Sitting across the sofa from Asa Butterfield it is hard not to feel very young. The 11-year-old star has the uncanny ability, common to so many pre-pubescent boys, of reducing me to my gawky teenage self.
“So what do you want to ask?” he says, fixing me with his blue eyes. His blithe unawareness as to why I want to talk to him makes every question seem trivial.
We are sitting in the basement kitchen of his home in Islington, north London, while his Mum, slightly confusingly called Jake, cooks dinner. In this homely setting it is hard to imagine him as Bruno, his character in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, staring through the barbed wire fence into the horror of a Nazi concentration camp.
But Asa is a born actor. Listening to him describe acting in a film about the holocaust, it is hard to believe that director Mark Herman chose him for the part because of his innocence to the subject matter.
“The last scene was horrible; I almost threw up,” he says. “It felt like I was going through it, though nowhere near as bad.” But the role has brought him fame, two nominations for a British Film Award and a London Critics Circle Film Award.
This part is the latest in a long string of parts that would make many grown actors turn green with envy. Asa has been acting since the tender age of seven at the Islington-based Young Actors Theatre, where he got his first part in the 2006 television drama After Thomas, followed by the 2007 children’s comedy Son of Rambow.
He begins work on his next film, The Kid, a true-life story of desecrated childhood, next month. In it, he plays a young boy who suffers terrible abuse at the hands of his mother. “It’s sort of horrific. I’m abused really badly. My mum beats me until she’s too tired to carry on. She breaks my hand in a mangler,” he says earnestly.
I say it must be hard to act in a scene like that and his previous scorn returns: “Well I haven’t done it yet, so we’ll have to see.”
But, as for many child stars before him, Asa has had second thoughts. In an interview with The Times he said that he did not want continue his career on the silver screen. He says it was because of missing his friends and family, who he did not see for the three-months of filming.
But now that he is back at school in Stoke Newington, he has changed his mind: “Seeing as I’ve had loads of press now – well, not that much – and some nominations, I reckon I probably want to be an actor now.”
For more, visit: www.islingtonnow.co.uk