Ashmore offers levity to grim hospital drama

Bill Harris, Toronto Sun
January 8, 2010

S hawn Ashmore was asked what would happen if Iceman walked into Mercy Hospital.

Ashmore naturally would have the best take on that. Not only has he played Iceman in the X-Men movies, but the fictional Toronto Mercy Hospital is the setting for his new TV series Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, which debuts Sunday, Jan. 10 on HBO Canada.

“I think Iceman would receive good care,” Ashmore said. “Mercy seems like a good hospital to me. I’d go there and have myself taken care of.”

Then again, Ashmore’s character in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures surely would make some smart-ass comment about Iceman and whatever was ailing him.

“Absolutely, Fitz would have something to say, good or bad,” Ashmore agreed.

“I think it would depend on the day, as is Fitz’s way. It’s one of the things I like about him, because you never know where he’s going to be.”

Certainly, if there’s any levity at all in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures - which is a Canadian original series based on a Giller Prize-winning book by Vincent Lam - it comes from Fitz.

“Yeah, the way I can explain Fitz within the context of the show, and the reason his sense of humour doesn’t feel out of place, is that humour is sort of a deflection for him, as it is with most people,” said the 30-year-old Ashmore, who was born in British Columbia and raised in Ontario.

“When he doesn’t know what to do or he’s uncomfortable, he cracks a joke, to an extreme degree. It’s frustrating for the people who work with him. But the reason he deals with things like that is he’s very troubled, I guess.”

In certain structural ways - personal turmoil in a hospital setting - Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is kind of the Canadian Grey’s Anatomy with swearing. But for better or worse, Bloodletting is darker, more realistic and more grim than Grey’s.

“I worked with Shaftesbury Films, the company that produced this, on two previous projects, the Terry Fox one (Terry) and a movie called Diverted,” Ashmore said. “I had read this book, and I loved the characters, so knowing it was going to be in Shaftesbury’s hands, I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is a one-hour, eight-episode series that follows the lives of three talented but conflicted doctors: Fitz (Ashmore), Ming (Mayko Nguyen) and Chen (Byron Mann).

Fitz is a volatile air-ambulance doctor who never has shaken his love for Ming. They broke up years previously because Ming’s family did not approve.

The driven Ming is torn between Fitz and her current husband Chen, an even-tempered physician who nonetheless is hiding a volatile side of his own.

Through a series of events the three doctors are reunited at Mercy, where they struggle to resolve unfinished business. That probably would be easier if Ming hadn’t asked Fitz to artificially impregnate her, and if Fitz hadn’t agreed, don’t ya think?

“It certainly isn’t the ambiance or the lighting,” Ashmore said with a laugh, when asked why hospitals provide settings for so many romantic and sexual entanglements in film and TV. “But it’s a place where emotions are so raw.

“You hear about this happening on film sets all the time, when suddenly you find yourself crying beside someone for four straight days. You go through something intense with somebody. So who else are you going to turn to but the people you work with every day?

“Sometimes it’s fleeting. Sometimes you just need a moment. Sometimes it lasts 10 years. But I understand it happening on movie sets and I guess it can happen in hospitals, too.”

Perhaps Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures can radiate enough heat to melt even Iceman’s cold, cold heart.

Doctors are people too

Doctors are as screwed up as the rest of us.

That’s worrisome.

Or is it?

Shawn Ashmore, who plays a doctor in the new Canadian TV series Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, claims he is comforted by the fact that medical professionals have problems, too.

“I know exactly what the fascination is for me,” said Ashmore, when asked why there are so many TV shows about doctors and nurses.

“I think we have a pre-conceived notion of a level-headed, educated professional walking in and taking care of you. That’s what we expect. That’s the side we see.

“But it’s nice to know those doctors and nurses have just as many problems as we do.

“They aren’t screwed up, necessarily, they’re just normal.

“They aren’t these perfect people who walk around saving lives. In a way that would suck for us, because we’d be thinking, ‘Why can’t we be those people?’ ”

Ashmore acknowledged there is a less-than-reassuring element to what he’s saying.

“It’s scary in a sense, because those are the people who are supposed to be taking care of us,” Ashmore said.

“But on a personal level, in terms of how I fit in the world, it’s comforting to know there isn’t this perfect ideal that we have to achieve.

“And listen, there are people in all walks of life who are pretty messed up personally but just happen to be absolutely great at their jobs.”

© Toronto Sun 2010