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Cool As Ice
Chill out while Shawn Ashmore defrosts as that arctic adolescent, Iceman
- Ian Spelling

It's cool to be Iceman. Just ask Shawn Ashmore. "It's pretty amazing," says the actor, who briefly appeared as Bobby Drake/Iceman in X-Men and assumed a much more prominent role in X2: X-Men United. "It's fun to play a superhero, to have these powers. It's even better, in my opinion, to play a real character, and to have other real characters to play off of in this fantasy world.

"I was very pleased with X2. Seeing it for the first time was nerve-wracking, because we spent so much time working on it, and there were so many elements that could have become complicated or potentially gone wrong. I knew the first film had turned out well, and that the same team was working on the second one, but you have no idea until you see the final product. So I had some anxiety about it. When I saw the film, I was pleased to sit down with a full audience and see the response. It seemed like everyone was really into it. There was some cheering and they clapped at the end. That's what you want to see and hear.

"The movie you make is different from the movie you see," Ashmore explains. "We put a lot of time into the sequence at the house with the police cars. That was a couple of weeks, and it's only a few minutes on screen. you shoot scenes, and the effects are added later. And there's also the editing. Things get snipped or cut out entirely, things you thought would be in there. So there definitely were changes. The special effects guys walked us through what things might look like later on, so we understood what we were reacting to. but you never really know how the visual effects will turn out until you see the finished product, and I think the effects in X2 are very, very good."

Cool Kid

Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, and later moving to Toronto, the 23-year-old Ashmore started his career as a child actor, appearing in community theater productions and TV commercials, some of which he did with his twin brother, Aaron. By age 10 he was acting professionally, and doing guest spots on a variety of television programs, including The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Real Kids, Real Adventures and such telemovies as Guitarman and Promise the Moon. He also turned up in the films Married to It and All I Wanna Do. Then, in 1999, he landed the role of Iceman in X-Men.

"They were casting for a small part, for one of the students at the school," Ashmore recalls. "I got a call from my agent saying, 'They're making the X-Men film in Toronto. There's an opportunity if you want to go in and read for it.' There was barely [anything] to read. They didn't let me see pages or full scenes; they just gave me a few lines between this character and Rogue [Anna Paquin]. I went in a couple of times before I read for [director] Bryan Singer and [producer] Lauren Shuler-Donner, and I finally got the role. It was a long process, but an exciting time and a cool part to land."

X-Men surprised moviegoers, critics and Hollywood insiders, alike with its almost mutant staying power. The film opened huge and enjoyed a lengthy theatrical run in the United States, and it repeated that pattern overseas. Ashmore, meanwhile went back to work, appearing in episodic television (The Famous Jett Jackson, Smallville) and telemovies (Blood Moon, Cadet Kelly). He heard the buzz about X2, but had no idea whether or not his phone would ever ring.

"There was no X2 deal, not at all, " he reveals. "I didn't know when I did X-Men that it could lead to more. After X-Men was released, people started recognizing me and saying, 'That was a really cool scene' or 'That was really great, how you and Rogue interacted.' I started to feel that there was a possibility that I might get into X2. But there were no talks about it, and I really wasn't expecting anything. I'm just glad it worked out the way it did, because it has been an amazing experience."

Iceman spends much of this time in X-Men and X2 honing his powers as a student as Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. But that's not the way matters play out in the comics, where Iceman was already both a pupil and a full-fledged X-Man with the very first comic in 1963. "They went with the backstory instead of just putting me in the costume right away," Ashmore says without complaint. "I wasn't really surprised by that because there's so much history to the X-Men world, and they have to stagger the number of characters they put in there. Bryan and the writers want to have as many characters as possible, without having everyone at the same age and place in their life. That would be sort of one-note. It's more interesting to see these characters at different stages. Some of them are little kids. Some of them are students. Some of them are heroes. And some of them are turning to the dark side.

"I like that Iceman is a student," Ashmore adds. "You get to take the journey with him. He's still discovering and learning about his powers and becoming the character he [is in the comics]. It's important, I think , to see some of a character's origin. If the audience knows his background and history and the things that happened to him, what shaped him, that helps them become attached to the person and care more about him later on."

Case in point: the X2 romance between Iceman and Rogue. The first film dropped hints that feelings were blossoming between the two, and the sequel finds the couple trying to deal with the fact that Rogue absorbs the powers and sucks the lifeforce from anyone she touches. Those scenes are among the film's most amusing, sweet and innocent moments. "It was awesome," Ashmore says of working with Paquin. "I was so nervous on the first movie because she's a very cute, young girl, very talented and has already won an Oscar. Now that's the last thing in my head. People bring it up and I think, 'Oh yeah, she won an Oscar.' I know that, but it's not the first thing I think of anymore.

"My first day on the X-Men set was pretty scary. I was working with Anna and Bryan, who directed The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite films. It was overwhelming working with Bryan and Anna on X-Men, and I was really excited about the project. Anna just gives so much, and flexibility is a really important part of her acting style. She lets it come and she'll throw something different at you. It's easy to play off her. It's a complete pleasure. I would love to do it again. I would love to do it in X3, and I would like to work together in another kind of movie. I would work with Anna again in a second.

Ice Guy

As for Ashmore's TV forays into the science fiction universe, he recalls The Ray Bradbury Theatre ("Colonel Stonesteel and the Desperate Empties"): "That was one of the toughest things I've ever had to do. That was sort of my first leading part in anything. I was young and I had to travel and I was nervous, but it was great. I'm a Bradbury fan, and I knew that story, so it was a really cool experience. To watch it now, though, is so painful. It's like, 'Ugh, what was I thinking?'

"Earth: Final Conflict was a very strange experience for me," he continues. "I auditioned to play the lead guest role in the episode ["Sanctuary"], but I didn't get the part. Then they said that there was this other character who's in an insane asylum, just this wacky kid. I said, 'OK.' It wasn't a very large part, but it was interesting because I had to play a nutcase. I only worked a couple of days. It was a quick in-and-out thing, but it was a blast because I got to be completely off the wall."

For his visit to The Outer Limits ("Lion's Den"), Ashmore played a wrestler. "I've never seen the show," he says, "but I remember that it was difficult because I had never wrestled before. They brought me in a couple of days earlier and had a guy teach me the basic moves. It was a lot of fun."

Most recently, on Smallville ("Leech"), Ashmore starred as Eric, a classmate who assumed Clark's superpowers, only to abuse them. "That was amazing. That show was such a blast to work on," he reports. "I had never been a guest star on a show where I felt so welcome. Everyone was completely into the episode and wanted everything -- including the guest star performances -- to be as good as possible. That was a really, really good experience."

Next up for Ashmore is... nothing. He hasn't complete anything since wrapping X2, preferring instead to read scripts and chill. "I'm trying to make the next decisions," offers Ashmore, who splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles. "I want to do a smaller independent film, so I'm looking for something that really rings true to me. I never regret any choices that I've made. But I really want to take my time."

"So whether the next film I do is a larger-budget studio movie or an independent, I just want to be a character who challenges me and makes me happy. I don't know what the formula is for success. And there are outside forces. There are people handing me scripts and saying, 'This is what you need to be doing next.' And sometimes I read them and I'm like, 'That's not for me. It doesn't feel right.' So there's never too much pressure to commit to a project that I'm not interested in, but there's definitely that aspect of trying to choose a career path that will take me in the right direction."

And if at some point the young actor's phone rings and it's his agent informing him that X3 is ready to roll, don't expect Iceman to get cold feet. "I am signed on for X3," Shawn Ashmore notes. "Many people have been asking, 'What's going on with a third one?' The decision won't be made until everyone sees X2 and the studio decides whether or not they want to invest in another one. But it's smart of the studio to have some of the cast signed for X3, because it'll save time if they do decide to go ahead and make it. If there is an X3, I will be there for it."

Starlog / Transcript by Pam