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Shawn Ashmore clings to character's dark side in TV's 'The Following'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - As bad as things got for FBI agent Mike Weston in Season One of "The Following," they're about to get a lot worse.

That's according to the man who plays him, Shawn Ashmore. The Canadian-born actor stars with Kevin Bacon (Ryan Hardy) and James Purefoy (master criminal Joe Carroll) in the psychological thriller.

Weston starts out a straight-arrow lieutenant to team leader Hardy. At the beginning of the series, damaged Hardy is lured out of retirement to help recapture his most famous catch, serial killer Carroll.

When the smoke cleared on last spring's cliffhanger finale, it was hard to tell who was dead and who was still alive. All this murder and mayhem has taken a toll on survivor Weston as the series charges through a brisk, 15-episode second season (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV and Fox).

"Things basically drive Mike to the brink," says Ashmore on the Brooklyn sound stage of his series. "You can't imagine worse things happening to anybody."

Ashmore, 34, says Weston has changed significantly since the pilot episode, "where he was the fresh faced new agent," looking up to Bacon's character.

"Mike was put through the meat grinder really, emotionally, physically, psychologically, through the first season and continuing into the second," he says, "so it's fun for me to explore and go down the rabbit hole emotionally with Mike."

Things do not get any easier, Ashmore says. The character has big decisions to make, including how far to go to stop Carroll and his creepy cult followers.

"There were clear guidelines in the first season, you know, working with the FBI, being in a sort of official position and those start to deteriorate in the second season."

Complicating things is that, in Ashmore's view, "Mike is slowly becoming Ryan Hardy in a weird way," and is frustrated when his tight-lipped mentor "won't let him in."

Speaking about the Hardy-Weston relationship, Bacon says his character feels responsible for the younger agent, "kinda becoming me, and the last thing I would want anybody to become is me."

Other actors on the set — notably Purefoy, who plays the darkly brilliant serial killer — talk about how hard it is to shed their characters at the end of the day. Surprisingly, Ashmore clings to his character's dark side.

"This is going to sound weird, but my wife (Dana Renee Ashmore, a co-executive producer on "Mob City"), most of the time, is in Los Angeles and I'm here working," he says, "so I try not to get rid of it. It's a little bit easier."

It's not like he's sitting at home pulling up "videos of serial killers," he quickly adds, "but, the emotional state that Mike is in this season is very heightened, very emotional," and "some awful, awful, awful things happen to him. So, I'm okay being in that place."

Ashmore doesn't take this approach too far. "I'm not depressed when I go home," he says. "I don't have nightmares or anything like that, but, I'm okay living in 'The Following.'"

Bottom line, "it's storytelling," he says. "We're making a TV show."

Not that there aren't moments of levity during production on the series. Ashmore recalls a time when a prop gun he was holding wouldn't fire during a scene and he had to pretend to go, "blam, blam!" to fake a take. Everybody cracked up.

"I grew up in Canada, I don't shoot guns, I don't own guns, I don't know anything about guns," he says.

Ashmore was born in Richmond, B.C. and grew up-along with twin brother and fellow actor Aaron ("Smallville") — in Brampton, Ont. Among Shawn's previous credits was playing iconic Canadian Terry Fox in the 2005 TV-movie "Terry."

Playing Mike Weston on "The Following" is obviously a whole different trip.

"There's something about putting on Mike's jacket and his badge and his gun that changes who you are," he says. "There is a sense of power, and maybe that's what people get out of it.

"I'm not a gun guy, I don't want to be a gun guy," he adds, "but playing Mike and having a gun at your hip, it changes the way you walk. They're heavy. It's a weird thing."

He has noticed that when "you pull out a gun, people do what you say. So there is a sense of power to that. Right or wrong, I don't know. But there is."

There's a sense of power with another character Ashmore plays: Iceman in the "X-Men" film series. The latest film, "X-Men: Days of Future Past," premieres this May. The 3-D comic book adventure was shot last summer in Montreal and co-stars Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Halle Berry as Storm and Ashmore's fellow Canadians Anna Paquin (Rogue) and Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde). Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen are among the bad guys.

"I can't say anything about 'X-Men,'" says Ashmore, "but it's going to be amazing. I have no doubt. I haven't seen the film, but I've seen little bits and pieces. I'm excited for it."


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in New York, Brioux was a guest of CTV and Warner Bros. International Television.

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