The indie child star who loves playing oddballs
He isn't quite a household name yet but, at the age of 19, child star-turned-teen heartthrob Asa Butterfield has built up a resume a Hollywood veteran would envy. The British actor has worked with Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton, starring alongside some of cinema's biggest names, including Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Kingsley, Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins. "I've never really gotten starstruck," he tells AFP ahead of the release of his latest project, sci-fi fantasy "The Space Between Us," co-starring Gary Oldman. "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." Butterfield began acting at age eight, after a casting director saw him at his after-school drama club in north London. The movie that made Hollywood sit up and pay attention, 2008 Holocaust drama "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," earned Butterfield a British Independent Film Award nomination.
"Hugo," Martin Scorsese's 2011 love letter to the film industry, proved to be his big break, with his own lead performance earning him a Critics' Choice Award nomination for best young actor. He has since transformed himself into a poster boy for young adult drama through such films as 2013's "Ender's Game," where he played the titular role alongside Harrison Ford.
Dream come true
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 London-based actor, working with the legendary director was the fulfillment 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."
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, released in the US on December 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 a Mars resident 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 negotiate 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 tells AFP. "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 indie child star has never been a recognizable 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 cruising Beverly Hills 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 World War I drama "Journey's End," and there have been persistent rumors of superhero movies, although it's not a genre that particularly 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."