy. It's never meant to be sexy. It's meant to be ridiculous. You know what I mean? And that's something that I think if you tried to make any of that stuff sexy in any way, it would be awful. So the intention of it being ridiculous and sort of over the top was always there. So that was kind of fun. I wasn't too worried about it getting too serious because I was like... We're wearing a fireman outfit. We're on a fire truck. It was like crazy so...

Q: Did that keep you from thinking all the time that you were doing such a serious movie about AIDS and all that?

SA: In a way, yeah, I mean it wasn't dark. There were a lot of really heavy scenes throughout the film and I can only talk specifically about my stuff but there were some heavy scenes and really just tough days as far as... You know it's a tough place to go when you're playing a character that essentially is dying and starts to realize that he's killed or will kill a lot of people. So it was nice to sort of have those scenes where we could just kind of fool around and dress up a little bit and just be a little ridiculous.

Q: How did you approach your character? How did you identify with him?

SA: Well, that was probably the most challenging thing. On the surface, Danny is a murderer. He's a pretty awful person and Thom really was adamant about when the audience leaves the film, he didn't want people to hate either one of these characters being his mother, Stockyard's character, or my character. And I think that the way he explained it to me and the thing he really wanted to get across was that Denny was a) not the brightest bulb, a bit nave, very insecure and really working in the porn industry was the only thing he was ever good at, the only place he was ever really accepted. He was just not a very special person in the sense that he was just kind of a boring guy. He's not particularly smart, he's not all that interesting, but when he dresses up like a fireman, even if it's ridiculous and 20 minutes in a porn movie, people almost look up to him. He's playing a character basically. He's an actor. There's a scene in the movie where he's sort of seducing himself in the mirror and the whole idea is that he's a porn star and he's supposed to be able to do that. You know, that's his gift, that's what he does, and he really isn't. He's really an insecure person so he has to practice that. He's playing a character essentially every time he goes out into public so I think the idea was just to show how insecure this guy was and also I think he continues to work in the industry even though he's making people sick because I think that's his routine, that's what he knows. If he stops doing that, he admits that he's sick and that he's dying. And I think the only time that he really starts to understand what's going on is when his dad actually dies. That's when he starts to realize that it makes sense to him what's going on, but as long as he can fake it, as long as he continues to keep up his normal routine, he's almost ignoring his illness. There's all those things. There's a lot of layers that go in there and I'm not really sure how much that sort of sticks out but that's sort of how I approached it and the way you try to make him a flawed person who makes bad decisions as opposed to an evil person.

Q: Did you do any research for the role or talk to people that were in the industry in that era?

SA: No, I didn't because I didn't want him to be particularly savvy. I wanted him to be kind of goofy and also because I didn't feel he was like an A-level existing in a life style. He was just kind of like, you know, it was his job, his day job. He shows up. He was endowed and that's like his gift. He's not particularly good at what he does necessarily but he was made for it and that's what he does. And to be completely honest, I've watched porn before so I sort of had an idea of what goes on and what it is and it's pretty straightforward. Again, it goes back to the fact that I didn't want, and I don't think Thom wanted Denny to be too self-aware of his predicament. I think it goes back to him ignoring the problem and I didn't want to be too aware of exactly what the symptoms would be and all that because I just think he tried to ignore it and that was just how I looked at it.

Q: Yeah, you're cute, but you're no Ron Jeremy.

SA: Exactly. A couple years, a couple pizzas, some beer.

Q: There you go.

Q: What about talking to people who had AIDS?

SA: I'd actually met, and not specifically for this project, but I'd just over the years have had friends, acquaintances, like friends of friends mostly, and acquaintances of people I know who have been affected. So I didn't feel like I needed to go sit down with somebody and really have a heart to heart about something that I've been exposed to in the past just by knowing people in general social circles so it wasn't foreign to me and it also wasn't something that I've had directly in my life. But again it comes down to he's trying to ignore it so I didn't feel like he or I needed to understand what the situation is about just to sort of play the character. So that's just the way I looked at it. You know, just being a part of this process and promoting the film and going to film festivals, I really probably learned a lot more about people dealing with the disease, just having people come up after screenings, and just talking about it in general after the fact than prior to shooting the film. So it's been a very informative experience for me as well.

Q: It seemed like while your character didn't really have a lot of self awareness, it seemed like he didn't really have a lot of guidance either in terms of porno guidance. I mean there's this one scene where you're watching your films with your dad and he's just like, 'Go son!'

SA: Yeah, best job in the world. I mean that sort of... again it goes down to, back to... and also the most shocking thing to me is the fact that you can sell your life insurance and get money and that sort of speaks to Stockard's character as well. I mean she makes a pretty awful decision, especially seeing these kids and these people that are infected without... unknowingly are born into the disease... and when you see these two characters who are sort of dealing with it frivolously or Stockard's character infecting herself for money, it just makes you shake your head and say, 'What the hell', but again it comes down to... The weird and interesting thing about Stockard's character too is like you can either think of it as being an awful decision, like what a waste of life, and such an awful thing to do, or you can look at it as the ultimate sacrifice. Her husband's gone, her son is dying. They're not living in poverty like you see in Africa or China, but they're a lower class family without any of the better things, without the good things in life. And the way that I saw it was she just wanted to live in comfort with her son's last years. You know she lost her husband, she doesn't have that much to live for, her son is all that she has left and he's dying.

Q: Right. And she's waitressing to try to support them.

SA: And she's not particularly happy with her life necessarily so, you know, that's what you do. We'll only live a couple years but we'll live in comfort. It's like what a ridiculous thing. It's like trying to put a price on life and she does. Most people can't do that. It's not something I could do but she does.

Q: How important is it for you to have these small, real acting projects in addition to the big X-Men blockbusters?

SA: Well, I think it's important. I would hate to think that working with Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart isn't a real acting project or an experience but I understand what you're saying. The difference is... I mean honestly I don't approach a character any differently. Like I didn't ... but the fact of the matter is this film has a lot more to say than something like X-Men or whatever. So this is ultimately important. For me as an actor the thing that I want to keep doing is just challenging myself and playing different characters and being a superhero is one of those aspects and being an AIDS participant is another aspect. I just want to mix stuff up as much as possible. That's what keeps it fun for me and interesting and that's the challenge in it so it's very important but specifically to be a part of projects that have something to say. Or even if they don't have something to say to anybody else, if I learn something, if I read it and I'm moved or I learn something about it even if it's a subject that nobody cares about but particularly something that people do care about and affects a lot of people. I've read scripts that the amount of people that would probably be interested in the subject matter is small but it's something that I think is fascinating so just to be a part of something that is interesting to whomever or in whatever sense is important.

Q: Are you on tap to do any of the "Mutant Academy" spinoffs?

SA: I didn't know that there were any. I know they're doing a Wolverine prequel and I heard a rumor, and this isn't for sure, about a Magneto film but those are all in the past like prequels and origins stories so I don't know. There's rumors about an X-Men 4 or something like that but as far as I've been told, X-Men 3 was going to be the last big ensemble X-Men movie so I would love if they made another one but I'm not sure that they will.

Q: Have you signed to appear in anything else?

SA: Yeah, I have a contract that if they make another one then I have one more film.

Q: One of the plans is to do a story on the schools.

SA: I've heard rumors on the internet about a young mutant spin-off or something like that but that's like created on some chat board somewhere. I mean it could be real. It could have leaped from somewhere but as far as I'm saying officially from the people that are actually making the movies, I haven't heard anything like that.

Q: So what's up next for you?

SA: I have a film called "Solstice" that I finished a couple months ago written and directed by Dan Myrick who made the "Blair Witch Project." It's a supernatural, psychological thriller. It's not like a ghost story and it's not a slasher flick but it's certainly in that vain of supernatural thriller. I'm not sure when that comes out. We just finished and I'm doing reshoots this weekend. So sometime next year. And then I'm just looking for the next thing.

Q: Thank you.

SA: Cool. Awesome. Thank you guys.

"3 Needles" opens in theaters on December 1.

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