At 19, Asa Butterfield has already been directed by Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton, starred opposite Harrison Ford, and appeared in 10 feature films. The British star got his start in the 2008 war drama The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and has been a box office staple ever since. But it wasn't until three years later when he played Hugo, a curious young orphan that lived in the walls of a train station in 1930's Paris, that he really came into prominence. The role was a pinnacle moment in the young actor's career, as he credits the project as the inspiration to turn an acting “hobby” into a full time career endeavor. Throughout his remaining childhood years, the North London-native crammed as many roles as he could around his schooling, landing parts in a plethora of films such as A Brilliant Young Mind, as well as Ender's Game and 10,000 Saints, both of which he starred alongside Hailee Steinfeld.
Butterfield graduated from high school in 2015 and is thrilled to now be able to focus 100% of his efforts on pursuing his love of bringing stories to life. That is, of course, when he’s not engaging in his favorite pastime of playing videogames with his friends. Though he’s secured quite the celebrity status, the British native assures us that he is still very much a typical young adult. On one hand, he’s this in-demand Hollywood star working alongside the likes of Ben Kingsley but behind closed doors, he admits to reveling in his nerdy side. Butterfield feels most at home when he’s lounging around in his UK flat playing computer games. He and his father once teamed up to develop an iPad game and he even challenged himself to build his own gaming console. And while in Los Angeles for our Spotlight photo shoot, Butterfield couldn’t stop raving about his recent trip to the annual Dota 2 eSports gaming tournament. “I’ve been wanting to go for years. We finally got tickets and it was so cool!” he revealed.
Butterfield’s star power continues to rise but he still hasn’t gotten used to the notion of people deeming him “famous.” He jokes that his friends are more spellbound by the idea that he has fans than he is. “They are all really great though,” he says of his loyal admirers, who affectionately refer to themselves as 'Asanators'. “It’s like they’ve become my extended family.” And as his IMDB roster continues to grow, so does the tribe behind the rising star. Butterfield recently wrapped production on several upcoming films, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which hits theaters on September 30th, The Space Between Us (December 16th), and The House of Tomorrow, for which he shaved his head into his current punk-worthy Mohawk.
We caught up with Butterfield to discuss his impressive roster of forthcoming projects, adventures in decorating his bachelor pad, the process behind earning his driver’s license – and his bad habit of driving on the wrong side of the road, and why he’s far too cool for Pokemon Go.Just Jared: You’ve been acting since you were 8. Has it been fun growing up on television and film sets?
Asa Butterfield: Yeah. It’s very different than your average growing up experience. But I enjoyed it. I probably matured pretty quickly because of being in the industry, which most kids don’t really have to deal with. I managed to stay grounded and when I wasn’t working, I was hanging out with my friends so I was still able to be a kid and have that part of my life. I didn’t let acting take over completely.JJ: Do you remember the moment when you first thought, “I want to be an actor?”
AB: It was when I was shooting Hugo. Being on that set. I enjoyed it but up until then, I didn’t really think it would an opportunity for it to be a career. I hadn’t thought about it. It had felt like a hobby. And when I did Hugo, I was surrounded by people who are so good at what they are doing. It felt mind blowing really. And that made me appreciate the work that goes into making a movie and how lucky I was to be there and to have the opportunity to do it. That was the turning point. It was when I really got into my stride and really wanted to do it.JJ: What has it been like transitioning from a boy actor into more adult roles?
AB: Well I’m still in that process I think. I don’t think I’ve made that transition yet. I’m getting there. It’s always kind of weird. When you’re younger, you get scripts that you are too young for and now I’m getting scripts, which I think, “I’m too old for this character.” They can always shift things around to make it work and make the ages work. But I’m definitely getting more complex and interesting roles and less what you would expect. So I can experiment more and have a bit more freedom when I’m putting things on tape.JJ: As you transition into more adult roles, what would you like to be doing?
AB: James Bond would be cool! It’s not very realistic. I don’t know whether James Bond will even be around by the time I’m 30 or 40. We’ll see. I don’t really have any dream roles. It’s just things, which come up. I like to keep my options very open and try not to focus on trying to get something. That’s just how I’m playing it and it’s worked so far. I wouldn’t be a good Bond right now. Not nearly suave enough. I’ll get some lessons from Daniel Craig.JJ: You have said in the past that it’s important for you to really connect with a character that you are playing. What do you look for when selecting a role?
AB: I don’t like to look for anything in particular. I like to keep a broad scope and read lots of different things with lots of different types of characters. Doing that is going to help develop me as an actor; you push yourself. So doing something different, doing something original is always fun because there is a lot of creativity that comes with it. And also doing things that allow you to learn something are great and I love when you have an opportunity to discover a whole new part of the world. I recently had to learn how to play the bass for a role so I was practicing for a few weeks with this band, which I’ve never really done before but I’ve really enjoyed. I will continue doing it hopefully.JJ: You have so many projects coming up. One that looks particularly intriguing is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Tell us about that character.
AB: My character is Jacob, who is the most normal of the characters in the movie probably. He is the one that the audience is going to relate to and side with. He goes to this school after various mysterious clues lead him there from his granddad. It’s a pretty weird place.JJ: What was it like working with Tim Burton?
AB: It was cool. Tim’s an amazing guy. I really enjoyed working with him. His vision for this movie is so up his street and it’s so his kind of style – gothic and creepy elements but still light and fun. Tim just nails that I think. What I found is we were organized but we weren’t so organized that we had that freedom. Tim and I would talk about a scene before we shot it and we would try out different things. He was always up for doing something totally different to what he suggested, which is nice.JJ: He seems like he’d be an intimidating person. What was it like meeting him?
I was a bit nervous. I’m a massive Tim Burton fan so I was trying to make a good impression. But he’s very down to earth and very easy to talk to. He’s a very nice guy. He really just makes you feel comfortable and he takes the pressure off you. He’s not too eccentric. I mean you definitely see the cogs turning in his head. And he has an incredible imagination, which is why his movies are so good. As a person, apart from his crazy hair, he looks pretty cool. He has this really cool cane with a wolf head on the top, which I guess is quite badass. It could be considered creepy but I think it’s cool.JJ: Tell us about your character in The House of Tomorrow.
AB: I recently finished filming the role. We were in Minneapolis. It’s an indie film. And my character is this boy who basically has spent most of his life in this geodesic dome with his grandma who is slightly nasty or at least kind of protective. So my character grew up in isolation and it’s about him making friends with this boy who comes on a tour of his home. He’s a punk kid and he encourages Sebastian to break out of his shell and to try new things. They form a punk band and he becomes himself. It’s a coming of age movie.JJ: Is that what this lovely Mohawk that you are currently sporting is from?
AB: Yeah! Towards the end of the film, my character has his head shaved into a Mohawk. He’s a punk bass guitarist.JJ: Is this look something that you ever thought you’d be able to pull off?
AB: No! But I am kind of getting used to it. It’s not that bad. I’m quite enjoying all this hair on my head because I’ve pretty much always had the same haircut my entire life. And how often do you get to wear a Mohawk? People like it actually. Pretty much everyone I met has taken to it. I might keep it for a while.JJ: The Space Between Us is your second space film. What do you love about playing in this Sci-Fi world?
AB: In that movie, the character has never set foot on earth. There is an opportunity for him to be pretty weird and there are a lot of things to introduce to the character. I had a lot of fun of playing around with that. There are also some bigger themes that the film deals with so that makes the film not so heavy. It balances it out nicely.JJ: Was it fun to work opposite Britt Robertson?
AB: Britt and I had a lot of fun. She’s a great actress. Tulsa, her character in the movie, is tough. She’s done a lot and she’s seen a lot. She really brought that ruggedness to the character, which balances out my character. My character is innocent and naïve, which is quite a freak dynamic. So we blended well.JJ: If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
AB: Filming wildlife documentaries in the Amazon. I’d love to go out with a camera and a film group and film some monkeys and just hang out. I think that would be pretty awesome. I do photography and I studied film at school. So I’ve always really enjoyed that and I’ve got an eye for camera angles I guess. I’ve never taken that into filming wildlife. The most exciting thing in England is a pigeon or foxes, which isn’t very interesting to watch because everyone knows what they do. But I’ve taken pictures of them. Just for practice.JJ: We hear you are a big video gamer. What do you love most about that world?
AB: I’ve always played games. I’ve been brought up around gaming. I’ve had a lot of consoles as a kid so there has always been something that I’ve done as a pastime or with friends and for personal enjoyment. I don’t play many sports so it gives me an opportunity to have that same competitive feeling and the same reward when you win but using different techniques. It’s much more mental. I play a lot of strategy games and team and reactionary games. So it’s a different sort of skill that you’re practicing.JJ: What’s your all time favorite video game?
AB: Super Smash Bros.JJ: Have you caught onto the Pokemon Go craze? Are you playing it?
AB: I’m not actually. I got it for a bit and then I didn’t get all of the hype around it. Honestly, I thought they could have made it better. I got to level 5 and then I kind of just stopped playing. I have better games to play on my computer at home (laughs). I don’t play may apps at all. And I’ve never been to the App store.JJ: You posted on Instagram a while back bout building a PC. Do you build your own computers?
AB: Last year, as a Christmas present, I bought myself a gaming PC. I’ve wanted one for ages and my laptop wasn’t that good; there were loads of games that I couldn’t play. So I did a lot of research and looked into it and bought all the components I needed and did a part check online. I had some people help me build it and I pretty much put it together. It was fun; not as hard as you would think.JJ: You actually designed an iPad game called Racing Blind. How did that opportunity come about?
AB: My dad and I came up for the idea for this game years and years ago when I was doing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was my first film. iPads didn’t exist then so we just used pen and paper and drew it out and played this game. And a few years ago, we realized it would be really great for the iPad and would work really well when it’s a touch screen. So we came up with tracks and we designed them and wrote the music for it. We got someone to code it for us and put it together and apply for the App Store. We got in on the first run, which is pretty good.JJ: What’s your secret skill?
AB: I can clap really fast. I can beatbox. I can type the alphabet in under 2 seconds. That’s probably the one I’m most proud of.JJ: Favorite onset blooper?
AB: There was this one time when I did Enders Game. Harrison Ford was weightless. He was coming through the cabin of our shuttle and he started to flip upside down because he was top heavy or something. They called him back but he was still flipping the whole way around. And I remember myself laughing. He wasn’t so happy about it – “Do you think this is funny (says in a Harrison Ford imitating voice)?”JJ: What’s your current relationship status?
AB: I’m single.JJ: A lot of your fans call themselves “Asanators.” Is that funny and is it crazy to have fans in general?
AB: It is but it sort of feels like they are part of my life now in a weird way, whether it’s what you see on social media or reading fan mail. It is a bit weird and to all my friends, it’s kind of crazy. But I’ve kind of gotten used to it I guess. They are all really sweet.JJ: Who is the actor that you’ve gotten the most star struck in front of?
AB: Probably Ian McKellen. Gandalf. It was an audition and I was reading with him. It was the first time in a while that I felt really nervous before an audition. But it was great to meet him. He’s a great actor.JJ: Who is your celeb crush?
AB: Margot Robbie (giggles). She is beautiful!JJ: What’s it like watching yourself on screen?
AB: It’s not that easy. I don’t think anyone really enjoys it. It’s kind of hard to enjoy the film when you are watching yourself the whole time. But you do get on with it and try and appreciate everything else about the movie. At least that’s what I do. It depends on how fresh in my memory the whole experience is. My older movies, I find easier to watch. Not saying that I’ve been around for very long. My older movies are like 6 years.JJ: Hey in Hollywood years that’s a long time.