Ender's Game Interview: Asa Butterfield

We speak to the kid charged with saving planet Earth in Ender's Game

In Ender's Game , a genius kid is taken away from his family and given an intensive course in battle tactics in the hope that his strategic thinking could be the weapon that ends a long-running war with alien "Formics". Dropped into increasingly difficult situations by the teachers at the Battle School, Ender Wiggin is forced to face up to bullies and his own conscience as struggles with a very daunting destiny. We spoke with Ender himself, Asa Butterfield ( Merlin , Hugo ) about playing Ender's Game .

A lot of Ender's Game was filmed on practical sets. Did that help you believe that you really were in orbit in a future where humans are fighting against spacefaring bugs?
Totally, when you're there and you look around you're surrounded by this world, it is really helpful, because there's nothing that can take you out of character, you're just there, and it's like it's real.

A lot of the original Ender's Game novel takes place in Ender's head, as he debates the morality of what he's asked to do. Was it a challenge to show all that on screen?
Yeah, when I read the script I accepted the fact it was going to be a challenging role and it was going to be unlike things I'd done before. Using the novel was so helpful when when we were developing it – you are just immersed in this world and you just can't let anything take you out of it.

You're from London but you're playing American. Did you find the accent a challenge?
I think it was one of the biggest challenges, especially throughout auditioning, but once I got the hang of it it did become easier, and being around Americans in New Orleans was really useful because you're just surrounded by people who have the accent – even if it is a sort of southern, slight Louisiana drawl.

The famous zero gravity scenes were mostly filmed on wires. How did you get on with that?
There was a lot of machinery to help with that, but it was mainly down to us being able to simulate realistically what zero-g would have been like, whether it's with the hand movements, or the core strength so you can stay horizontal only suspended by your hips, while acting and speaking at the same time.

So they didn't get you up in a plane doing zero-g dives like they did for Apollo 13 ?
They didn't, but I wish that they had got us on the "vomit comet".

Those suits don't look like they were very comfortable – especially in Louisiana heat?
They weren't comfortable to say the least, especially when you had the harness on. They were a nightmare to wear, but they look good and once you got over the physical pain it was all right.

The relationship between Ender and Colonel Graff, the head of the Battle School (played by Harrison Ford), is an interesting one – he's part mentor to Ender, part antagonist. Did you discuss the nature of that dynamic a lot?
We did. My relationship with Harrison on set was a lot more professional than with the other kids, and because there is always a bit of tension between Ender and Graff – even though Graff secretly has a bit of affection for Ender, he tries to suppress it in the military style. We didn't keep our distance, but we kept that feeling in between takes.

Ender doesn't know what he's going to have to do at the end of the movie, but as an actor you did. Did you have to try and take that element of foresight out of your mind?
We shot the script pretty much in chronological order, and that's really helpful because all of the experiences you have throughout the film affect what happens in the future. So by the end of the film, it's the last month of shooting, with the experiences that Ender would have had and I would have had, and all that will affect your character. It might be in a minute way, but it does affect your performance, so that's really helpful. In the ending [MINOR SPOILER] , Ender is oblivious to what he's doing, but obviously I knew because I'd read the script. You do just have to put that outside your head because you're not there – I'm not Asa, I'm Ender when I'm acting. At least I was for this. I'm not always Ender when I'm acting!

How did Ender's Game compare to making Hugo with Martin Scorsese?
Gavin [Hood, director of Ender's Game ] and Marty are completely different, because Marty's much more focused on the precision and every single detail and he's an artist, and then Gavin is so passionate about story, and because he wrote the screenplay he knows exactly what he wanted and he puts so much energy and effort into his directing, which in turn affects the actors. Gavin's much more involved in getting the actors to reach the place they need to reach.

There are many sequel novels to the original Ender's Game . Would you like to play Ender again?
I hope so, but we've yet to see on any sequel opportunities. But fingers crossed.

Ender's Game is released by Entertainment One on Friday 25 October.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.