Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Interview With Asa Butterfield about Hugo

Q: As an audience member Hugo was a fun and magical movie to watch. What was it like to be the star because you were in almost every scene?

A: It was great, but it was also a lot of hard work. It was tiring. Long hours, but it was an amazing education for me. The backbone of the film is about old cinema and I didn't know a lot about it before we made the movie.

Q: So making Hugo was a bit like a film history class?

A: Yeah. The most amazing film class possible (laughs). When we began rehearsals I watched a lot of Georges Melies' films, but I didn't know who he was. But when we started shooting the film I looked into it further. I also looked at a lot of other great early filmmakers. I discovered so much.

Q: What's an example?

A: Just about how filmmakers like Georges Melies have had an impact on the filmmakers that have followed through history. Georges Melies was also the creator of special effects.

Q: Can you explain who your character, Hugo, is?

A: Sure. Hugo is an orphan and lives inside the walls of the Paris train station. His life has been so harsh and he has had to grow up so much faster than anyone his own age should. His father gave him a machine - an automaton - which he is trying to fix. He meets Georges Melies, but does not know his background as a filmmaker. The story is about how Hugo, Georges, Isabelle and the automaton's stories entwine.

Q: Hugo is always dirty. He is covered in grime. Is that make-up or did you roll around in the dirt for an hour before you shot each scene?

A: (Laughs) That was make-up. Don't worry.

Q: Just as Hugo has to grow up quickly, you have had to grow up quickly. I guess after The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was released in 2008 your life changed.

A: Yeah. My life completely changed. It was the turning point. After that I thought acting could be a career opportunity and it was only then I found my passion for acting.

Q: Were you nervous when you first met with Martin Scorsese?

A: Yeah. I flew to New York but once I met him he calmed my nerves. He was so nice to me. You see his other films and you realize what he is doing is bringing all of this immense experience into Hugo. He is not using the 3D as a gimmick where things jump out at you, with Marty everything goes inward and sucks the audience in. It adds a while new layer to the story.

Q: Personally, what was it like being directed by Martin Scorsese?

A: It wasn't bad (laughs). It was incredible. He is so inspirational and is such a perfectionist. He would ask you to do something over and over and over again. You would wonder why. But he would keep going until he got exactly what he wanted and he would say "perfect!" Then when you see the finished film you realize how he brings everything together and how amazing each scene is.

Q: What was it like working with such an exceptional actor as Sir Ben Kingsley?

A: I learned loads from Sir Ben. The first scene we did was the one where he grabs my arm and calls me a thief just before Sacha Baron Cohen's character chases after me. At that moment I knew Sir Ben a little, but not as well as I do now. He gave me plenty of advice.

Q: Like what?

A: One of things that has stuck in my mind is a technical thing. He said 'When you are looking at an actor and the camera is on you, always look at the eye closest to the lens.' He also said 'Acting is a duet and without the other person it can't work'.

Q: Hugo is amazed when he sees his first movie. What was the first movie you saw?

A: My first movie was A Bug's Life. I saw it on a VCR.

Q: Can you talk a little more about discovering Georges Melies' work?

A: Before I started the auditioning process I had seen A Trip to the Moon. I didn't know Georges Melies himself. When I read the screenplay and the book, I got into a much deeper understanding. Marty also gave me some of Georges' films and other filmmakers  to watch. Not only was making Hugo an amazing experience, but it was an amazing education for me on old filmmaking. It completely changes the story. This film isn't just about an orphan. It is also an education about film history.

Q: You have quite a few scenes with Sacha Baron Cohen. What is he like?

A: Yeah, I had lots of scenes with Sacha. The first few involved Sacha and his dog chasing me around. It was bloody tiring, but fun (laughs). We got along well.

Q: Is he anything like Ali G or Borat?

A: It was bizarre because after you see him play characters like Borat and Ali G you think he will come on set and play pranks, but he is really serious and inspirational. When we weren't filming he would stay in character. It inspired me to do the same thing and it did make me a better actor. I did have a lot of tough scenes where he drags me around and I'm crying. We ended up forming a strange bond.

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