Earlier today, I had a chance to talk to Asa Butterfield (Hugo) about his upcoming film Ender’s Game. Butterfield stars in the lead role of the Orson Scott Card novel adaptation written and directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi). During our exclusive phone interview, Butterfield talked about his approach to playing Ender, collaborating with Hood, working with veterans Harrison Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley, the rigorous physical demands of wirework and a specific scene in the Battle Room with co-star Hailee Steinfeld.
Also starring Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Nonso Anozie, Moises Arias and Aramis Knight, Ender’s Game opens November 1st (and it may just be my most anticipated film of the year). Hit the jump for the full interview and beware that some spoilers follow.
Asa Butterfield: I read the book as soon as they had started casting. Before then I hadn’t heard of it, no.
I was curious about that, because it’s always interesting to see how actors approach characters that are already out there and have been for a number of years.
Butterfield: Well, when you have a book as material as it is, it’s a lot easier to create a character because you have so many resources to draw upon when acting. Me and Gavin [Hood], the director, before I even got the part, had many Skype calls about how we both viewed the characters and we shared our opinions and we discussed what made him tick. That was really helpful for getting the part so that straight away I knew what I was doing and how Ender was going to be played.
Speaking of Gavin, I know you got to work with Martin Scorsese on your last picture, Hugo. I was curious about Gavin Hood’s style of directing, how he interacts, how he sets up scenes.
Butterfield: Gavin is an amazing director. I haven’t worked with a director like him. Whereas other directors are quite passive with how they let their actors work, Gavin – especially because he wrote the screenplay – he already knew exactly how he wanted the characters to be. Of course he let us bring our own ideas to it. He was always very enthusiastic, he was always encouraging us, he was always there on the stage. If we needed motivation he was there shouting at us … not angry, just to get the right emotion. Because there were a lot of child actors on the set, the enthusiasm that he brought really got us into that sort of mindset, so it was really helpful.
You bring up an interesting point. What was the mood like on the set? For a lot of time it’s just you and the other students. Were you guys all friends? Were you goofing around, especially at the end of a long day?
Butterfield: Yeah, this is one of the first films I’ve done where there has been a ton of kids, both extras and main cast. We got on really, really well. We did have a lot of hanging out and we had a great time. Of course, we’re doing a film so we had to be professional. We had actors like Harrison Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley on set, so not only did they help us stay in character even when we weren’t filming, they were really inspirational to watch them act, for all of the actors.
That brings me to my next question. You were reunited with Sir Ben Kingsley for this one and you got to act with Harrison Ford. How much screen time did you have with them? How many scenes did you shoot?
Butterfield: I had far more scenes with Harrison than I did with Sir Ben. Sir Ben’s character’s only in it in the last third of the film, but they’re both amazing. Sir Ben, as you said, I’ve worked with before and it was really interesting to see him play multiple characters and how his differences in playing Mazer to how he played Georges in Hugo, just seeing that was really interesting. And Harrison, who I haven’t worked with before, who is probably one of the greatest science fiction actors out there, it was an honor to work with him. He’s an amazing guy, he’s really sweet.
Could you talk a bit more about your character’s relationship with Kingsley’s in Ender’s Game? I know it’s a bit of a contentious relationship from the books, I’m just curious how you two approached that in your scenes.
Butterfield: Ender has always had his theories about Mazer before he meets him in the film and at first, as anyone would be, everyone thought he was dead or missing and they hadn’t heard of him since that battle. So it was a massive shock to Ender seeing him, but he was…he’s like a role model to him. It was a really big deal for Ender. I think Graff (Ford), who’s used to being in control of things and the powerhouse, is almost overrun by Mazer’s influence on Ender, so it’s a really interesting dynamic between my character, Harrison and Sir Ben in those scenes.
That’s great! It sounds like it’s right from the book and I’m sure it’ll make fans happy. Getting away from character and talking about action in the film. You were quoted recently about being excited about the zero-gravity scenes and the laser battles, but the wirework was a little tough.
Butterfield: It was really a really physical shoot. We had a lot of training and rehearsal to prepare us for it and what it was going to be like. There was wirework, as you said, but not only that. There was a lot of marching and running and fighting, just a lot of physicality in the film. I’ll start with working on the wires. It was … not only are you hanging from a harness which is not the most comfortable thing to be wearing, but to be able to pretend to be in zero gravity – which requires very fluid movements – whilst not letting your body hang limp – which requires you to be completely tensed up – it’s really difficult, especially when you’re reading lines as well. So it’s saying things while not acting like your whole body’s tensed up hard and then you’re just floating there for hours on end.
Did you have any scenes that were your favorite to shoot or that you’re looking forward to seeing on screen?
Butterfield: One scene that I really remember is a scene with me and Hailee (Steinfeld). We’re in the Battle Room. She’s hit her head on one of the floating objects. I’ve jumped out … I’ve disobeyed my orders and jumped out to catch her. When I hit her, we start spinning. Of course, in zero gravity, there’s nothing to slow you down. We’re just rotating in mid-air for like an endless amount of time just hanging on. To imitate this, they had this thing they called the “hamster wheel” which me and Hailee were both strapped to. We’re holding hands, facing each other and they rotated us doing front flips over each other pretty much. Meanwhile, we’re acting out lines; it was hilarious. Not only did we get really dizzy but it was really funny to do.
Before I run out of time with you, I believe you wrapped last summer on principal photography?
Butterfield: Well, I have, but I’m not allowed to say anything I don’t think.
Just a general impression with it. Are you pleased with it? Are you excited for fans to see it?
Butterfield: I’m very excited, I can say that much. It looks amazing.
Have you guys done any reshoots or have you done any ADR recently?
Butterfield: Yeah, I did a bit of ADR yesterday, but no reshoots.
Did you do sort of a boot camp or training camp with the other kids when you guys started this?
Butterfield: Yes, we did do a boot camp … I think I’ve got to go. I’m being called. [laughs]
Really quickly, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
Butterfield: Well, I’ve got lots of scripts and some things I’m quite excited about, but nothing more.