Asa Butterfield plays the first human born on Mars in Peter Chelsom’s The Space Between Us. In person, the 19-year-old, lanky 6’2” actor is a handsome string bean. With his striking blue eyes and pale skin, he looks a little extraterrestrial, which makes him perfect for his role as Gardner, a teenager cocooned all his life in near isolation in space. His character’s only close companion on Mars is Kendra (Carla Gugino), an astronaut who becomes his surrogate mother. (Gardner’s mother died giving birth to him.)
Yearning to discover what life is like on Earth, Gardner begins a relationship by Skype with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a street-smart girl who has been bounced around numerous foster homes. Gardner falls for Tulsa and embarks on an adventure on Earth to discover how to make human connections. The Space between Us is a science fiction, coming-of-age romance and works on all those levels. (The film also stars Gary Oldman.)
Asa Butterfield, best known for his roles in Hugo (2011) and Ender’s Game (2013), stopped by the Crosby Street Hotel last week with co-star Carla Gugino to promote his new film. Following are selected highlights from a roundtable with both stars, which included comments on what it’s like to float on Mars and whether either of them would ever like to go up in space.
What did you think of think of the script when you first read it? Do you like science fiction? And then there’s the unusual love story, as well.
Carla Gugino: First of all, I was so refreshed to read something that wasn’t a sequel of material that I could reference. I was really just going on this journey as a reader. And I was shooting a movie here called Wolves, that’s a very dark character piece. I really love it and it’s coming out not too far from now, but it was such a different world and it was that thing where I needed to read this script during production. I don’t really like to do that, but time was of the essence at the moment that it came to me, so I just disappeared into the world of this movie. It sucked me into an entirely different headspace. It reminded me what I love about movies and why I wanted to act, which is, I just never forget that I was a kid and I walked into the theatre and the lights go down and you’re like a different person. Movies have the power to take you on such an incredible journey.
I just had this strange kind of throwback when I read script. Also for me, the thing that I like, it’s totally subjective, but in terms of I always liked sci-fi that is just a little bit in the future, that step where you can really relate to what’s happening, Black Mirror being a perfect example, The Twilight Zone in its time, and I really liked that in this. There’s a moment we see Gary’s character, Nathaniel, asleep at the wheel, and then you realize the car is driving, and you’re like, “Well that’s happening.” That’s actually in process right now. And sci-fi that comments on things that we do for convenience or things that eventually emerge sort of out of human needs. But how do they also compromise human beings and their connection with each other?
So, it’s sort of amazing that these two characters, Gardner (Asa Butterfield) and Tulsa (Britt Robertson), meet each other over a Skype-like situation. You never would have had that connection if you don’t have technology. So that’s important. But also (in the film), there comes a time when that’s not going to be enough. And I think then my character ends up seeing that it’s not going to be enough for him and she wants him to actually have a tactile human relationship.
The scene with Nathaniel in the driver-less car is a wow moment in the film. Would either of you consider getting into one of those cars?
Asa Butterfield: Well, I can’t drive, so it would make my life a lot easier. Saying that, it would be really disconcerting the first few times not having someone there. Every time you’re sort of making a turn you’d be like inches away from the steering wheel, ready to take over. But, no I don’t think I could (do it).
CG: I remember they were doing some sort of tests and someone said, “Well, I think you know, it’s better than someone driving and texting.” And I was like, indeed, but can we please not text while driving? I would prefer a human being who is actually driving. If you’re looking at someone who is, yes, doing something else, then I suppose it would be handy to have the car driving itself. But I’m not sure we should back into it that way.
Gravity on Mars is just a fraction of what it is here on Earth. What was it like for you physically to do your scenes while in space?
AB: We had rehearsal time beforehand and practiced with wires, and I’ve done it before with Ender’s Game, so, I’ve done it but may not be quite used to it, but we’ve both done stunt work and it’s fun. It’s tricky, because it requires you to keep such a kind of control over every part of your body because any kind of movement can throw you off balance and you need to look so smooth and kind of effortless.
CG: Like you’re just gliding through the air. I mean that was the thing because you had done it so we went into the first day together with the stunt coordinator and Asa was like, “Well I’ve done this and I do this like that,” and I’m like, “Oh yeah, looks pretty easy.” And then I got up there and I’ve done a lot of stunts but I really hadn’t done a lot of wire work. What you expect is that it’s going help you make these movements. And in fact it only supports you and then any time you lean your body one direction or the other, you spin like a top if you don’t stop yourself with your core strength. So it was challenging, really cool and fun to do.
CG: No, not nauseating, thankfully. I wondered about that.
AB: They made us do some flips.
CG: That was not to be done after lunch as I found out once.
But then when you came to earth you had the opposite thing. How did you do that?
AB: Oh, yeah, we would walk around with weights.
CG: They found for us exactly what would be the amount of weight that we would feel the difference of, which was really fascinating. But also the elevation helped, I mean fifty percent out of the breathiness was acting and fifty percent wasn’t. It was really hard to breathe out there in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we shot.
It’s just been reported about the new NASA space suits and how they will be lighter in weight. Did making this film give you space envy?
CG: You know, it’s so interesting because, of course, I’m playing this character for whom that is her world and the world she’s the most comfortable in. It was really interesting because I don’t have that bone. I don’t have that bone in my body that is like, I want to go see other planets. I’m amazed at people that do. But, I think it might also be that I get carsick, so the notion of actual planetary travel just seems like maybe I’m not suited for it.
AB: I could see myself going to space at some point, I think, just to experience zero gravity. Because I kind of pretended to be in zero G so many times, I feel like I kind of deserve to know what it’s really like. I think you could have so much fun. You could invent a whole sport that could only be done in zero gravity.
It seems audiences have seen you grow up on screen. Your kiss with Britt Robertson is only your second screen kiss. (His kiss with Hailee Seinfeld in Ten Thousand Saints is his first.) What has the transition to adult roles, especially now a romance, been like?
AB: It has been kind of gradual. I’m still kind of making the transition, for sure. The role I just did, Journey’s End, felt like the most adult role I’ve had, both in times of the production and everyone kind of being there in the same place on the same day all day. You know, I really felt like one of the men in this group. But yeah, it’s just kind of being gradual and pretty natural, to be honest.
The Space Between Us opens in theaters tomorrow, Feb. 3, 2017.