As life would have it, twin brothers Aaron and Shawn Ashmore both found niches in Hollywood by playing characters in fantasy projects: Aaron in shows like Smallville and Shawn as Iceman from the X-Men series. So it comes as no surprise that Aaron is joining Syfy's paranormal mysteries show, Warehouse 13, in its third season as suit-clad agent Steve Jinks. What may surprise you, however, is that Agent Jinks is gay. Out recently chatted with Aaron and series-creator Jack Kenny to get an exclusive take on why the show chose to introduce a gay character, what that means for the sci-fi genre, and who (if anyone) was gay in Star Wars.
Out: Some people are going to see you on Warehouse 13 and say, 'There's that guy from X-Men.' How do you and [your twin brother] Shawn deal with being mixed up?
Aaron Ashmore: There's nothing you can do about it, really. When the X-Men movies first came out, everybody thought I was Shawn. But then I did Smallville and he started saying, 'People are coming up to me thinking I'm you.' You don't have a choice. You just roll with it.
Do you ever sign each other's autographs?
Aaron: We draw the line at that. We say, 'Nope, that's my brother.' And sometimes people don't believe you, but it's all in good fun.
Jack Kenny: Wait, you're not Shawn? Uh oh, we made a casting mistake'
Aaron, can you tell us a little bit about your character Steve, who joins the show this season?
Aaron: Steve Jinks is a young ATF agent who has the ability to tell when someone is lying. He can look you in the eye and just know automatically. So he's recruited into the Warehouse because of this talent.
And the reason we're talking about him is because' Steve is also gay. Why is the show going gay now?
Jack: Actually, Syfy suggested it. We were pitching this character and a couple of the execs are gay and said, 'What if Steve was gay?' We immediately jumped on the idea -- but it's just a part of who he is, it doesn't define the character.
Aaron, how does that affect how you think about your character and how you play him?
Aaron: It's in the back of my mind, but the show's not really about romantic relationships. These people's lives are crazy trying to save the world, so there's not a lot of time for love. I think when he interacts with some people, in the back of my mind as an actor, I'll decide that he thinks a guy is cute. But it doesn't play into how he does his job.
Well, since you brought it up, what do you think his type is?
Aaron: I don't think Steve's into muscles. He's more laid-back. I picture him with someone similar to himself.
Do you think the ability to tell when people are lying would ruin romantic relationships?
Aaron: I think so, and that's a big thing that influences who Steve is. We all know that people lie, but when you know that it's happening every time, it makes it hard to be in a relationship with someone.
I think there's an important distinction, though, between characters on television that we see in gay relationships and friendships, and those that we don't.
Jack: It's the same thing with the straight characters. There's really no time for that. Last season, we tried to get into relationship stuff and what we found that we really don't have the space. They're always out in the field!
In the past few seasons, television has seen a flood of new gay characters. Why do you think the word came down from Syfy that now was the time to get on board with that movement?
Jack: We're always looking to bring diverse characters into our show, so it was just a question of who else do we want to include? In the first incarnation of Steve, we were looking for an Asian actor for the part, but didn't find anyone that had the right chemistry with our cast. And even when Steve was going to be Asian, he was going to be gay. We wanted that dynamic.
What's Steve's back story as a gay man? Is he out? Do his parents know?
Jack: We haven't explored a lot of Steve's history, other than we know he has a sister. In the back of my head, it was a difficult coming out. I don't think his parents were accepting right away. Steve's an emotionally conservative guy and I think that came from the way his parents reacted. I think he's been in a couple of relationships and he's hurt. He's hesitant about opening himself up to somebody. These are things we'll explore as we get to know the character more, but I base a lot of that on how Aaron has played the character. It's fun to watch him fill out Steve.
I'll admit, sci-fi isn't really a genre I immediately think of as being gay.
Jack: There's a surprising number of gay characters in sci-fi '- in Caprica, in Torchwood. I always wondered why there weren't more gay characters in Star Trek if it was so far into the future. It's interesting how futuristic shows still adhere to current mores. I think our fans love the show -' the tone, the way we approach story telling, the family aspect -' so the important thing Steve brings to the show is another Warehouse brother. And that's what's so great about him being gay: it doesn't matter.
Will there be ripple effects now that there's a gay character on Syfy's most-watched show?
Jack: No, I don't think there will be, thankfully. We as a minority group have achieved a lot of what we've hoped to in the entertainment industry in that a gay character just happens to be gay. I think people will respond a lot more to what Aaron brings to the screen rather than what Steve being gay brings. It's more about the individual, and Steve's an exceptionally good guy. That's a wonderfully quality for a gay character to have, because he's someone you want to get to know. Any minority group is scary until you put a face on it.
How does Syfy deal with controversy, especially in comparison to your experience with NBC [which canceled your religiously-charged show Book of Daniel]?
Jack: Syfy is totally cool. My experience with NBC was in a different political climate. In 2006, the right wing had a stranglehold on so many things. If Book of Daniel had come out two years later, I think we'd still be on the air. Everyone was so afraid of the right wing, and I was vilified in the press. How dare a gay man write about Jesus and faith? These days, that kind of response would be laughed at and ignored. It was a different world then. But because the suggestion for Steve being gay came from Syfy, I think that says it all.
Lastly, because we're talking about gay sci-fi characters, I think it's only natural that we discuss which of the Star Wars characters was most likely gay. Thoughts?
Aaron: I think it would be Luke. Definitely not Han.
Jack: We all want Han. He's my dream.
The only woman we saw Luke kiss was his sister, so maybe that's telling.
Jack: You'd have to be gay to do that, right? But, you know, Chewy would be in the bear community. And Obi-Wan certainly could be an old queen at times. C-3PO was the obvious gay. Actually, maybe they're all gay.
Aaron: So that's what a Jedi is.
Warehouse 13 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST on Syfy. For more info, visit the show's official website.