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The National Post

Terry Fox More Ennobled But Still An Enigma in New CTV Movie of the Week
- John Mckay

TORONTO (CP) - For the record, actor Shawn Ashmore has two legs. And the 26-year-old Richmond, B.C., native is quite willing to lift his pant cuff to prove it.

But through digital special effects - the same kind that erased actor Gary Sinise's legs in Forrest Gump more than a decade ago - Ashmore was able to play Terry Fox in this Sunday's CTV Original Movie, Terry.

"Thank goodness for me this technology exists, because it's the only way that his story would get told like this," says Ashmore, who explains in an interview that he did his running scenes wearing three elastic bands on his right leg. The bands had white spots that could be read in post production by a computer that allowed the F/X people to simply erase his real leg and replace it seamlessly with a prosthesis.

For other scenes, he had a stunt double, real-life amputee Grant Darby, who did the long shots and those taken from behind and who trained with Ashmore for weeks so the actor could perfect a one-legged walk.

"I think ultimately those little details come through, even if it's just in my head," says Ashmore, who adds that he was intimidated when first offered the part - for about two seconds, before realizing what an honour it would be.

The special effects are just one way in which this movie differs from 1983's The Terry Fox Story which starred unknown amputee Eric Fryer, who won a best-actor Genie in '84 for his performance but who never made another film. At the time it was the very first made-for-pay-TV movie from HBO.

Robert Duvall co-starred as Fox's savvy publicity agent Bill Vigars in a cast that also included Chris Makepeace with cameos by R.H. Thomson, Saul Rubinek and Patrick Watson.

The film won the best picture Genie that year but was criticized at the time by the Fox family for portraying Terry as ill-tempered, shown in one scene abusing his companions in his van by demanding they clean up his personal messes.

The new TV movie does have the blessing of the Fox family and portrays Terry in a more heroic light, although it doesn't pull its punches.

"I honestly don't feel that this story has been sugar-coated," Ashmore insists. "Obviously you're telling the story of a hero... but it stays true to the essence of the run."

He says Terry's best friend and run companion Doug Alward sat down with pen and notebook to critique the film, but very quickly put down the tools and laughed and cried his way through the screening. The actor also gained the blessing of Terry's brother Darrell Fox, learning from him that Terry may have been a very focused and skilled athlete but also had a sense of humour.

"I mean they had food fights. If you watch the documentary footage you see Terry smile and laugh and joke and have fun with everybody. Of course he was a real person."

Still, Ashmore says it's difficult to comprehend, even today, what made Terry run.

"Obviously he was raised very well and was a very compassionate person to begin with," he says. "But whatever it was, how do you explain it? It's incredible."

The film opens in Newfoundland in April 1980 as the young runner symbolically dips his foot into the Atlantic at the start of his epic journey. Many sequences show him meeting supporters and other cancer survivors along the way.

But the screenplay does not spare Quebec, for example, depicting how Fox and his small entourage were not only ignored by the media across the province, but harassed by police, even threatened with arrest if he did not abandon the main highways for side roads. At one point he is nearly run over by an indifferent transport truck, all the while suffering dizzy spells, a racking cough (portent of things to come) and a bleeding leg. One newspaper even accused him of surreptitiously skipping two thirds of the Quebec run, a slam that was later retracted.

While Ashmore stayed away from that '83 film, he immersed himself in documentary footage as well as Terry's own personal journal of the run, which he says was pretty dry at first but soon included details of what inspired and affected him along the way.

"You could almost tell as he got sicker. The subtle signs of the journal entry shrinking.

"And then the last entry is, like, two sentences."

The plot proceeds inexorably to its heart-breaking climax at Thunder Bay when Fox had to bail out on his cross-country trek because the cancer that took his leg had spread to his lungs. He died in June of 1981 just before his 23rd birthday.

"It's an interesting piece of Canadian history," Ashmore says. "Terry's one of our great heroes and it's important to keep his legacy alive and continue to support cancer research."

The Canadian Press