Long before he landed a leading role in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Asa Butterfield was asked to name the one director he would love to work with.
“It’s funny I remember being asked, maybe about a year before I got the part, if there was one director I would work with who would it be? And I said Tim Burton,” he recalls.
“And this was before I knew about this project and I’ve always loved his films because they are unique. He creates a world on screen that is so immersive, so beautiful. And then a year later I found myself on set with Tim making Miss Peregrine. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled.
“There are lots of great auteurs out there and they have stylistic devices which they use and you can go ‘right, that’s a Scorsese film..’ but with Tim I think it’s so unique, so particular I don’t think anybody else can do what he does in the same way. And from working with him on this film, the way that he constructs a scene in his head, I can tell you, he’s a genius.”
Asa plays Jake who has grown up entranced by the stories that his grandfather would tell him of an orphanage on a remote island off the coast of Wales where children with strange abilities lived.
“And he always thought it was a fairy tale and that they weren’t true. But after his granddad dies in quite an horrific manner, various things lead him to Wales to try and find out more about his granddad because a lot of his life was a mystery and that’s where a lot of our story kicks off,” says Asa.
“He finds this home and finds these children – who are still children all these years later – and it’s all a bit weird and strange.”
With a screenplay based on the best selling novel by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is, says Asa, “perfect” material for Burton, the director who has brought us contemporary classics including Edward Scissorhands and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Miss Peregrine is the story of a family of outcasts – children who, because of their gifts, have to live outside of society – a love story with time travel, monsters and a powerful message at its heart that we should all be who we want to be. “I can’t think of anyone other than Tim who could direct this,” says Asa.
Asa was born in London and has been acting since he was seven years old. His films include The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, The Wolfman, Hugo, Ender’s Game, A Brilliant Young Mind, 10,000 Saints and The Space Between Us.
Q: This material sounds like a great Tim Burton movie…
A: I know. I can’t think of anyone other than Tim who could direct this. It’s perfect (laughs).
Q: Tell us about Jacob, the character you play, and how he fits into the story?
A: Jacob thinks he is a pretty ordinary guy. He grew up in Florida and he sort of believed that everything he did wouldn’t make a difference. He was extremely close to his granddad who would tell him stories when he was a kid about this magical home and the strange children who lived there. And he always thought it was a fairy tale and that they weren’t true. But after his granddad dies in quite an horrific manner, various things lead him to Wales to try and find out more about his granddad because a lot of his life was a mystery and that’s where a lot of our story kicks off. He finds this home and finds these children – who are still children all these years later – and it’s all a bit weird and strange.
Q: Did you read the book for part of your research or just rely on the script?
A: I did read the book. I’ve done five films which have been book adaptations – I’ve done more films that have been book adaptations than not, which isn’t that common – and with all of them I’ve found that reading the book gives me a lot more context and information about the character and just helps me to build the character and try and figure him out. And in this case, it was really helpful having the book and the sequels, as well, which Ransom has written.
Q: The story has some dark themes – the grandfather fled from Holocaust Europe, it asks whether we would want to stay young if we could – what did you make of those themes?
A: I think both the book and the film is quite hard to pin down genre wise. It is fantastical and it has elements of science fiction, history and a lot of themes that are really relatable. And if you watch the film, just like when you read the book, it’s very easy to sympathise with the characters.
Q: You’re playing an American. How’s that with the accent?
A: I think an American accent is something you have to come to terms with, particularly for a British actor, you pretty much have to be able to do an American accent to be able to really go places in the industry because the vast majority of films are made in America with American actors, that’s just the way it is. But it was weird as doing an American accent as an Englishman surrounded by Americans doing English accents (laughs). So it is weird but I’ve got used to it.
Q: Tell us about working with Tim?
A: It’s amazing. He’s such a lovely man. It’s funny I remember being asked, maybe about a year before I got the part, if there was one director I would work with who would it be? And I said Tim. And this was before I knew about this project and I’ve always loved his films because they are unique. He creates a world on screen that is so immersive, so beautiful. And then a year later I found myself on set with Tim making Miss Peregrine. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled.
Q: So were there Tim Burton films growing up that particularly resonated with you?
A: Partially that but I also think there is no other director like Tim. There are lots of great auteurs out there and they have stylistic devices which they use and you can go ‘right, that’s a Scorsese film..’ but with Tim I think it’s so unique, so particular I don’t think anybody else can do what he does in the same way. And from working with him on this film, the way that he constructs a scene in his head, I can tell you, he’s a genius.
Q: Does he show you art-work?
A: Yes, he has shown me concept art. But I also think he doesn’t like the actors to be taken out of what is going on around them so he doesn’t like to overload them with too much information.
Q: You’re working with an extraordinary cast here. Tell us about Terence Stamp who plays granddad…
A: He wasn’t with us for long; he was in the Florida shoot. But it’s key because the relationship between Jacob and his granddad is so important, it’s pivotal to understanding his motivation for going to Wales. And working with Terence was amazing. He’s another complete legend in the industry. I’ve been really lucky with people I’ve been able to work with and again, he’s just a really nice guy. He’s very genuine and complimentary and I had so much fun working with him. And the same could be said for all the actors on this film. It’s been really cool working with Eva and again, she’s an incredible actress. And it’s been really interesting watching her play Miss Peregrine and the way she has physicalized the character – she’s given Miss Peregrine bird like aspects – is really interesting from an actor’s perspective. She is really sweet and very genuine.
Q: You’re 18 now. Have you finished school?
A: Yes, I finished my A level exams a couple of weeks ago, so they are all done. So now I’m free (laughs).
Q: So you don’t have to have tutors on set anymore the way that some of your colleagues do…
A: No, I don’t and it’s so much easier. Adult actors have it easy – when you’re a kid that’s when it’s tough and you are on set and as soon as you’re off you have to completely change what you are thinking about and start doing mathematics or something and then 20 minutes later you are back on set doing a really emotional scene and it’s tough. There’s no other way to put it. I’m just relieved that I’ve got it all out of the way.
Q: What will you do next? Are you thinking of drama school or just keeping on working?
A: University is definitely on my list to do but I’m not in a rush at all. I’m very happy, whilst I have these opportunities, to make the most of them. Acting is what I want to do. I love doing it. And not just acting, but filmmaking and documentary making. I really want to get behind the camera at some point and learn cinematography at some point.
Q: And while you are on set do you talk to the crew and get a few tips?
A: I do. It’s really interesting because everyone is so good at what they do here and you can learn a lot. I think it would complement my acting, it goes hand-in-hand because it’s creative. But I would also love to do wildlife documentaries and focus on what you are capturing in the frame. I love photography, I love filmmaking, so to me it’s the best of all worlds.
Q: Which Tim Burton films did you watch growing up?
A; The Nightmare Before Christmas is the one that really stands out for me. I had that on video and I watched that many, many times – I love that film. And Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, all of his films that I watched growing up. They’re great and they stay with you.
Q: Have you met Ransom Riggs?
A: I have met Ransom a few times and he’s a really nice guy. I think he’s a little overwhelmed, as you would be, that Tim Burton is directing the film of his book. A book is like your child and then suddenly it’s taken by such an amazing man to create something new. He’s a great author; he’s young and he has some great ideas.
Q: Do you have any sense of how scary the film will be? Because there are parts of the book where it is genuinely scary…
A: I think what Tim is good at is capturing the scariness and the creepiness of the story but not in an in-your-face way, it’s always very subtle. It’s not over the top but it is still unsettling and creepy.
Q: We don’t want to spoil the ending but didn’t you film a big sequence in Blackpool, the seaside resort in England?
A: Yes. That was great, too. It was hard work and it was very full on; we had long days, six-day weeks and so it was probably the hardest part of the shoot. And Blackpool is an interesting place. We had a lot of fun there.
Q: Is there a lot of CGI and do you have to do a lot of green screen work?
A: We do have blue and green screens and some elements of the film are CGI. But a lot of it are physical effects with stunts. I’ve been doing that and all of the cast have had their fair share. I’ve been doing all of my stunts so far which I’m quite proud of. I enjoy doing it and harnesses aren’t comfortable but you spend all day flying around and it’s great (laughs).
Q: Is that when you are fighting Hollows?
A: Fighting hollows, jumping off buildings, all of that good stuff. It’s been amazing (laughs).
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is now available to own on DVD.