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Ender’s Game – Asa Butterfield interview

Ender's Game

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ASA Butterfield talks about playing the leading role in Ender’s Game and some of the physical preparation he went through, including space boot camp and growing three inches over the course of filming.

He also talks about the pleasure of working with Harrison Ford, how he is getting used to working with big names and why he’s also currently mixing acting with A-levels and how he stays grounded in normal life.

Q. How much of Ender’s Game was green screen?
Asa Butterfield: Quite a lot of it. I don’t think many of the cast had done a film with this much CGI and green screen stuff. But it was really interesting. Working against a green screen a lot of it is pretty much down to your imagination to convince yourself that what you’re seeing is actually there. Gavin [Hood], the director, was always so helpful in telling us exactly what we were seeing and he really got the energy up with the cast. We had a great time. I think it is just imagination. As long as your imagination is strong enough, it’s not too hard.

Q. Did it help that there was a gang of you to encourage each other and keep your imagination fired up throughout?
Asa Butterfield: Yeah, totally. We all got on so well. We bonded so quickly. I can’t wait to see them in LA. Bt I do think the relationship I had with the other actors, because we got on so well, it was a lot easier for us to trust each other with giving our best and reacting off of that.

Q. Did you have boot camp or space camp?
Asa Butterfield: We did. It was a lot of fun. Hard work… there was a lot of marching and push-ups and saluting. The sort of stuff you’d learn at a military camp. There were about 100 of us, cast and extras, marching down this hallway and if one person messed up it was 20 push-ups for everyone. It wasn’t light!

Q. Didn’t you get to train with Cirque du Soleil performers?
Asa Butterfield: Yeah, they and Garrett Warren, the stunt co-ordinator, worked really hard to help us become used to being up on the wires and harnesses to emulate zero gravity. It’s harder than it sounds. It’s really uncomfortable up there by harness strapped around this tight rubber suit and you had to be delivering your lines and acting at the same time, while making it look like you’re in zero gravity. So, you’re not allowed to sag by the waste. I had an accent on top of that, which didn’t make anything easier.

Q. Did you do your own stunts?
Asa Butterfield: I think I did every single one of my stunts. The only time they would use someone else was when it was a really long shot and they didn’t need me there, so I could be doing school.

Q. You’re accent is very secure. Do you think the fact that a lot of people aren’t aware that you’re English is going to help with future projects?
Asa Butterfield: I hope so. Before doing this, I really wanted to do a film where I had an American accent because, of course, there are so many more American films produced for an actor. So for someone who isn’t from the United States, being able to do an American accent is invaluable. It’s so useful when getting different roles and different opportunities. It is hard work. By the end of it, like you say, I had people thinking I was American, so that’s always a good sign.

Q. Did you get any advice from Sir Ben Kingsley?
Asa Butterfield: Not so much on the accent, but we all learned so much from the cast – from Sir Ben and Harrison Ford, of course, and all of the other cast were so helpful in getting the best out of the younger actors.

Ender's Game, Harrison Ford

Q. How was working with Harrison and what was your first meeting with him like?
Asa Butterfield: The first time I met him, I think, was at the very first read through of the script. As anyone would be, I was a bit nervous before meeting him. I mean, it’s Han Solo, so it was quite crazy. But once you get to know him, he really is such an amazing person. He’s such an amazing actor as well. As I said before, his presence really does get the best out of you as an actor.

Q. Did he do anything to remove your nerves?
Asa Butterfield: Not so much. A lot of it was just being in the same room as him and observing him. But I could say the same for all of the actors. Just being there with them, it really eases things and makes you feel comfortable. You learn a lot just by being there.

Q. Are you getting used to dealing with really, really famous people now?
Asa Butterfield: In a sense, yeah. I think when I first started acting, I was a bit ‘wow’, I’m with this guy that I watched when I was a little kid. It’s not something that you get to do every day. As you become more experienced and you work with people who are like that, it becomes less of a big deal. I still get star-struck by people like Harrison Ford, but I think it’s become more natural and more a part of my life. You have to be professional and keep a straight face. You can squeal behind their backs [laughs].

Q. Did you go in search of any anecdotes? Did you ask for any Stars Wars anecdotes?
Asa Butterfield: I don’t think anyone had the balls to ask any of those questions [laughs]. We had so much fun and he is just a really nice person. I really like his sense of humour as well. It’s quite a witty, sharp sense of humour, but that’s what really gets me about him. But I don’t think anyone dared to ask him about Star Wars.

Q. What’s it like seeing a bus go past with your face plastered on it?
Asa Butterfield: I quite enjoy it. Me and my mates have always joked about me seeing myself when I’m on the Tube. I think because it’s so unnatural to see yourself on a huge billboard around the city, we sort of make light of it in a sense. It’s not so serious. Rather than being: “Oh my God, that’s me there!” It’s more like: “That’s me there, let’s do something stupid.”

Q. Is the plan to do more films as opposed to TV?
Asa Butterfield: TV and film both attract me equally. In both, you do search for a role that would be enjoyable to do, that has a great storyline and then, secondly, you look at the cast and the crew – are they respectable? How I look at it is my character – has the character got enough substance? It can’t just be a one faced character, which is there to fill a gap. He has to have a purpose, so if it ticks all of those boxes then generally it’s a good choice.

Q. Do you have time for a normal life when you’re not acting?
Asa Butterfield: Yeah, surprisingly I do. When I’m not here or filming I’m just a normal 16-year-old. I play football, I hang out with friends, I listen to music, play video games.

Q. How was Comic-Con?
Asa Butterfield: Comic-Con was amazing. I’d always wanted to go there, so to be able to go there this year was so much fun. It was my first time. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to go round the halls all that much, which was what I wanted to do. But we had so much fun showing off the sets and everything about it.

Ender's Game

Q. Does that increase any pressure on you, stepping up to a blockbuster film? There is a lot of focus on opening weekends…
Asa Butterfield: Um, I try not to. My job as an actor is to give my best and do my part. After that, there’s not really all that much I can do. It’s in the hands of the director, the producers and editors and I’m sure that it’s in extremely trust-worthy hands. From what I’ve seen, it looks phenomenal and I’m sure that it’s very exciting.

Q. Did they have any trouble keeping your costume up to date, because you seem to have sprouted in height?
Asa Butterfield: [Laughs] yeah, they had a lot of trouble keeping my costume up to date. I think I must have gone through about four different flash suits and each of them had to be hand-made to my height. Think I grew about three inches during the shoot. You can see at the start of the film, physically I’m quite a lot shorter, which I guess adds to the development of Ender, which is quite extraordinary.

Q. How much did you go back to the book to get into Ender’s mindset as it’s told from his perspective?
Asa Butterfield: The book is so helpful. It’s hard to put into words how much, as an actor, to be able to have all of this information. Any script has to be condensed. But the detail, as written down in the script, can be nowhere near the size of a book. So, having all of that information and all of those clues and background to your character is invaluable.

Q. Have you been able to ignore the controversy surrounding the author himself?
Asa Butterfield: Yeah, I mean the film and the book are two separate things. We all completely agree with equal rights for everybody. The author’s views are just something we don’t have in common. We love the book but we don’t agree on his views, and it’s as simple as that.

Q. What’s next for you? It must be an important time for you at school?
Asa Butterfield: I just started my A-levels, so that’s probably my main focus at the moment.

Q. What are you doing?
Asa Butterfield: I’m doing biology, geography, photography and film studies.

Q. That’s a heady mix…
Asa Butterfield: It is! It is! So, I’m focused on that. I also have a few projects in the pipeline so fingers crossed they will kick off by the end of the year or the start of next.

Ender's Game

Q. How was X Plus Y? You play a maths genius…
Asa Butterfield: I do. I’d just finished doing maths GCSE and thought I was rid of that [laughs]. And then I spent two months doing university level maths, which was…. yeah! But that whole experience was so much fun. I hadn’t done a film like it before, a British independent film. In terms of scale, it was nothing compared to the things I’d done before and for that reason the relationships you had, the character’s relationships and the relationships with people, were a lot more personal. It felt like you could get a lot closer to people. It really was a lot of fun. It was hard work, though, as I play a character who has Aspergers. So, it was also the hardest character I’ve had to play.

Q. Would you like to do more in the independent sector?
Asa Butterfield: I think that a lot of the time I don’t go for something in particular. I see what comes to me, I filter it out. I never really strive to play a particular character or do a particular genre of film. As long as it’s a good script and a great range of people and my character is really interesting I can’t see any reason not to do it.

Read our review of Ender’s Game

Read our interview with Sir Ben Kingsley

Read our interview with Gavin Hood