Most actors are armed and ready with childhood anecdotes or cinematic references regarding what drove them toward the thespian life. It wasn’t until Asa Butterfield starred in a Martin Scorsese movie that he seriously thought about acting as a career.
“Even after my first couple of films, I still didn’t think it would be something I would continue doing for the rest of my life,” says the London native, who at the age of 8 started taking after school drama classes at the Young Actors’ Theatre in Islington. He landed his first professional role at 10 in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. “It was really on the set of Hugo where I thought, I could do this. This would be fun.”
Butterfield wowed critics as the wide-eyed, precocious orphan in 2011’s Hugo, easily carrying the blockbuster on his 13 year-old shoulders. But at 18, he’s ready for more grown-up fare, starting with the indie Ten Thousand Saints, opening this Friday. Butterfield plays Jude, a circa late-80s rebellious adolescent who passes the time getting high in Vermont with this best friend. A tragedy sends him to New York to live with his estranged father (Ethan Hawke) where he falls in with the straight-edge hard core music scene and the economic politics in the grungy East Village.
“I’ve never really played a character who was so dark. It was an entirely different side of a personality,” says Butterfield. “I think everybody has a bit of dark in them, even if you try and hide it, so making some of that come out was quite a lot of fun.”
Next up is the US release this fall of A Brilliant Young Mind (titled X/Y when it came out in the UK), in which Butterfield plays Nathan, a mathematical prodigy on the spectrum who must face his fears to compete in the International Math Olympiad. And the young actor has also been filming Tim Burton’s next picture Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children with Eva Green and Judi Dench. Fatefully enough, he landed the role six months after citing Tim Burton in an interview as the person with whom he would most like to work. Naturally, revisiting this question now causes him some anxiety.
“I better pick carefully,” says Butterfield with a laugh. “If this comes true, then I’m going to come and find you and thank you.”
Leonardo DiCaprio and Ian McKellan, ball’s in your court.