When Shawn Ashmore first showed up on The Boys last week, he was credited simply as “Man in Scrubs”—but you didn’t have to be a superfan to know that his role on the show would turn out to be just a bit more important going forward… After all, Ashmore first got his big break playing Bobby Drake (a.k.a. Iceman) in the first X-Men movie, making him an “OG superhero” according to The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke.
As it turns out, Ashmore is playing Lamplighter on the second season of the hit series, a former member of the Justice League-esque Seven, who in many ways is the anti-Iceman (and not just because his powers involve the ability to control fire). And his role isn’t just some meta casting Easter Egg either, with Lamplighter playing a big part in the second half of a season that’s seen the extremely well-reviewed (and also extremely fucked-up) comic book series tackle everything from modern superhero culture to toxic masculinity and white nationalism. (Wonder where they could’ve gotten that inspiration from…)
Complex spoke to the Canadian-born actor about whether he felt any reluctance over returning to the superhero genre, and if he ever could’ve imagined going from starring in scenes opposite iconic Marvel characters like X-Men’s Wolverine to ones like The Boys’ Love Sausage. (If you haven’t watched the latest episode yet, go do that now.)
Obviously you've done the superhero thing before… Although I guess at this point there aren’t many actors out there who haven't.
[Laughs.] It's kind of a staple now. It's like, if you haven't played a superhero, what are you waiting for?
Did that give you any pause about jumping back into this world though? Or was this something that you were immediately on board with?
Yeah, I was a huge fan of the show. I grew up reading a lot of comic books and was very familiar with Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse stuff, all those... But I had not read The Boys. So when I watched the first season, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't know the tone, the humour, the violence, the way that it subverts the genre. And I was like, 'Oh my God, this is a superhero show that I didn't know I needed.' Although I love all of the Marvel films—I'm a huge fan of all those, including the X-Men stuff that I was part of—they're all sort of similar in tone.
The Boys was just so different, that I was like, 'Oh, I need this.' I didn't know I needed this, but I was getting burnt out on the other stuff. So when the opportunity to be Lamplighter came around, I jumped at it. It was like, if I'm going to be a part of a superhero gig again and put on another suit, I want it to be something completely different from X-Men, completely different from Bobby Drake. And Lamplighter was the perfect character on the perfect show for me to do something that's different.
For me, as an actor, that's important. I don't want to just do the same thing over and over again. When an audience sees you do the same thing, or expects you to do the same thing, it can be not that interesting. But if you mix it up or flip it for them, I think people are reinvigorated, and interested to see what you're doing. So I think it was just an all-around smart move for me, to be a part of a show that I loved, but also the right way to come back to the superhero genre.
"I was ecstatic to be cast in the first X-Men movie, I was over the moon. So to have this continue.... and then transition into another superhero role? I never could have imagined that's where the industry would be."
This character’s interesting, because despite the horrible things that he’s done, and is currently doing, the audience is pretty clearly encouraged to empathize with him. What’s the trick to playing a guy like this?
You nailed it: you just have to empathize with him. He's not a likable character. He's not a likable person. But that doesn't mean that you can't feel for him. And that's what the show does so well with all of the supes. To me, the superheroes in the show are not the villains. They're the people doing the bad things, but Vought is the villain. The system that's been created around them, The Seven, the fame, the power, the politics, that's the true villain. These are just little kids that were injected—all of them—they were just little kids who were injected with something against their will, given abilities and powers that nobody would be able to handle and then ascended to fame and power. And this is what happens to human beings when given all this. They do bad things. And they're also being asked to do bad things.
So what was interesting for me is that there's this notion of who Lamplighter is, because of the things that he's done and what the characters have talked about in the past. But then when you meet him, he's in a completely different place. He's not a superhero anymore. He's down and out. He's been rejected. His identity—of being this amazing, cool superhero—doesn't exist anymore. So now he's really taking a look at the bad things that he did, and is continuing to do, and asking, 'Why am I doing this? They don't care about me. I've been chewed up and spit out and now I'm just some murder for hire, basically.' So he has to ask those hard questions and deal with that.
I mean, we talked about him dealing with PTSD, being suicidal, and all these things. I thought that was just really interesting, and I didn't try to make him a likable character. I just tried to play the reality of what he was going through. And the writing was so strong, that was all on the page. I didn't have to find that, that was all there.
The first X-Men movie is commonly credited for the birth of modern superhero culture, and the fact that we now can't seem to go more than a month or two without a new superhero movie or TV show coming out—which is something The Boys definitely plays off…
At the time, did you have any idea that it would become this huge cultural touchstone that, now, 20 years later, we've got shows like The Boys coming out?
No. I mean, again, I read genre stuff growing up: fantasy, sci-fi, comic books. So I was a fan of that, I knew the potential of that. But before the first X-Men, it was Tim Burton's Batman, and I think Blade was another movie that came out around then—I'm not sure if that was before X-Men or right after [Ed. note: Blade came out in 1998, two years before X-Men.]—but to me that was a Marvel movie where I was like, 'Oh, this is cool! I see the potential for how people could start telling comic book stories.' And then, of course, X-Men took off... But no, I had no idea that all the Marvel characters, The Avengers and all the side characters—like, Guardians of the Galaxy?!—that all these Marvel characters would be commonplace now. As big, or if not bigger than Superman right now, for example. I feel like Captain America is just as popular as Superman right now.
And who would have known that those would be our biggest movie stars, the biggest earning films, creating the newest talents, and [draw] established talent. The fact that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were in the first X-Men movie, that to me is what lent real credibility to the genre. When I came on set, I was like, 'Oh my God, it's Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart playing these two amazing characters.' It lent such a weight and credibility to the performance, to the story, and I think that’s what really solidified this genre being taken seriously.
I was ecstatic to be cast in the first X-Men movie, I was over the moon. So to have this continue, and for me to have gotten to play that character several times, and then transition into another superhero role? I never could have imagined that's where the industry would be, and where pop culture would be, and that I would get to be a part of that.
And now you're doing scenes opposite a character named Love Sausage…
[Laughs.] Which was the most interesting part of my entire time on The Boys. The prosthetic being brought out...
Oh, that was prosthetic? It wasn't CGI?
It was half CG and half prosthetic. The detail was… shocking. [Laughs.] I was like, Oh my God…Anyway, it was very funny. We had a good laugh.
I think that’s all my time, but that’s a good note to leave off on, I guess.
Yes. I'm glad you brought that up. I was going to steer away from Love Sausage, but thank you for that. [Laughs.]