He may play the most normal character in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children , but that doesn't mean Asa Butterfield doesn't know a thing or two about what it's like to feel different. The 19-year-old, who first burst onto the scene as the child star of 2008's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, has carved out a niche for himself as one of Hollywood's oddest and most compelling young actors. He won raves for playing the titular teen of Marin Scorsese's Hugo, a boy obsessed with clocks and machines; soon, he'll play a boy whose life spent solely on Mars doesn't prepare him for what it's like when he finally arrives on Earth. Butterfield knows what it's like to not quite fit in, and not just due to the characters he plays.
"As an actor, just growing up, you feel out of place, you feel like a fish out of water at times," Butterfield tells me, leaning over across the table at New York's McKittrick Hotel. "Especially when I first started in this — I kinda trucked into the deep end. People have expectations of you, and you don’t really know how to live up to those expectations."
Indeed, although Butterfield has found impressive success — his performance in Pyjamas led to several award nominations, and Hugo earned him many more — he's always seemed to be in a different category than his peers. His talent lies not in a relatable, every-guy charm, but in his oddity, with his big eyes and and intense, older-than-his-years stare. Yet the factors that may make him something of an outsider in Hollywood are what also made him a perfect choice for Miss Peregrine's, a movie about celebrating weirdness directed by the king of weirdness, Tim Burton. For Butterfield, the strange nature of the movie, and the beloved book its based on, is what made it so interesting.
"It’s fantastical and magical and weird and creepy," he says, adding that Burton's directing style, noted for its quirky, often surreal feel, was a perfect fit. "He’s very unique in directing in that sense, that he doesn’t really care what people think. He makes the movies he wants to make and sticks by it, and that’s very admirable."
Especially for Miss Peregrine's, considering just how loved the film's source material is by so many fans. Ransom Riggs' 2011 novel, about a teenage boy (Butterfield in the film) who discovers an orphanage populated by children with supernatural abilities, was a massive bestseller, spawning two sequels and a graphic novel. As the actor tasked with bringing the series' main character to life, Butterfield admits that he's felt some pressure — but, having already been through a very public book-to-movie adaptation process with Ender's Game, it hasn't taken too much of a toll.
"You can’t please everyone," he says, matter-of-factly. "You do what you do, and believe in it wholeheartedly. You don’t have second thoughts."
Even if he had had any concerns, though, the talent surrounding Miss Peregrine's would likely have put them to rest. Butterfield's co-stars include Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Green, and Judi Dench, as well as an impressive group of child actors who all bring their A-game to the ensemble film. Working with Jackson was especially exciting for Butterfield. "Sam, he has this energy which he brought to the film," he says. "He gave everyone a new life, almost."
Jackson's presence, as a villainous creature out to get Jacob and the other children, certainly adds energy to the film, as well as some supernatural thrills, adding to the movie's fantastical feel. It's what made Butterfield so intrigued by the movie, and the sci-fi/fantasy genre as a whole.
"It’s the freedom you have to do different things and explore new worlds, and you don’t have to abide by the rules of real world," he says. "You got more creativity and more freedom as an actor." Sounds like a world perfectly fit for the ever-evolving Butterfield.
Images: 20th Century Fox