Like Jena Malone, 28-year-old Shawn Ashmore is also making his first true foray into horror films with DreamWorks’ The Ruins based on Scott Smith’s novel, after years being better known as Bobby Drake (aka Iceman) from the “X-Men” movies. ShockTillYouDrop.com talked to him at the end of a series of interviews with the young cast of the film.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: I just talked to Jena and she’s a tough act to follow. My head’s still spinning a little bit.
Shawn Ashmore: (laughs) The challenge is on, I love it! Hopefully I won’t give you that reaction.
Shock: I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, but I understand you play Eric, who’s the more laid-back and freewheeling guy in the group?
Ashmore: Yeah, definitely. At the beginning, it’s these four kids 20-somethings on vacation, and they’re at a party hanging out, but Eric is probably the most free-spirited laid-back of the group. He’s studying to be an English teacher, so he’s got this laid-back sensibility which was kind of fun and something different for me as well, which was very cool. Most people still know me as Bobby Drake/Iceman, and he’s pretty clean-cut, so this was kind of the opposite of that, which was a real treat for me to get to play around with, so that was great.
Shock: What about doing a horror movie or getting into genre-type stuff? It’s not the typical thing you’ve done so why jump into it at this point?
Ashmore: Honestly, it was really about the story itself. I knew Scott Smith through “A Simple Plan” which I thought was a great film. I loved the tension, I love the characters, and knowing that DreamWorks was behind this project, and I saw Carter Smith’s short film “Bugcrush” and just after watching that and reading the script and being able to envision what Carter would do with this, what the movie would be like through his lens and his sensibilities, I just thought this could be something really amazing. I don’t know if you’ve seen “Bugcrush”–it’s really worth checking outâbut it’s really creepy and it doesn’t fit into a genre box really. A lot of horrific stuff happens but it’s not necessarily a horror movie. It has this really interesting sexuality to it, and I could see that Carter would probably bring that to this film, and that really interested me as well. It was just a matter of all of those things coming together: the pedigree of Scott Smith and DreamWorks, and then this really exciting new director Carter, all of that sort of made it exciting.
Shock: I understand that you all read the book and that it’s very different even though they were both written by Scott Smith.
Ashmore: Yeah, yeah, I read the book after I got the part, so it was an amazing resource. It’s like someone’s done all this character research for you and put a character together for you, and there’s a bit of trepidation coming in that you want to do justice to the character, but Scott adapted the screenplay and changed a lot of the characters’ fates up, which I thought was really interesting, because I think the people who have read the book will still be able to go along and it still keeps the same tone and the same energy and ultimately the same fate, but you sort of mix it up for people who have already read it. It’s not like if you’ve read the book, it’s going to be ruined because you know exactly what happens, which I thought was really interesting. It was a great resource to have an author who has already put all this work into characters then you can just sort of swoop in there and pick up a lot of those traits, so it was really great and really helpful as an actor.
Shock: In terms of the trailers and clips I’ve seen, Laura’s character really gets put through a lot. I don’t think we really see your character being put through all the grueling things that she and Jena had to do. Was that not the case?
Ashmore: No, the girls certainly go through some of the hardest sort of situations, and it’s really driven by circumstance. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a dig in the middle of this ruins that we can only get down to because the guys are strong enough to use a winch to get them down there, so the girls are put through the hardest by having to go down into the dig and find themselves fighting for survival down. We all go through certainly a psychological battering, but the girls certainly get a little more of the physical in the film, and we’re sort of left to pick up the pieces after the fact. I think the guys playâ¦ and in my case anyways, Eric, his anchor and his stone is taking care of his girlfriend Stacey. I think my idea was that if he’s concentrating on her than he couldn’t really fully focus on what the problem was and really understand the reality of it, which is what we do sometimes when we’re put in really difficult situations. You want to ignore it, you want to put your focus or attention elsewhere, so the problem doesn’t seem as big, so that was a big part of Eric. The character for me was really focusing on and making sure his girlfriend is okay, that was his main focus, he was trying to protect. He’s always just trying to make sure she’s okay, so he ignores the bigger problem, that they’re all going to potentially die up there.
Shock: I don’t think the trailer really gives off the psychological aspects of the horror and how this situation is affecting the characters.
Ashmore: You know, it’s really hard to translate that into a minute long trailer, and again, this is based on a book. These characters are really well developed, so yeah, you can’t really translate that in a trailer. You see some of the more action-oriented and some of the more horrific physical aspects of the film in the trailers but how downtrodden these characters are and just fighting off starvation essentially and deprivation of water and the idea of being lost and that dread and despair, that plays a huge part. You really don’t get that aspect watching the trailer. There’s no way to really translate that, you know?
Shock: How was the experience of the four of you being out there in the wilds of Australia?
Ashmore: Personally, I loved it. I love being on location. I love the idea of being out on a real set, practical FX, and just being there in the elements, sunshine, extreme cold, all that stuff, is really an amazing gift as an actor, because you get to be out there. It was almost like theater in a sense. It was five actors basically: Jena, Laura, Jonathan, Joe and I, really in one location, on one top the whole time and that was a really amazing experience, because you really have to plan what you’re going to do. We had time to rehearse, but we were on that location the whole time, so you have to make it interesting. You have to plot out where these events are going to happen, and you didn’t want to stay in one place for too long. It was really great. It was like staging a play almost, up there on the ruins, so that was really great.
Shock: You talked about doing stuff practically, so is Carter really into that or is there some CG in terms of the actual vines or did he try to create them on set?
Ashmore: No, as much as possible was practical special effects, but there certainly was some CG, and I really think it’s a tribute because when I saw the film, they seamlessly blend, which is very tough to do, and for us, it was really nice to have those elements right there. I mean, if you can see what the vine actually looks like, how it moves, a lot of the movement was done CG, but those vines were actually there, so we could see them and have an understanding of how big and thick they are, and if you have to pretend to grab one, what’s it going to feel like when you actually get your hand around it, stuff like that? Even some of the limbs on these amputation scenes and a self-mutilation scene and cutting, to be able to see that stuff in real life and actually do the cutting, hold a sharp knife, all that stuff, just makes it that much more real in my mind.
Shock: I’m not the most squeamish person but I honestly had trouble watching some of the clips online.
Ashmore: Yeah, nor am I. I’m not a squeamish person myself, but really seeing this stuff onscreen was amazing, and just to do it was pretty amazing too. I will say that I get a real kick, I get a charge out of that stuff, especially since we did it and I got a chance to see it. This is a situation that I’d never be in. I could never be a surgeon. I’m squeamish enough that I don’t prefer to be around that much blood, but just to see it on screen and the reaction of people around me when I was watching it was incredible. Like some people can’t watch it, some people can’t take their eyes off it, but everyone is really affected differently by seeing this sort of extreme surgery, I guess, and the great thing about it is it happens in broad daylight. It’s not covered by shadows. It had to be so real and so good that you could shoot it in broad daylight and it looks real, and it’s incredible.
Shock: This is very different from the other movies with young 20-somethings going to some place and then being terrorized and picked off one by one, which is usually the case with these movies.
Ashmore: No, I think there’s always going to be those parallels drawn because it seems like a genre film, but it’s not about that, it’s not about people being killed off and stalked, and “Oh, this person is going to go this way” and it’s really formulaic. This is a real journey and for audiences, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It moves so well, and even when I watch something, I watch through extreme goggles because I’ve been a part of it and I know it, and I’m really analyzing it. “Will people buy this?” and me watching it, I went along for the journey, so I know that other people will, but no, it doesn’t really pertain to or go along with these classic horror stereotypes or cliches. I really think it branches out on its own, which I think is great. That’s another reason why it’s exciting. It’s not really what people are going to expect I think which is always amazing as an audience, to be surprised and shocked.
Shock: That was a great pun, by the wayâ¦ “branches out on its own.” Nice one.
Ashmore: Yeah, thanks. I’ve been talking all day about this stuff, been talking about vines, so this stuff invades your consciousness.
Shock: I know you finished this last summer, so what have you been doing since then?
Ashmore: No, I’ve just beenâ¦ as soon as we finishedâ¦ “The Ruins” was a real marathon. When I finished, I was exhausted, so I took about a month off after that and then the strike hit, and then since the strike’s been done, I’ve basically just been taking meetings, and reading a lot of scripts and just trying to find the next thing. I don’t really have a project lined up. I’m just looking for the next thing that peaks my interest, and I’m picky in that sense. I want to do something different, I want to do something that I haven’t done and something that challenges me, that really pushes me. That’s sort of my goal to find the thing that I haven’t done yet, because I get really bored doing the same thing over and over again, so yeah, I’m just looking.
Shock: Jena said the same thing, that it was such a grueling shoot that she had to take time off afterwards.
Ashmore: Yeah, I mean, it’s not like something you come off celebrating, “Oh, I just came off a movie and I feel great! I’m going to take a week off.” I was beat, I was spent. Being away from home and so removed in Australia, and just away from your normal life for three and a half months, that was grueling, too. It was great for the work, but you really have to come back and acclimatize yourself to your real life again. You really are so removed that it’s exhausting, and yeah, it definitely was tough. And I think for Jena, too, I talked to her a lot about it. We all went on this deprivation diet and that was really important but when you set your life up to live like that for three months, it takes a while to come back from that. It sounds easy, like “Oh, we can eat junk food again” but you’re just kind of programmed when you put yourself through this, and not in an unhealthy way. We were eating so healthy and regimented, and not because we needed to be skinny. It’s basically because these people haven’t eaten that in four days, so how does it feel? Do you feel a little cranky and you want some sugar or you want some fat? All that stuff. Carter really put us through the process and I think it pays off. That’s exciting to do that kind of stuff for me.
Shock: But also dealing with that kind of tension on set all the time.
Ashmore: It’s a focus. You have to pull yourself in, and if this movie had been in Los Angeles, and we all went home and didn’t hang out after hours and didn’t hang out on the weekend, I think it would be a much different film. There’s something to be said about that focus, that misery and that discipline that you have to keep to really stay in this position, and that state of mind. It makes your job easier. If you have to find that and work to get it every day, then it’s a lot more difficult, but if you’re living there and staying there a little bit, it’s a lot easier to slip back into it when you need to. I guess that’s the job, that and being able to get there as easily as possible.
Shock: You mentioned Bobby Drake earlier, so do you think we’ll ever see you play him again, especially with the way he was developed so much in the last “X-men” movie?
Ashmore: Yeah, it was great. I was waiting to do some of that stuff since the first movie. It was five years, six years in the making to really shoot ice and be in a battle and all that stuff, but honestly, I don’t know. I would love to do another film, but I think they’re doing these spin-offs and origin stories, so I can’t see in the near future there being an “X-Men 4” but I have no idea to tell you the truth, it’s really hard to say. I’m holding my breath, waiting for it to happen, but I’m not sure if it will or not.
Shock: Hopefully, they won’t wait too long if they do get back into it, because as I said, they really turned Iceman into someone we’d want to see more of and some of the other new characters.
Ashmore: Yeah, and again, it’s a blast. I love the fact that there is such a huge audience for “The X-Men”, characters I love and characters I’ve lived with so long that it’s really exciting when people are like, “Aw, man, I want to see another one.” That’s great, and that gives me a boost to hear that stuff, so that’s really cool.