Me and the Iceman: Ashmore, X-Men Alum, Braves the Horrors of Frozen

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There’s an ingenious little horror film set to hit theaters in select city tomorrow. It’s called Frozen, and the premise couldn’t be simpler: Three skiers are stranded on a chairlift in the freezing cold. And the ski resort is not set to open again for several days. (Check back for our review Friday)

It debuted at Sundance a couple weeks ago, and we were lucky enough to get to talk to director Adam Green about just how he hatched this idea, of three stranded chaps suspended in midair at a couple thousand feet.

Well, one of these three terrified skiers is played by none other than Shawn Ashmore – yep, the guy who plays Iceman in the X-Men movies. From big budget to low-budget, from high-tech superhero to low-tech stranded skier, it’s a fascinating turn for an actor – to go from being the guy who can save to world to the guy who is convinced he’s going to die while hovering above the slopes.

Here’s our interview with Iceman:

I was speaking to Adam Green, about the crazy conditions you had to brave during the making of this film. Was it really as bad as he says?

We shot the film for five or six weeks in Utah, and yeah, obviously on the side of the mountain you’re dealing with some serious elements. The most difficult part was that we were working on an older style chair lift at this ski resort, so we couldn’t go backwards. We’d film the whole thing near the bottom of the mountain, but then if we wanted to get down you’d have to ride all the way to the top and then all the way back down. It was tough, since you didn’t really have the time to spend 45 minutes or an hour getting down, but I think it definitely helped the process in terms of the performances. We were up there, really freezing and really hungry. So we were a little more believable as desperate skiers.

Why after X-Men did you want to go work on something so fundamentally different? This is about as far removed from a big-budget Hollywood film as possible.

The X-Men ride has helped my career in ways that I can’t even really explain, Basically, it was a total fluke. I had been living in Toronto and acting for years on smaller productions and then my agent called and told me about what Bryan Singer was working on, and of course I had read the comic books and I knew who Bryan was from The Usual Suspects and now it’s what I’m most recognized for. But I’ve done seven or eight films between those movies that are all smaller films that people haven’t seen. People recognize me as Iceman but in my own head I’ve been working a long time to stretch as an actor on plenty of other things. And everything I choose, I’m trying to do something that I haven’t done before.

Frozen strikes me as not just a different sort of genre for you, but something far more challenging. This is a movie that puts it all on you guys as actors – I think audiences are going to be blown away at just how psychological and in-your-face this whole thing is. Did it strike you the first time you read the script, as being something so unusual?

I knew this would definitely be a challenge. I picked up the script without too many expectations and then I read the thing cover to cover, and I immediately started imagining what it would be like, how I could pull off a performance like this. I mean, there’s nothing to rely on. There’s no other set piece. There’s three people in a chair for an hour and a half. There’s almost a sense of theater to this whole thing, and it’s a huge gift, as an actor, to get to develop a character over this much screen time. I think my character goes through a profound change over the course of the story. This is nothing close to simple.

How did you and the other actors work together, in workshopping and perfecting the tone of the film? Obviously you all had to get quite comfortable with one another.

Kevin Zegers, who plays Dan, has been a friend of mine for 10 years. So we already had a great chemistry going, and that helped a great deal. As actors, I think we all like having the chance to showcase what we can do, in terms of emotions and letting it all hang out. Still, it’s very challenging. 99 percent of the time, I think we all hide this dark little spot in us, that thinks of situations like this. But with a part like this, you really unleash it as an actor, and dig into all of those fears and terrors that you normally try to hide. You go headfirst into those dark corners of your mind.

So when I was watching this movie, and getting genuinely antsy in my seat, is this what you think I was responding to – the fact that I had to look into that dark place and size myself up?

Yeah, when you talk about horror films, I think the scariest things out there are those primal fears. If you can put yourself in the shoes of the people who are being put into these crazy situations, or are confronting these supernatural or survival situations, that’s when you’re genuinely scared. Just look at something like Paranormal Activity, it’s all about what’s in your mind.

It’s not about torture porn and waiting for someone to die, but about wondering if they’ll surivive and hoping they don’t die, and relying on storytelling to actually make you care about someone. Some big spectacle movies do that well, but sometimes things look good where you don’t really care about anything that’s going on. In Frozen, it’s more about the characters than the situation, and that’s why it’s terrifying: They’re probably not all going to make it.