Young British actor Asa Butterfield, who plays Ender in the new film version of Ender's Game, was born 12 years after the book was first published.
As a result, the 16-year-old Butterfield wasn't that familiar with Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel when the opportunity to read for the lead role first came to him. "I'm a huge fan of science fiction, so I'm surprised I hadn't read it before I saw the script," says Butterfield as he sits down with Blastr recently in Los Angeles. "As soon as I read the script and I found out that it was a book, I straightaway went out and read it and loved it."
Butterfield says it wasn't very difficult to envision himself as Ender Wiggin, the 12-year-old potential savior of the human race, who prepares through harsh training to lead the defense against an invasion by the alien Formics. "For me when I read a script, or even a book, I read it firstly from just the enjoyment factor," he says. "Have I enjoyed reading this? And if I did this part, would I enjoy playing it? It's flying out in zero gravity shooting laser guns, what more could you want? And for me when I first read it I was like, 'I really want to do this.'"
The actor says he was drawn to the story's complexity and themes, which he found "really relevant today," but it was the multilayered, complicated Ender himself that Butterfield found the most fascinating element of the narrative: "I think his character was definitely one of the more complex characters I've played," says Butterfield. "There's so much depth to him, because he's always constantly thinking about every single action that he does. It was really interesting for me talking with Gavin (Hood), the director, to experiment with it. Then there's the whole dynamic between him and his two siblings and how they affect his consciousness and his constant internal struggle. It was hard, definitely, getting every single detail about the character. But I had a lot of fun."
We ask Butterfield if one of the major aspects of the story -- Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) constantly pushing the kids, and particularly Ender, to their mental and physical limits -- had its own echoes in contemporary life. "I think not so much for me," he replies. "But for a lot of young people, especially young actors, there is a lot of pressure to be this Hollywood star and to be constantly be in the limelight, constantly on red carpets and in the press and to spread the word as much as possible about them. Living in London, it's definitely allowed me to be more normal and live a pretty normal life outside of all of this, and to do what any other 16-year-old does, really.
"But yeah, I think that idea of children in war and getting them to do things, which you can't do as an adult, is really important," he continues. "And it is a topic which is discussed a lot today -- you see on the news about children who were given guns and forced to kill people. It's horrific, but it's something we need to talk about. And this film gives people opportunities to discuss it."
An acknowledged gamer, Butterfield finds it striking how Ender's Game, written nearly 30 years ago, anticipated the modern videogame and the increasingly immersive, lifelike experience of playing one. "It's incredible to see how far we've come, not just in terms of videogames, but just in terms of technology and how people of my generation and so much more in tune with it," he offers. "For Ender, that becomes even more relevant -- how he's grown up around these games and it's second nature to him to be able to do these things. It's mind-blowing how close the book is to reality."
Perhaps the single most mind-blowing aspect of making Ender's Game for Butterfield, however, was finding himself acting opposite not just one, but two screen icons: Harrison Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley, the latter of whom plays war hero Mazer Rackham. Is it difficult to stay focused in a situation like that? "Yeah, definitely," he admits. "There's still the little kid inside of you just screaming, 'Oh my God, it's Han Solo, and oh my God, it's Gandhi.' Having the privilege to work with those two phenomenal actors, at such a young age as well, is crazy.
"It was real interesting to be able to be in a room with [Ford], let alone be working with him," says Butterfield. "The amount of information that you absorb just by observing him, just by watching him, is crazy. And as I said before, I think he really did bring the best out of us young actors just by being on the set. We might be laughing or something and then Harrison or Sir Ben would come out and everyone would shut up and put their game face on."
In addition to pushing his own acting abilities further than ever before, Butterfield -- who was last seen in Martin Scorsese's fantasia Hugo -- and his fellow young actors went through a rigorous physical regimen themselves at both a military boot camp and a space camp in order to perform some of the wirework needed for the spectacular antigravity scenes in the Battle Room.
"[Boot camp] was really interesting, to be given an insight into the sort of experiences that these characters were having in the military establishment," he says. "To be in that place with all the other kids and really be given an idea of what life was like in a boot camp was really helpful. And at space camp, we went in a centrifuge, so we experienced what it was like to have multiple G's, then we put on various suits which simulated low gravity. Then we were strapped into gimbals and spun in all the different angles. It was a lot of fun."
Having now completed his first adventure as Ender Wiggin, from first reading the script to performing opposite A-list actors to getting a taste of both military and space training, Butterfield says he's ready for more. "I'd love to do another one. We really want to spread the word about this. I guess it just depends on how well this does. But I've got my fingers crossed that I can be Ender again."
Ender's Game is out in theaters this Friday (Nov. 1).