Considering that Asa Butterfield recently was seen in “Ender’s Game” — the futuristic, sci-fi film about battling enemy aliens — and now plays the first human born on Mars in “The Space Between Us,” does the young actor think he’s become something of a space expert?
“I do feel pretty accomplished on the subject,” said Butterfield recently in a phone chat from his home in London. “Of course, it’s a long way from reading about space and playing a character in a space-set film — and actually going there and experiencing it for real. … I would like to rectify that some day. I would love to go to space for real. I like the idea of zero gravity. I think that’s pretty neat. At some point, I think I will be given the opportunity to leave this planet and travel into space. Obviously, that will be a while from now.”
The space-themed films were released justthree years apart. “I don’t tell my agents I want to do one kind of film or another — sci-fi or a western or a thriller or whatever,” Butterfield said. “What’s important to me is the script, the quality of it and the story that is being told in the film.”
In “The Space Between Us,” Butterfield’s mother departs on a mission to Mars before she realizes she is pregnant. Shortly after landing on the Red Planet, she dies from complications related to her delivery. Butterfield’s Gardner Elliot character thus grows up on Mars, watched over by the other people living in his space colony — reaching the age of 16 only having known those 14 people in his rarefied world.
Surreptitiously using the technology available to him, Gardner connects via the internet with a sassy high school girl in Colorado named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). Though they email each other for quite some time, she has no idea he isn’t — as he claims — a wealthy New York kid isolated due to health issues.
Gardner falls for Tulsa through cyberspace, and after he breaks the rules and escapes to Earth, he immediately heads to Colorado to find her. Complicating that adventure is Earth’s environment, applying atmospheric pressures that Gardner’s Mars-born body likely cannot stand.
For Butterfield a big draw to this project was the fact both he and Robertson play unconventional teens. “Coming from a different planet — you can’t get more outsider than that,” quipped the English actor. “Both of them have very warped views of life, but, of course, for very different reasons. She had a tough upbringing. Gardner was so terribly sheltered — that warped him in a different way. I think the film clearly shows we all are very much products of our environment.”
In the early scenes in the film, Gardner’s main companion is a robot named Centaur. “On the very first day of filming. Centaur’s head fell off — literally in the middle of one of the takes. That provided a bit of panic on that first day, when we all were pretty nervous just because it WAS the first day of filming.
“But thanks to a little bit of duct tape, Centaur and the rest of us were good to go!”
A key tag line for the film — frequently articulated by Gardner Elliot — is “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?” For the actor who portrays him, the answer was easy: “It’s the night sky whenever I’m someplace like New Mexico [where a good bit of ‘The Space Between Us’ was filmed] where there isn’t a lot of artificial light, like you have in cities. Nothing is more beautiful than a night shoot in the desert. It really makes you realize how tiny we are in the overall universe.”