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Aaron Ashmore Talks Regression, Ethan Hawke, And The Future Of Killjoys

Killjoys star Aaron Ashmore has always divided his time between movies and television, but he has yet to appear in a major Hollywood film—until now. Regression offered him an exciting opportunity to work with two movie industry heavyweights: actor Ethan Hawke and writer-director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others). Hawke plays Bruce Kenner, a detective investigating the sexual assault of 17-year-old Angela (Emma Watson). With the help of professor Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) and his experimental techniques for salvaging forgotten memories, Kenner identifies an unlikely suspect: fellow detective George Nesbitt (Ashmore). From there, the investigation brings Kenner into contact with all kinds of shady characters and a satanic cult, rapidly blurring the lines between nightmare and reality. We spoke to Ashmore about this unique opportunity, the mysterious talents of Ethan Hawke, and the just-completed second season of Killjoys.

Space: Regression features several major actors, including Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, and Emma Watson. Was that a big part of what drew you to the project?

Aaron Ashmore: Of course. Names like those are always really exciting, but as a working actor in Toronto, you don’t always get to pick and choose the types of things you do. You’re making your living at it, so when you do get a chance to be part of a really big film with really talented people, of course you’re like, ‘Wow, this is pretty exciting.’

Were you a fan of Alejandro Amenabar’s films before getting involved?

Yeah, absolutely. I’d seen most of his movies. I for sure saw The Others when it came out and really enjoyed that movie and even more so a movie called The Sea Inside with Javier Bardem. Very different from the other stuff I’d seen of his, but very beautiful with really interesting performances. Getting to work with somebody like that—someone who has directed some very, very talented actors—I was really excited to be a part of it.

From regression therapy to black magic, this film tackles some interesting subjects. How far down the rabbit hole did you go with your research?

I think the director really took that stuff into account, but I didn’t do tons of research. I stuck to the script. Sometimes you can get a bit out in left field when you’re trying to look at that stuff and maybe not focusing on the actual story that you’re trying to tell.

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Ethan Hawke’s character has a very antagonistic relationship with your character. Did that spill over into your dynamic on the set?

No, not at all. He was a really cool guy. Very funny, very professional, and a real treat to watch and be in scenes with because he’s incredibly talented. It was actually the year that he was nominated for Boyhood. It was really interesting to work with somebody where you’re like, ‘Wow, this guy is nominated for an Oscar this year.’ You get to play scenes with him. The characters were antagonistic, but he didn’t bring any of that sort of energy to it. I certainly wasn’t going to be a jerk to him.

Do you feel like you picked up anything from watching him work?

Yeah, you always do, no matter who you’re working with. Sometimes you pick up things that you don’t want to do when you’re watching people and sometimes you pick up things that you really respect. I watched him and I was just like, ‘Oh wow, I can tell why this guy is a movie star.’ It’s that type of thing. What is it? I don’t know. It’s not like it’s the way he specifically said things or did things. But when you just watch somebody and they’re that good, it’s on a different level. It’s not something you can put your finger on and go, ‘Okay, this is what I need to do to get to that level.’ It’s a charisma or something about the way they are that sort of comes across.

Watching the finished film, did you find that you were sympathetic to his character’s point-of-view or do you still see it through your character’s eyes?

His character’s quite tortured and obsessive, so you can’t help but feel for him in that regard. He’s incredibly driven to solve these cases. But there’s another element to the character. He’s a bit of a jerk. He’s a bit standoffish. He’s a bit antisocial I guess, but yeah, I felt sympathetic to the character for sure.

Your character undergoes a polygraph test in the film. Was that a legitimate setup? What can you tell us about the polygraph experience?

I started sweating a bunch. [laughs] I think it was a real polygraph machine, but I don’t think it was tuned up to work exactly as they do because those machines are very temperamental. I think it was an old one, so I don’t know if it was actually functioning in the way that it would if they were going to actually test you. But yeah, you can get a little nervous when something’s hooked up to you like that. You’ve seen it in movies and on TV a bunch and you think, ‘I hope somebody doesn’t ask me an awkward question that I’m forced to answer here.’ It’s nerve-wracking being hooked up to one of those things.

In one especially surreal sequence, we see you wearing makeup and a robe as part of a ritual. Is it hard to find the reality in a scene like that or are you accustomed to that sort of thing by now?

Yeah, I’ve worked so much in sci-fi and fantasy that I’m so used to buying into those things and committing to those ideas. It’s bizarre at first when you’re getting your clothes on, but once you get in there and the lighting and everybody else is committed to it, you just roll with it. So no, it’s not really that hard. Occasionally you’ll find yourself throughout the day being like, ‘This is what I call a job. What am I doing? I’m dressed up and doing all this crazy stuff.’ But in the moment when the cameras are rolling and you’re playing the scene, it’s quite easy to stay connected with what you’re doing.

Since you played Jimmy Olsen for a long time on Smallville, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about the character’s short-lived appearance in Batman v Superman?

You know what, I’ve been working like a crazy man, wrapping up the second season of Killjoys, so I haven’t seen it yet. But I was at Yonge and Dundas Square and it reminded me that I need to go see that.

Speaking of Killjoys, what can you tell us about the second season? Are there any dramatic differences from season one?

We just wrapped on Tuesday really late like four or five a.m., so I’m kind of still recovering from that, but it was a fantastic season. They’ve done a great job expanding the world—of The Quad and beyond. I think they’ve turned up the humour a little bit. I also think they’ve turned up the emotion and the dark side of things, so I think people can expect something bigger than last year. I’m really proud of it and I can’t wait to see it all come together because we shoot it, but there are so many effects and there are so many things that come together to make it what actually appears on screen. I’m very, very excited to see it.

Regression opens in select theatres today and it is also available On Demand. Don’t remember seeing the trailer? Regain and/or create some memories below.

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