Shawn Ashmore on 3 Needles
- Steven Chupnick
Working with Thom Fitzgerald, and a possible reunion with Bryan Singer?
Since his break-out role in X-Men 2, Shawn Ashmore has been on top of the world. His performance as
Bobby Drake/'Iceman' started a string of films that catapulted his career.
His latest role, though, takes him back to his routes as an indie actor. In 3 Needles, he plays a
B-level porn star infected with the AIDS virus and spreading it to his fellow actors. His storyline is
one of three international looks at how AIDS is spreading world wide. The film reunites him with
writer/director Thom Fitzgerald, with whom he worked with on the TV movie, Wolf Girl.
Shawn sat down with us to talk about the film, and how much it meant for him to be a part of it. And
he also talked about working again with Bryan Singer on some of his future projects. Check out what he
had to say:
What stood out to you about the script for 3 Needles?
Shawn Ashmore: Well, first and foremost, I really liked the way that Thom told stories,
specifically something like this. It's such an epic sort of a story with all these characters, but I just
could sort of see him in each of these stories; they seemed very specific from his point of view, which I
really liked, so that was great. And I obviously felt this film was something that was going to not only
be a challenge as an actor, a difficult sort of complicated character, but also, have a script and a story
with something to stay. Especially coming off something like X-Men, which I loved and I had so much fun
doing. But this just has a little more relevance in real life, so it was just exciting to work with Thom
again, to play this character that was a huge challenge for me, and to be a part of something that.
Hopefully, people will get something out of it, and hopefully come out of the film talking about it -
whether it raises awareness, whether somebody just goes on the internet for 20 minutes and does a little
research, or decides to go further and donate money - whatever it is. It was basically a pretty 'dream
project' for me; there's a lot of stuff, it was exciting.
How was it having Stockard Channing play your mother?
Shawn Ashmore: Yeah, it was amazing. The really interesting thing about the dynamic between the
characters - they're obviously mother and son, and I didn't really realize until I watched the film that
there's really not that much dialogue between the two of us. They're pretty silent scenes, and I think
that that's how families are; when you're really comfortable with somebody, if you really know somebody,
understand somebody, you don't explain why you're upset. It takes a look, or it takes a moment or a beat,
and that's sort of; that's sort of the exciting thing about working with him (Thom) is I think he
understands that. Stockard's intensity - I honestly feel like within a couple hours of being on set the
first day, there was a bond, and there was this - she had a very nurturing way about her, because it's
pretty intimate. Within, I think, the first couple days of shooting, there's scenes where people have to
hold each other and stuff like that, and that can be really weird when you don't know somebody, and it
could look false if you feel uncomfortable doing it. But she's very nurturing, and it was really amazing
working with her.
What talking to yourself in a mirror the most challenging thing for you?
Shawn Ashmore: I think, honestly, making this character of Deny likable in some way. You see
that by him talking to himself in the mirror; he's seducing himself in the mirror, that's what he has to
do in the movies. I don't think he necessarily knows how to do that; I think it's a character he puts on.
When I first read the script and looked at the character, he's doing some pretty awful things -
essentially, he's a murderer. He's infecting people with a disease that will eventually kill them, and
he's doing it knowingly. But after I read the script, I talked to Thom about it, and the thing that he
really stressed was that by the time that people walk out of this movie, he didn't want people to dislike
this character. They may question his reasons and his logic and all that stuff, but I think ultimately,
he wanted a feeling that this was Deny's escape. It's the only thing he's ever been good at - working in
this industry. When he wears the fireman outfit, even if it's for 20 minutes on a silly porn movie, he
feels like people look up to him, and he almost is an actor. He plays a character constantly, and if he
couldn't do that anymore, if he couldn't act, I don't think he really would know who he is. So there's
aspects that that were very challenging, not to mention that I was pretty self-conscious about spending a
lot of screen time in my underwear - you know what I mean? You become self-conscious very quickly when
you realize that there's a whole crew around you, and there's a camera, and you're going to be up on
screen in your underwear. It's a bit scary, so that was challenging.
Have you gotten to see the final cut of 3 Needles and how all the stories came together?
Shawn Ashmore: Yeah. I mean, this has been a process; the film I originally saw was in Toronto
two years ago, and that was a different cut of the film that was actually released in Canada. And now this
version, which I saw, I guess maybe about six months ago at a screening in New York. I think, for me
anyways, I like how the stories are told; I don't know if you saw another cut the film, but the stories
are separated, whereas in the other cut of the film, the stories are intertwined. And I think the most
drastic changes were that the stories were separate, so you get to see and sort of connect with the
characters for a longer period of time, as opposed to being taken out of it - out of each story and
re-introduced to the next; I like how that works. And also, as far as like changes to the story, the
segments - I think the Montreal segment, the North American segment, is the most changed; there's a sense
of this black comedy in that segment. Some of the things are so ridiculous, some of the situations that
the characters put themselves into - Stockard's character infecting herself, and all these ridiculous
things, next to these children that are born into the disease; they make you laugh because it's almost so
ridiculous, and it makes you sort of question our values and sort of how we exist with the education and
the money and the medical supplies that we have, and yet we're the ones that are infecting ourselves to
take advantage, gain money for ourselves, or live in comfort. So I've seen two different versions; I
definitely like this version better for several different reasons. One, because you can sort of sit with
the characters longer throughout the film, and also because the Montreal segment, the way it's cut now
really makes you realize how ridiculous some of the choices are that these characters make.
What was something that you remember shooting that really struck you when you saw it onscreen?
Shawn Ashmore: There's two scenes I remember shooting, for two separate reasons. But I think
the scene that I watch and laugh and think is ridiculous is the scene where Deny is in the pilgrim outfit,
and he gets caught, just because it was so ridiculous filming it. I was just like, 'What a jackass, his
dad's passed away and he's stealing blood; what a goof.' But that scene was really fun to play, and some
of the dialogue - I think the movie is called Poke Her Hot Ass. I think that's the movie that we were
filming, and he's giving this heartfelt speech to this little Indian girl, and then it just turns into a
porno flick, and it's just kind of crazy. So I laugh, and I remember that scene very well, actually.
What has changed for you since X-Men: The Last Stand?
Shawn Ashmore: Honestly, the big change that really sort of affected work and career and stuff
like that, was X-Men 2 because that was the first thing people were like, 'Hey, aren't you that guy?' So
nothing's really changed significantly from then, even into X3, it's still the same thing. But what it
really did, in a film like that, is just make a lot of people aware of who you are, even within the
industry. I feel like the things that have really affected my career most importantly are just
relationships with directors or actors that I've worked with in the past. Again, I worked with Thom
probably 6 years ago, that's kind of how this project came up. I may have auditioned for this and never
got it because Thom didn't know who I was, or we hadn't worked together. So it's really these really
bizarre circumstances that sort of create opportunities in this business, I think.
Have they talked to you about future X-Men films?
Shawn Ashmore: As far as I know, there's not going to be another X-Men movie; I don't think
they can get all the people back together. It's like a 20-person cast to get back together; it's next to
impossible. I know they're doing a Wolverine prequel, which is before; I don't think it's going to
involve any other characters except for Hugh playing Wolverine. They make a lot of money, so I guess
obviously I guess they could, but there's been no talk about that. I'd love to, if they wanted to.
Where would you want to see Iceman go?
Shawn Ashmore: Well, the cool thing that I liked in X3 is they allowed him take a junior
leadership role, which is cool. I felt like - I used to read comic books, and I know about the X-Men. And
the main criticism about Bobby, or Iceman, is that he was kind of a wimp in the first two movies, and
maybe so - he certainly doesn't have the confidence he does in the comic books, but that's also because
you find that character at a much mature and older age. It's interesting to see how a character got to
that point. And that's why he's still growing up, learning what he can do; so if they can do something
like that, and take his confidence level up, and have him be a bigger part of the team in a leadership
thing - but who knows.
Did you know you were going to be on board for all three when you did the first?
Shawn Ashmore: Never.
They've recasted some of the younger characters.
Shawn Ashmore: Yeah, that's what they did; originally, I was cast as Pyro. The first scene I
shot for X1, I was only around for two weeks; it was really quick. My first scene was with Anna Paquin,
and I was so nervous; I've never been so nervous. But if you watch the DVD, she calls me 'John' which is
Pyro's name. We shot that scene, and then I came back about a week later to shoot my second scene, and
they gave me pages, and they said, 'Well, we're going to change your character now.' I was devastated, I
thought, 'Oh, they're writing me off; I did a bad job, let's get rid of this guy.' And they turned me
into Bobby, which is Iceman; and whoever made that decision, I have no idea. But I had no idea; I shot
that in two weeks, and forgot about it; the movie came out, it was big, and it was all these movie stars,
and I was just the guy that 'whatever.' But I kept in contact with Bryan Singer, and he was always really
supportive of making sure I felt comfortable on set. And it was really a great experience to work with
Patrick Stewart and Anna and Hugh - before Hugh was 'Hugh' - you know what I mean, to see that transition,
and he's still the exact same guy, which is amazing. He came in and worked his ass off. But I didn't even
know I was going to be in X2 until about a month before they started shooting that. There were rumors -
not rumors, they were thinking about recasting, and Bryan really stood up for me and said, 'No, I think
this is the guy that we should have come back.' So that's really amazing.
So if Bryan came to you for Superman Returns 2, would you go for that?
Shawn Ashmore: Sure, absolutely; I got offered the part of Jimmy Olson in the first Superman
movie, but I couldn't do it because I was doing X3. Bryan and I - I think he likes working with actors
he's worked with before. Definitely, he's a filmmaker I respect from The Usual Suspects to Apt Pupil to
all his films, including the super hero, comic book stuff. So yeah, I'd work with Bryan again in a second.
Did you get to interact with any of the other cast mates in 3 Needles?
Shawn Ashmore: I did actually - Chloe, cause that's the only actor - and I still get a little
confused myself, I think in the beginning of her segment, she's actually in Montreal before she leaves.
And I'm not sure which version, or if it's in both versions; it's been a while since I've seen it. So I
think almost a year after she finished her segments, she came up to Montreal to film a couple days, and
I think that's when we were there. So I met her briefly; we didn't actually work together - filming on
the same sets, but different scenes, so I got to meet her there. And then when the film opened in Toronto
at the Festival two years ago, she was there, and I got to hang out with her. And I've seen Lucy after the
fact; but actually filming and all that stuff, Chloe's the only one, other than Stockard, I saw before the
movie was out.
This is a serious movie, but when Stockard has blood dripping down her face after sucking it out of
you, it's a little funny.
Shawn Ashmore: Yeah, and that's the great thing about that segment because there is a sense of
humor to it; it's not overt, and 'let's tell a joke,' but I think some of the things are so ridiculous and
so over-the-top that people start giggling at them. I think even some of the music - it's got this really
bizarre feel to it; it's almost like a circus act compared to the rest of - in a weird way, that's how I
look at it. It's almost like that 'bop bop bop' music - it's like 'look at all these clowns running
around.' Anyway, but definitely, there's a sense of humor to that; and even the porn stuff is ridiculous.
It's not sexy, it's not supposed to be sexy; it's supposed to be ridiculous, and bizarre the real
Did you get to drive through the leaves in the Porsche?
Shawn Ashmore: I didn't even know that happened until I saw it in the movie; I was like, 'Why
wasn't I there?' Drive a Porsche through the leaves - I would have driven it around to make sure
So you didn't even get to drive the car?
Shawn Ashmore: I didn't even know it was a Porsche until I saw the movie; it said 'sports car'
in the script. No, I missed out on that.
Can you talk about the needle scene on the couch?
Shawn Ashmore: Yeah, that was actually some of the scariest stuff, only because what they did
was tape a plastic tube down the side of my arm. And so they would shoot from this direction, and tape
the tube on the side of whosever arm; they would give you a real needle and ask you to poke it in this
rubber tube. And the needles were sharp enough that they would pierce the tube, but not so much that if
you jammed it in someone's arm, they'd go right through. So it was almost too dull to slip off the tube,
and almost stabbed people a couple times. So we did that, and I'd say there's probably more outtakes of me
cautiously putting my finger underneath the tube to support it so I could puncture the tube, so there's
a lot of that stuff that looks fake. But when I saw the movie, I said, 'Thank goodness, it looks real.'
And also the scene where Stockard licks the blood, I'm supposed to be asleep; I almost had one eye opened
in case if she jams my arm, I can move it in time - it's a little scary, but it's fun, though.
What are you working on next?
Shawn Ashmore: I have a film I'm working on called Solstice that I just finished; a guy named
Dan Myrick, who did The Blair Witch Project, wrote and directed this film. It's a psychological thriller
with a bit of a supernatural twist to it; it's certainly not a ghost story, and it's not a slasher flick.
But it does have a supernatural element to it. And I'm doing re-shoots for it this weekend, so it's not
done; I'm sure it'll be out sometime in the middle of next year. And other than that, just looking for
the next thing.
You can see Shawn, along with Chloe Sevigny, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, and Olympia Dukakis in 3 Needles. It
opens in theaters December 1st.