The LRM Interview with Asa Butterfield on The Space Between Us

– by Edward Douglas

When you’ve worked with Martin Scorsese at the age of 13, there might not be very far you can go as an actor, but Asa Butterfield--who turns 20 in a couple months—has continued to have a thriving career since Hugo. (Maybe that’s because, like Daniel Radcliffe, he was discovered by Harry Potter producer David Heyman for a film called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.)

Butterfield went on to star in the movie based on Orson Scott Card’ novel Ender’s Game and in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children last year, and he’s back in the sci-fi realm for The Space Between Us.

In the movie, Butterfield plays Gardner Elliot, the first human born on Mars, who comes to earth to meet up with his online pen-pal “Tulsa” (Britt Robertson) and try to find out who his real father is. It’s more of a young person’s romance-adventure than science fiction really, but it adds yet another leading role to the young actor’s resumé.

LRM got on the phone with Asa a few months back for the following interview.

LRM: You’ve been in a bunch of movies based on books and for some reason I thought this one was also, but it’s not, so how did you find out about it and get contacted to do it?

Asa Butterfield: Well, I read the script years ago, actually. The first time I read it was the same time I read Ender’s Game, so that was a long time back. It’s kind of been bubbling away for a while. When I first read it, the character was younger and he kind of aged as new versions of the script came through. The character aged as I did, and I had a chat with Peter, the director, before we started shooting Ender, and he really wanted me for it, and so we met up. I was always a fan of the script and the story, this sci-fi adventure romance, it was cool.

LRM: It has a lot going on, so do you still have to audition for roles or do you have enough on your filmography that they can watch movies like “Hugo” to see what you’re capable of?

Butterfield: No, I still audition most of the time, yeah. I don’t know whether that will ever change. I like auditioning. It gives you a chance to figure out whether you want to do it as well, because you have to figure out your own interpretation of the character and if it’s something you want to do. You need an audition process to be able to do that. 

LRM: It’s an interesting character and premise so how do you prepare even to audition for a role like this? Did you know what you’d be doing for the audition?

Butterfield: Well, actually I didn’t audition for this one. It’s one of the first films I did where there wasn’t an audition process and I just spoke with Peter and we just shared our ideas. The character of Gardner, he’s quite interesting. He’s different, and I had a lot of fun bringing him to life. There’s an opportunity with him to be very sweet and innocent and funny because of his actions and the way he does things, so I had a lot of freedom and Peter encouraged me to just have fun with it.  

LRM: Did you have to do any research or was it fairly well written so that you didn’t have to do much?

Butterfield: It was really well written and most of the research I did was more related to the effects of zero gravity on your body. That coming to earth after spending your entire life in an area where it’s only a third or two thirds of the gravity, and how that would affect you physically and affects the way you walk and the way you move. And of course, the zero gravity elements which there are a few of in the film which reminded me of my days on Ender’s Game, that simulated zero gravity. 

LRM: Have you actually been on one of those zero gravity flights before?

Butterfield:  The flights? Oh, yeah, the “vomit comet,” as they call it.  I did want to and I think it would have been massively helpful but I’m not sure we had the time or the resources to fly us into the stratosphere. (chuckles) One day, I hope so. I’d love to be in zero gravity. 

LRM: I’m amazed that between those two movies you hadn’t done that, since it would have been helpful. You also have all the stuff on Mars, which is probably sets on soundstages, but when you get to earth, you’re kind of all over the place. Was that a lot of traveling? You went to Vegas and the Rocky Mountains, so what was that like?

Butterfield: Well, we went to Vegas for a couple days. I think that was the last two days of shooting, but prior to that, we actually shot the whole film in Albuquerque, and we just cheated a lot of the shots, but I guess that there are a lot of variations on geography there, so we could shoot a lot of it there. We went to the spaceport, which was pretty actually, for a few of the more futuristic scenes. I don’t know what they actually do there, but we got some amazing shots in that building. And the rest of it was done in the desert. It’s a lot of filming to make it look like a road trip, just driving around really.

LRM: Did they use Albuquerque for Mars, too, or was that a set?

Butterfield: Depending on the shot, sometimes they used a lot of green screen, but other times, we went to this kind of quarry. It looked almost like the Martian surface, and then in post, they did some color correction to make it have this red, orangey glow to it. When we actually filmed, it was like a quarry.

LRM: This is your first full-on romance film although you had some of that in other movies, and you have a great love interest in Britt Robertson—who is an older woman I guess. How did you two get acquainted and comfortable to do some of the scenes together?

Butterfield: Well, we didn’t have long to do that. It was a surprisingly short shoot, considering the quantity of things we had in the story. Britt was lovely and we got on really well. We spent time hanging out when we weren’t on set, and yeah, I don’t find it too hard to create connections like that, and in the film, the characters are so drawn towards each other from their circumstances and their personalities as well, it was just a very natural thing. 

LRM: There’s a new version of online dating between the two of them.

Butterfield: (laughs) Yeah, interplanetary dating.

LRM: Britt's an interesting actress, because she did a movie with Eddie Murphy called “Mr. Church” where she plays a character across 20 or 30 years, so I literally had no idea how old she actually was.  She can play a lot of different ages.  

Butterfield:  Yeah, she’s lucky. She has a very young face and I’m similar actually. I’ve usually played younger than my actual age, and I don’t know how long that will carry on… until I can get some proper facial hair, I guess.

LRM: I really enjoyed “Miss Peregrine” which you did with Tim Burton last year, a really amazing filmmaker. What was it like working with him? I mean, you’d already worked with Scorsese and other greats, but Burton’s sort of an enigma, I guess? 

Butterfield: Enigma is a good way to put it. I really enjoyed working with Tim. I was a massive fan of his work before I met him—anyway, we all are—so I was very interested to see how he brought these worlds to life, how he makes them so interesting and creepy. I still don’t really know. I don’t think anyone really does. His mind works in different ways, I guess, and it takes a few weeks to get onto his wavelength, if you know what I mean, then you start to click into the rhythm that he works in, which is quite chaotic. He often changes his mind or says, “Now try something totally different,” so it’s very spontaneous, and I think that’s why his films have a lot of originality to them.

LRM: I’ve spoken to quite a few actors who’ve worked with him—and I’ve spoken to him--they’re almost always a fan of his beforehand and then even bigger fans after working with him.

Butterfield: Yeah, that sounds about right, actually.  

LRM: Do you know if the movie’s done well enough that Fox knows whether they’ll start making a sequel? Have you been told anything about that yet? Because you left it in a place where it’d make a pretty awesome sequel.

Butterfield: We don’t know yet. We’ll keep our fingers crossed I guess, but no, we don’t have any info on that yet.

The Space Between Us opens on Friday, February 3.

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