You may know him as Ender from Ender’s Game, or Hugo from Hugo, or even the titular role as the Boy in the Striped Pajamas… but Asa Butterfield has a long and varied acting career under his belt. He frequently travels to the US to work on big budget productions with some of the hottest directors in the industry... but he still has time for smaller projects based in London. And that includes passing on what he's learned.
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At only 22, Asa has already worked with some of the greats including Martin Scorsese, Harrison Ford and Tim Burton.
“I’ve been working since I was like 8 or 9, somehow, and I’m still doing it..” he tells us. “So I’ve done something right”
Plucked out of after-school drama classes in Islington at 8 years old to star in The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Asa has never looked back.
And now he’s tackling the world of streaming and TV with his starring role in the hit Netflix series “Sex Education” which is currently filming its second season in Wales.
The Asa Butterfield Masterclass
We sat down with Asa in between classes at The Reel Scene acting school in London, where he runs an acting masterclass, to talk a little bit about and the class and what actors need to do to stand out in what is a very competitive field.
“I'm back with the Reel Scene for another one of my workshops. We're working with a group of actors - really talented guys, actually - we’re all here to learn. I'm going to be sharing some of my knowledge of the industry, things I've picked up. We’ve also got another director and actor Steve North (Doctor Who, London’s Burning) who are helping us and James Midgley (Coronation Street) who's on the cameras. We've got an amazing group of people to help teach these guys the things they are going to need to know.”
The three-day course is just one of the offerings from The Reel Scene, who depart from the usual drama school path by focusing on screen acting and the skills actors need to get acting work. Although they cover a variety of techniques (Meisner, Stanislavksy etc), their focus is on the practical skills students need to get acting work - how to film an effective self-tape, how to handle auditions… even how to work with social media and manage themselves as self-employed business owners.
“I met with Alex (Fidelski) about two and a half years ago - Alex runs The Reel Scene - and we were trying to think of ways I could get involved. I loved what they were doing - a way of teaching people not just the things you learn in drama school, but the actual skills they need coming out of drama school. From how to get an agent, to having headshots… proper etiquette on the set… all these things which you don't really learn. And then being able to be here and share my experiences and actually work and improvise with all of these up-and-coming actors is fantastic, really.”
Working with Acting Students
Asa is very hands-on when he works with acting students. He takes part in the improvisations, directs their scenes (all taken from films he’s had a role in) and spends time with each student to answer questions and give them the benefit of his experience.
“I hope that actors can see the fun in acting and collaborating and that the experiences and the friendships you make are one of the most important parts about it. Hopefully, we can teach them a bit about what it's really going to be like working on a set - the things you might expect working with a director, the different types of directors.
We had a Q&A at the start so everyone got to ask their burning questions then and after that it's just getting them to relax, getting them comfortable in their own bodies and collaborating.”
Asa’s Thoughts on Acting
Many years spent on a variety of sets has taught Asa a lot about actors and the acting process. He knows what it takes to be a good actor.
“I would say that acting is a competitive industry and the people who really stand out are people who have really who have other passions and interests as well as acting, and who are able to do other things and engage themselves in other activities and have all these experiences. Which ultimately aid in their acting. Because you are drawing upon past experiences or resemblances of different people's experiences… and all of those things really help. Whether it's a skill like playing guitar … or having another external output aside from just acting… those things are huge.”
The Future for Asa Butterfield
Asa has been working since he was a child and although he sometimes talks about life outside acting - such as the dream of filming wildlife documentaries - it looks like we’ll be seeing him on screen for some time yet.
“I recently had a film come out called Slaughterhouse Rulez - Simon Pegg produced it - which is a lot of fun.
"It's absolutely bonkers, unlike a lot of the films I've done. And another big movie this year with a few of the Reel Scene guys who found their way onto the screen - it's great to see them coming from just wanting to do something to actually working with them on a film set, which is crazy! I’m very proud of them.”
Despite his success with Sex Education, Asa is not resting on his laurels, with more projects coming up including a challenging role in a project based on work written by Stephen Fry.
We’re grateful to have Asa as part of The Reel Scene team and look forward to working with him on his next workshop later this year. If you subscribe (below) we’ll let you know when that is (it’s always dependent on his schedule).
We asked Asa if he had any advice for actors looking to get started or who needed to continue their training.
“If you are looking to be an actor, or wanting to get into the industry, you should check out The Reel Scene website and enjoy the community. Because it really is a sort of family here. We help people start in the industry and make the connections they need to support them through workshops and masterclasses - like the one I've been running. It’s an amazing place to start and learn and meet people. Check it out.”
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