As Jimmy Olsen on the hit CW series Smallville, Aaron Ashmore faced more than one life-and-death situation while helping Clark Kent keep the world safe. The actor gets caught up in more onscreen peril during two of his newest feature film roles, which includes the ecological thriller The Thaw (now available on DVD). His twin brother and fellow actor Shawn had read the script first, but at the time he had just finished a movie with a similar theme, so he decided to pass. Shawn gave his brother the script to read and, although he loved the story and character, Aaron's work at the time on Smallville did not allow him time to audition. Lucky for him, the part was still available a few months later and he managed to book the job.
"My character of Atom Galen is young, somewhat ambitious and involved in the 'green movement,'" explains Ashmore. "He's going to school to become an ecologist/biologist, and he proves himself worthy of accompanying a small group of fellow students on an expedition with a famous biologist, Dr. David Kruipen [Val Kilmer]. An interesting element of my character is that his father is involved in the oil industry and has very little regard for the environment or what his business is doing to it. As he's grown up, Atom has moved away from what his father stands for and gone totally in the other direction, or the "green way." So it created a neat dynamic for me to play insofar as what he is willing to do to save the Earth and why he's doing it."
In The Thaw, Atom and his fellow students are eager to join Dr. Kruipen on an expedition to an Arctic research station to examine a Woolly Mammoth that has been thawed out as a result of the melting polar ice caps. They have no idea, though, that the animal contains a deadly prehistoric parasite and, after becoming infected, the group must find a way to destroy the pathogen before it can reach the outside world. Having been one of the final actors to be cast in the film, Ashmore arrived on-location in a small town in Northern British Columbia over a weekend and the cameras began rolling the following Tuesday.
"It was kind of a rush process, but everyone was extremely welcoming," recalls the actor. "The thing that immediately blew me away was this beautiful location that they had found to shoot this movie. It's supposed to be set in the Arctic, which I've never been to, but you have these mental images of it being very sparse, flat and wide-open. I was thinking, 'How are we going to find that type of look in the middle of British Columbia,' where there's mainly forest and mountains. However, they [the producers] discovered an amazing plateau on this Indian reservation which was totally flat, wide-open grasslands, and that's where they built the shell of an [Arctic] research station.
"A ton of stuff went on during our first couple of days there, including helicopter scenes, explosions and green screen work. It was really exciting and we all jumped right in. That fact that we were able to orchestrate all this stuff in the middle of nowhere was pretty cool. I mean, it was really remote. It was an hour-and-fifteen-minute drive up to this location every day, not to mention the fact that we were six hours north of Vancouver. You have to have a great deal of respect for the abilities of all the people involved who are able to put something like this together and make it work."
As our heroes struggle to make sense of the dilemma unfolding around them, Atom develops feelings for one of his fellow expedition members. "My character has an instant connection with Dr. Kruipen's daughter Evelyn, who is played by Martha MacIsaac," says Ashmore. "Atom and Evelyn are sort of on the same page and come together in an effort to work through the situation they're in, while some of the other characters go off in different directions. I thoroughly enjoyed that because Martha and I had a number of scenes together and there was definitely a romantic attraction between our two characters. At least that's how it started out, but then it turns into a real respect as well. Martha is a sweetheart, and I actually met her years ago. I was 19 and she was probably 13 when I did an episode of a TV show that she was in called Emily of the New Moon. So I've known Martha for quite a while and it was great to meet up with her again."
The Thaw was the actor's first time being directed by Mark A. Lewis (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Michael), and it was nothing but a positive experience for him. "Mark is probably one of the nicest directors I've ever had the pleasure of working with," notes Ashmore. "He gives you opportunity for freedom when it comes to acting. If a scene isn't working or if Mark is looking for something else, he'll say to you, 'What do you think? What do you want to bring to this? What do you feel this [scene] needs?' That's not always the case with a director, especially if they've written the script, as Mark did. They might not be able to see past something if it isn't working or needs to be changed. Happily, Mark was very open to change and willing to listen to other peoples' ideas and suggestions. As a result, you become more involved and more responsible for the decisions that your character is making."
When it comes to his favorite or most memorable scene in The Thaw, Ashmore is understandably reticent to reveal any specifics. "There is one, but I don't want to talk about it because it's a bit of a spoiler," he says. "Overall, what I like most about the story is that there's a real intensity to it and these standoffs between our characters because of their predicament. There might be a death Ð it may be Atom - but, again, I don't want to spoil things," teases the actor.
Only days prior to starting work on The Thaw, Ashmore wrapped filming on yet another heart-thumping, fight-for-your-life horror flick, the upcoming Deep Cove (a.k.a. Fear Island). In it he plays Mark, one of five students whose weekend getaway on a secluded island is interrupted by someone with murder on their mind.
"Mark is a nice guy, maybe a little rough around the edges, and basically his story is that he's been dating this girl named Jenna [Haylie Duff], but they've broken up," says the actor. "She's going to New York to be a dancer and is kind of leaving Mark behind because he's not doing much with his life. He's not a bum or a loser, but he's not really sure what he wants. At the last minute, Mark decides to show up at a party on this island to try to win her back. However, once he gets there, things start to go wrong and he goes from trying to win Jenna back to trying to protect her. In the process, Mark's true feelings for her come out. There are times where he could run off and save himself, but he doesn't. He sticks with Jenna and his main goal is to save the life of this girl who he's in love with.
"This character is very different from Jimmy Olsen in Smallville. Mark is scruffier, has facial hair and wears a leather jacket. He's not a bad ass, but he's definitely a hell of a lot cooler than Jimmy, which is fine because I think I fall somewhere in the middle of Jimmy and Mark. So it was just a bit of a stretch the other way, but it was a big adjustment because I only had, I think, five or six days off from having finished shooting Smallville for the season to starting work on Deep Cove. It was just what I needed, though. I loved playing Jimmy, but it's nice to try something new every now and then.
"And it's funny, too, because I end up taking on some of the characteristics of whatever character I happen to be playing at the time. I wouldn't say I'm a method actor by any means, but it's easier to stay in the mindset of that role, and it sometimes bleeds into real life a little bit. So some of my friends were like, 'Wow, now that you're playing this role [of Mark], your energy has changed,' and I'd tell them, 'Yeah, it's just this character.' So it was fun to step out of Jimmy and do something else, but I'm always happy to return to Smallville."
While some actors have made entire careers out of playing young people in peril, The Thaw and Deep Cove were Ashmore's first ventures into horror movie territory. What does he enjoy most about working in the genre? "Again, there's an intensity to these films, which is challenging because there's a build-up to the story, and once that happens it's important to keep that energy level up," says the actor. "There's no time for the characters to really think, you know? They're acting off instinct, and that's interesting to play because you can over-analyze things. You can't slow things down in a scene, you have to keep up the pace, and I'd never really had the chance to tell a story where your character is running through a forest for his life. As an actor, it's scary and fun to put yourself in situations like that."