Asa Butterfield continues to be one of the rising young British acting stars who will be returning to the big screen this week in new film X+Y. We have seen Butterfield star in Ender's Game and Hugo in recent years, but X+Y is his first major role in an independent film.
X+Y sees Butterfield team up with director Morgan Matthews for the first time, while Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall are also on the cast list.
I caught up with the actor to chat about the film, tacking an independent film for the first time and jugging film and schoolwork.
- X+Y will see you return to the big screen, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
X+Y is a movie that focuses on this young boy called Nathan, who is on the neurodevelopment disorder spectrum and I guess it is about his journey and him learning to express emotions, which he has previously locked away after the tragic loss of his father when he was younger.
Not only that, but X+Y is also his journey through maths where he both learns about maths but also learns about love, which he had for this young Chinese girl.
- You take on the central role of Nathan in the film, so what was it about this character and the script that was the major appeal when you read it for the first time?
I think I can speak for any actor when I say that any role that pushes you and your abilities is a good one - and this was exactly that. This was a role that really allowed me to learn new things about a topic, which I didn't know much about, and push my acting abilities. It really was a great script when I read it for the first time.
- This is a movie that explores neurodevelopment disorders, so what kind of research did you do into this area as you were preparing for the role? And how helpful was Morgan Matthews' original documentary Beautiful Young Minds?
It was very helpful. By talking to Daniel, who was in the original documentary, as well as speaking to other young people who were at different places on the spectrum and learning about the difficulties they had growing up and some of the hardships that they faced, I was about to build up a lot of information that was very useful.
- Speaking to Morgan, he is in the director's chair for the film. How did you find him as a filmmaker? And how collaborative a process was it between actors and directors - was he open to you bringing some of your own ideas to the table?
It was extremely collaborative. This is Morgan's first feature film, but before this, he has worked on documentaries. Having had my fair share of films, seeing his approach to filmmaking, in terms of his style, the way that he works with actors, as well as the way he edits, was really very original.
I think that gave us actors a breath of fresh air as it really allowed us to focus on the scenes. Plus Morgan's cinematographer Danny Cohen didn't get in your face and allowed you to forget that you were on a film set, which was nice.
- I imagine that you have not worked that way too often during your career, so how refreshing was that for you as an actor?
It was. I am still young, I still have lots to learn, and I am sure that are many more great experience to come, hopefully. It wasn't like any film that I have done before. It is always great to see new techniques ad styles - especially ones that really work well.
- A terrific cast has been assembled for the film with Sally Hawkins playing your mother and Rafe Spall playing you teacher. How did you find working with these two actors? They already have already a great connection having worked together on the stage.
They were amazing to work with. I have had the privilege of working with many great actors and actresses in my career so far, but in this case, both the content of the film and Morgan's style, really did allow me and all the other actors that chance to experiment, we had plenty of time to improvise and really bring our own life into the film, which was nice because it makes things more personal.
- Did you like the improvisation side of things then?
Yes I really did. Even though we had an amazing script written by James Graham being able to improvise and play around with the lines meant that we could make it more real and the emotions that we are experiencing in that moment. We are able to use those experiences to put in our own lines and elevate s scene even further, which often works really well. Sometimes it doesn't (laughs).
- This is a movie very much about relationships and the relationships with his mother and Mr Humphreys are key how exciting was it to build and explore those with Sally and Rafe? Was there plenty of rehearsal time were you were able to build a relationship between yourselves?
Rafe and I were very fortunate to spend some time together talking about the characters and the journey that they had had together. I think that both Sally and Rafe are incredible actors and I hope that I get to work with them again.
- X+Y has already played on the festival circuit, so how have you been finding the response to the film so far?
It has been a brilliant response and I think that everyone has gained something from watching the film. The film has gained great feedback and I have gained great feedback as well, which is always nice to hear. It really does make it all worth it when you can share it with everyone when you have put so much time and so much love into the production.
- It sounds like you have taken real pride from this film and you have delivered a performance that is perhaps one of your favourites.
I think so, yes. It is definitely one of the films that I am the most proud of by far. Not only from my own side and my own performance, but everyone has just come together to produce a really great story that has now been met well.
- We have seen you star in big budget movies such as Ender's Game and Hugo, how does working on a more independent film compare?
This was my first major character in an independent film, so the different in scale is really quite drastic, which was a great experience. Having said that, it wasn't any better or any worse. In these films, within a scene, you are much closer to the character, what's going on in the scene and the other people in the scene and that is because so much of the film revolves around that moment as apposed to films that have huge backgrounds, more extras and more to think about. You can really get down to what is going on inside the character's head.
- We are also going to be seeing you in Ten Thousand Saints this year - which has already played at Sundance - can you tell me a bit about that?
Ten Thousand Saints I shot this time last year, and it was a brilliant project to be a part of. It was another great script and I had an amazing cast around me including Hailee Steinfeld - who I had worked with on Ender's Game - and Ethan Hawke - who is a great actor.
I really enjoyed working on that film and it is more mature than any of the other films that I have done in may career so far. It is a movie that is darker and edgier and tackles some more prominent issues. It is set in New York in the 1980's and I was really able to dive into the era, which was pretty cool.
- Finally, what's next for you going through 2015?
I have a couple of films lined up this year. I am currently in rehearsals for a film called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which is the next film for Tim Burton. Therefore, that has got my attention at the moment, along with schoolwork.
- How are you finding that juggling act?
No easier. I am doing my A-Levels at the moment so it is pretty full on. My friends at school are having it hard enough with preparations and exams, but I have also got a film to get ready for and perform in. So it is a very busy year - however, I am not complaining as I am loving it.
X+Y is released 13th February.
Tagged in Asa Butterfield