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We’ve all had it happen. You’re riding a lift and it comes to a stop, leaving you dangling 50 feet above the ground. Almost always the chair starts moving again in a few minutes. But what if it didn’t? That’s the premise of Frozen, a new film by writer/director Adam Green, which hits theaters February 5. Frozen stars Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers, and Shawn Ashmore, who’s best known for playing Iceman in the X-Men movies, as the three skiers stranded at a resort. We spoke with Ashmore about the new movie, growing up skiing, and how he kept warm filming at 9,000 feet.
Can you give us a brief run-through of the plot?
Essentially, it’s a skier or snowboarder’s worst nightmare: three people stranded, after talking their way onto the last chair, for the weekend in a blizzard. It’s about these three people that are put in this really intense situation and it’s how they try to survive. We get stuck about 50 feet in the air. The majority of the film takes place with these three actors on the chair, which was a real challenge for an actor and a storyteller. When I first heard about it, I wasn’t sure if an audience would be willing to sit through a two-hour film with just three characters. The writing and the setting and the scenario are so engaging. The way they shot it is like you’re sitting up there with them. If you spend enough time on a lift, at one point you’ve wondered “What the fuck are we gonna do if we’re stuck up here?” We’d tried to make it as real as possible. Adam Green, the director and writer, sat down with ski patrol. He said, “I don’t want anybody watching this movie to think, why didn’t they just tie their pants and jackets together or think to jump down? It’s pretty thoroughly thought out.
Where did you guys film Frozen?
We filmed in Utah at a resort called Snowbasin in Ogden, Utah. Unfortunately, because we were filming, we couldn’t really ride or ski because of insurance. I started skiing when I was 10 and transitioned over to snowboarding and have been snowboarding ever since. My character is a skier. I hadn’t been on skis for six or seven years. The only time they’d let us ride the mountain were for our lessons. The mountain’s beautiful, but we didn’t get to ski it because they didn’t want us falling and breaking our legs.
You grew up skiing, right?
I was born in British Columbia and spent 10 years in Edmonton and 10 years in Toronto. But a lot of my family’s still in BC, so I spend a lot of time there. I grew up skiing at Whistler and Mt Baker, mostly Whistler Blackcomb. But the first time I skied first tracks through untouched powder was at Mt Baker.
Well, now that you have the big Hollywood bucks you need to book a heli trip.
I like to think I’m good but I’m not great. The idea of going up in a helicopter scares the crap out of me. But I definitely want to.
I imagine you spent lots of time sitting on that lift in the cold when you were filming.
I can honestly say this is one of the hardest movies I’ve ever made. I enjoyed the process. They wanted to use a pretty old lift, so the one were on couldn’t go backwards. Once the lift gets stuck we need to be in that position for the rest of the movie. Because the lift couldn’t go backwards, it took us 45 minutes every time we had to reposition the lift. We were sitting on a lift at 9,000 feet at Snowbasin for 12 hours a day for a month. It was freezing cold. And the pressure on your legs is pretty daunting with skis or a snowboard dangling. When we got off the lifts, there were people who had to help us stand up because our legs were so sore and numb. It was pretty intense.
How’d you keep warm?
We were fully done up. We had boot warmers and heat packets and all that. The costume department did everything they could to keep us warm, but we were freezing cold. We weren’t going to get frostbite, but we were definitely miserable. In a movie like this, you have to believe that these people are freezing to death, because they make some pretty drastic decisions that you would only make if you were in a life or death situation. When the audience watches the film, nobody will think this was shot on a soundstage against a green screen. We look cold. And you can’t fake that.