Asa Butterfield on working with Martin Scorcese and Tim Burton, and growing up on camera like the Harry Potter stars

Asa Butterfield on working with Martin Scorcese and Tim Burton, and growing up on camera like the Harry Potter stars

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Asa Butterfield (centre) doesn't just want to be in front of the camera for the rest of his life - he wants to be behind it, too.
Photo: AP

He isn’t quite a name everyone knows yet but, at the age of 19, Asa Butterfield has built up a list of acting credits that even a Hollywood veteran would envy.

The British actor has worked with directors like Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton, and has starred alongside some of cinema’s biggest names, including Samuel L. Jackson and Emily Blunt. Butterfield stars alongside Gary Oldman (who played Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films) in his latest project, sci-fi fantasy The Space Between Us.

“I’ve never really [been] starstruck,” he says. “I’ve been very lucky to work with the people I have, but as an actor you need to be on a level playing field. Every actor I’ve worked with has been great at making me feel comfortable on set.”


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Butterfield began acting at the age of eight, and the movie that made everyone sit up and pay attention, 2008 Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, earned him a film award nomination.

Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film, proved to be his big break, with his own performance earning him an award nomination for best young actor.

He has since transformed himself into the actor everyone wants for young adult drama through such films as 2013’s Ender’s Game, where he played the title role alongside Harrison Ford.

This year has seen him cast as the reluctant young hero of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children , a performance which moved director Tim Burton to praise Butterfield’s “special kind of sensitivity”.

For the young actor, working with the legendary director was the fulfilment of a career-long dream.

“When people asked me which director do you want to work with, I’d say Tim Burton. It’s lovely having him welcome you somewhat into his imagination and ideas, which always blow you away,” he says. “He is always very spontaneous. The way he works is very chaotic and you have to be on your toes.”


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Next up is The Space Between Us, in which Butterfield plays Gardner Elliot, the first boy born on Mars who visits Earth for the first time at the age of 16.

Butterfield and co-star Carla Gugino (San Andreas, Batman v Superman) spent two weeks walking with weights on their ankles to get used to how someone who has lived on Mars all their life might cope in the more tiring gravity of Earth.

The character is like many Butterfield has taken on – an abandoned or orphaned child, an oddball who must find his place in a world he barely understands.

“I’m always trying to find roles which are original in one way or another, and stories which are original,” he says. “I never really play the kid who’s got the perfect life. Usually he’s missing a parent or two.”

Like the young actors in the Harry Potter films, Butterfield has done his growing up in front of the camera but this child star has never been a recognisable celebrity.

His more high-profile recent roles are beginning to change that as he enters adulthood, but he has his feet on the ground, and says he is more likely to be photographed cycling in London than driving around Hollywood in a Porsche.

“It hasn’t really changed my life,” he says of his career so far, before correcting himself. “Well, I suppose it has changed my life but I don’t let it dictate my life.”

This month Butterfield began filming first world war drama Journey’s End, and there have been persistent rumours of superhero movies, although it’s not a genre that interests him.

“I want to carry on acting. It’s not the only thing I want to do though,” he says. “I want to film wildlife documentaries up the Amazon or somewhere, behind the camera.”

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
It’s only the beginning

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