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Nylon

Dangerous Liaisons
Shawn Ashmore's courageous performance in 3 Needles leaves quite a mark.
- Diane Vadino

There's a leap involved in going from one of the biggest blockbuster movies of the year to a subdued, thoughtful consideration of the AIDS epidemic and its global repercussions.

"It was like night and day," says Shawn Ashmore, who's best known for his role as Bobby Drake, or Iceman, in the X-Men franchise, and who is almost unrecognizable in Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles, in which he plays a Canadian porn star struggling to cover up his HIV infection. His segment is one of three in the film; the others star Chloe Sevigny and Lucy Liu, who play out similarly traumatic dilemmas in South Africa and China, respectively. "On 3 Needles, I didn't wear a stitch of makeup, not even the basics, not even some anti-shine - you just show up to work and do it," he says. "On X-Men, it takes an hour just to go through hair and make-up, and then you get into your leather suit."

And the differences didn't stop at wardrobe: Ashmore's character Denys in 3 Needles is a 180-degree turn from Iceman and his all-American heroics, so ethically compromised that he's almost impossible to defend. A successful porn star, he conceals the fact of his own HIV infection by substituting his father's disease-free blood for his own during the industry-wide tests aimed at keeping cast members safe. "Bobby Drake definitely has some trials and tribulations of his own, as far as coming to accept who he is, his girlfriend Rouge, but at the end of the day, he's not dying from some disease," says the 27-year old Canadian. "This is a guy who has one gift to offer - he's well endowed. He comes from this shitty family, but then he goes into work and plays a fireman or a pilot, and he gets to be important on the set. He may have been naïve, he may have been a little stupid, but he wasn't entirely a bad guy."

The set-up begs the obvious, and rather painful, questions of research and preparation. "I didn't have a chance to visit a porn set," says Ashmore, in what seems like a fairly well-rehearsed response. "But I think everyone has some sort of knowledge of pornography. And the stuff from the porn set in the film wasn't so much about the sex - it was more about the ridiculousness of it all, between the sets and the technical parts of doing what they were doing - how the female star's talking about how she's in a scene where she's having sex with two guys, so she needs to be paid double, because that's actually two sex scenes."

So what sort of research did he conduct? You get the feeling Ashmore's going to be answering this question a lot over the next couple months: It's part of the knee-jerk titillation involved in taking on such a risqué role, and Ashmore seems like he's always been alert to the potential for trouble. "I knew this would be a part where I was going to be in my underwear half the time," he says, but the unspoken benefit is a chance to participate in a film that tries, quite earnestly, to make some sort of difference. It sounds like he might actually mean it when he describes himself as a single homebody who'd rather stay in and watch movies than party in Los Angeles, where he spends most of his time; he just comes across as honest, in his responses and his performances, in a way that many actors don't. "This is a good tool to spark some discussion," Ashmore says. "I think that with what's going on in the world, with the wars that are happening and everything else, the problem of the epidemic has slipped from the forefront. And if I can be part of an effort to change that, I'm glad to do it."

© Nylon / Transcript by Pam