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Interview: Asa Butterfield and Carla Gugino Talk The Space Between Us

The basic human need to connect with, and fit into, society has consumed and perplexed scientists for generations, as they study the extreme measure people will take to form a true relationship. Determinedly trying to form such an authentic bond is powerfully showcased in the new drama, ‘The Space Between Us.’ While the film’s story focuses on the sci-fi notion of a teenage boy being born, and subsequently living his entire life, in a human colonization on Mars, the gripping arc of the protagonist being determined to visit Earth roots the story in humane reality.

The movie stunningly stays as close to reality as possible through the extensive research the filmmakers did, including speaking with NASA scientists. That anchor in realism shows that the expectations and presumptions of what it’s like to connect with mankind on Earth, and how relationships can turn out to be much different than how people thought they would be like, which is a journey everyone goes through.

‘Serendipity’ and ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie’ helmer, Peter Chelsom, directed ‘The Space Between Us.’ The script was written by Allan Loeb, who crafted the story with Stewart Schill and Richard Barton Lewis, who also served as a producer on the drama. The sci-fi romance film is set to be released in theaters on Friday by STX Entertainment.

‘The Space Between Us’ follows a group of six astronauts who travel to Mars to help colonize the planet. Upon the group’s arrival on Mars, their leader dies while giving birth to the first human born on the red planet. The creator of the astronauts’ mission, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), becomes worried about how NASA and the world would react to the unexpected pregnancy, so he insists to his fellow scientists who are working on the project with him to keep the baby a secret. So it’s decided that the child, Gardner Elliot, will grows up on Mars, and his existence will never be revealed to the public on Earth.

The story then jumps ahead 16 years, and Gardner (Asa Butterfield) is still living on Mars. He has only developed relationships with the scientists who are working on the planet’s continued colonization, including Kendra (Carla Gugino), who has become a surrogate mother to him in recent years. The teenage boy has grown up to be inquisitive and highly intelligent, but he has become upset that he has only met 14 people during his very unconventional upbringing, and doesn’t know his father’s identity.

While searching for clues about his father, and his parent’s home planet that he has never known, Gardner begins a unique and secret interplanetary friendship with a foster girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). When he finally gets a chance to visit Earth, Gardner is eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read and hear about on Mars. But after his explorations on Earth begin, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s gravity. Gardner and Tulsa, who finally have the chance to meet in person, embark on a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where he belongs in the universe.

Butterfield and Gugino generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘The Space Between Us’ during a roundtable interview at New York City’s Crosby Hotel. Among other things, the actor and actress discussed how they were both drawn to the story and characters’ originality, especially since they were rooted in a humane reality of wanting life’s most basic connections, despite their extraordinary circumstances. The actor and actress also mentioned how they worked with the film’s stunt coordinator and team as they were preparing for their scenes that are set in the spacecraft on Mars, so that they could accurately showcase what the experience is like of living in an atmosphere that doesn’t have any gravity.

The lead performer began the conversation by explaining how he was drawn to his role of Gardner in ‘The Space Between Us.’ Butterfield revealed that he’s a big genre fan, “so I was attracted to the sci-fi element when I first read the script. I read it years ago, when I was 13. I read it at the same time I read ‘Ender’s Game.'”

The actor in ‘The Space Between Us’ also shared that there was a scene in the first version of the script for his new sci-fi drama in which his character was playing basketball. Gardner would have slam dunked the ball, and “then the gravity is turned off, so I’m just hanging from the hoop. I just remember that scene. So I really like the sci-fi elements, as well as (Gardner’s) relationships” in the film.

Gugino also spoke about why she was interested in starring in the sci-fi movie, and revealed she “was so refreshed to read a script that wasn’t a sequel, or didn’t have a piece of source material that I could reference. I was really just going on this journey as a reader.”

When the actress received the script for ‘The Space Between Us,’ she “was shooting a movie here (in New York) called ‘Wolves.’ It’s a very dark character piece, and I really love it.” ‘Wolves’ is also set to be released this year, but Gugino noted that both films are set “in such different worlds. I read (‘The Space Between Us’) during production (on ‘Wolves’), and that’s not something I normally like to do. But time was of the essence when the script came to me.”

The SAG Award-nominated actress added that she disappeared into her role of Kendra, and “it pulled me into an entirely different headspace. It reminded me of what I love about movies and why I wanted to act. There were moments when I was a kid and would walk into the theater. When you leave later on, you’re a different person. Movies have the power to take you on an incredible journey. So I had a strange throwback to that when I read the script.”

Further speaking of finding the time to balance her various film and television roles, Gugino divulged that “Acting is the love of my life, and I’m so much better when I’m working. For whatever reasons, there have been several times where I’ve ended up working on several projects at the same time. But that wasn’t the case with this film. I had just finished something else, so once I got (to the set for ‘The Space Between Us’), I was able to focus on this the entire time, which was a real luxury.

“I’m better when there’s more asked of me. When I’m in the in between times, I’m trying to figure out what my purpose in life is,” the actress revealed with a laugh. “That seems far to large of a question to be asking myself!”

Also speaking of how he likes to stay busy in his work, Butterfield divulged that once he completed shooting ‘The Space Between Us,’ he went on to film three other movies. One project is the upcoming war film, ‘Journey’s End,’ which is an adaption of R. C. Sherriff’s 1928 dramatic play of the same name. “It has some great British actors, including Stephen Graham, Toby Jones, Paul Bettany and Sam Claflin. It was a really great experience,” the actor stated.

Butterfield also admitted that making the war drama was “hard work, as we were in the mud and dodging trenches. We were in the elements. ‘Journey’s End’ feels like the most adult role I’ve ever had, in terms of the production-everyone was there all day, everyday, so we all felt like we were in the same group.”

Further discussing her experience of working on ‘The Space Between Us,’ Gugino added that she has always liked sci-fi films, like this one, that are set “a little bit in the future, and you can really relate to it happening. Like there’s a moment (in the film) when you see Gary’s character at the wheel, and you realize the car is driving itself. I also like sci-fi that speaks about convenience, and on things that eventually emerge, based on human needs. But you also question how these things compromise us as human beings and our connections with each other.

“It’s amazing that Gardner and Tulsa meet each other over a Skype-like situation. You would never have that connection if you didn’t have technology,” Gugino pointed out. “But there is going to be a time when that connection’s not going to be enough. I think my character sees that that connection isn’t going to be enough for him, and she wants him to have that human relationship.”

Once Butterfield and Gugino started production on ‘The Space Between Us,’ their characters were amongst the few who appeared on both Earth and Mars. Therefore, they had to practice working in the different levels of gravity on both planets, as well as on the spacecrafts that Gardner and Kendra traveled on.

The Saturn Award-nominated actor explained that for the scenes where the characters were in lower gravity, “We had rehearsal time, which was wise. I did (these types of stunts) before with ‘Ender’s Game,’ so I was somewhat used to it. But we have both done stunts before. These types of stunts are fun, but tricky. They force you to have control over every part of your body.”

The actress added that since her co-star had previously performed stunts that involved different gravity levels, when they began working with the stunt coordinator, Charles Croughwell, on ‘The Space Between Us,’ “Asa said, ‘I’ve got this.’ I said, ‘It does look easy.’

“I’ve done a lot of stunts before, but I haven’t done a lot of wire work. So I expected the wires were going to help me make these movements. But in fact, they only support you. So anytime you turn your body one way or the other, you’ll spin like a top if you don’t stop yourself with your core strength,” Gugino revealed. “So it was a challenge, but also really cool and fun to do.”

The two performers also faced the challenge of having to act as though they had to adjust to their bodies feeling heavier once they landed on Earth. To help them understand that experience, Butterfield explained that they “had to wear weights around our waists.”

Gugino then noted that the film’s crew found out how much weight they would feel the difference of, which she described as being fascinating. She added that the elevation they experienced while filming the drama in New Mexico, particularly in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, helped them relate to the change in their bodies that their characters also felt. “You really do feel the difference there. I felt it in the sequence in the film where I’m running after a plane…It was really disconcerting how difficult it was to get your breath back.”

While Kendra is completely comfortable living and working in space, Cugino admitted that she’s not entirely interested in “seeing other planets. I’m amazed at people who do, and I think it’s incredible.” But Butterfield said he “could see myself going into space at some point, just to experience zero gravity. I’ve acted in zero gravity so many times that I feel like I deserve to know what it’s really like,” which elicited a laugh from his co-star.

Even though Butterfield feels that the sci-fi element is an important aspect of the story, he also appreciates the coming-of-age element, as well. The core story is about “the boy learning to be a human, and figure out where he comes from and belongs. Included in that journey is him trying to figure out what love is, and find his father.”

One of the main character helps drive the plot in the sci-fi film is Nathaniel, and Gugino praised Oldman’s work. “He’s obviously one of the greatest actors. When I met and started working with him, we got to do a few days of table work,” the actress divulged. “Gary, Asa and I worked with Peter Chelson, our director. Gary has all these skills, but there’s no ego involved. He’s just there to tell the story, and bring his character to life. He’s incredibly generous as an acting partner.”

Cugino added that “there was a great day in rehearsal when Gary was sitting at the end of the table, and he said, ‘I’m not going to perform this; I just want to say it out loud.’ Then, of course, he does his opening scene speech verbatim, and he was brilliant. It was a beautiful moment to hear those words out loud for the first time.”

Besides praising Oldman as an actor, Cugino also complimented Chelson as a filmmaker. “I find that the best directors are always very collaborative. Peter’s a great director, and was collaborative” on ‘The Space Between Us.’ Butterfield also praised Chelson’s directorial style. “A lot of times Peter would tell me, ‘Be a bit weirder.’ We would let me try different things. It was nice to feel respected in your approach.”

In addition to speaking about his working relationship with Chelson, Butterfield also discussed his on-screen connection with Gugino. “I think Gardener and Kendra’s relationship is very important to them both. She’s the person who’s his buddy, since he never had a mom. She filled that position, but not in a totally motherly way. They’re more like siblings and close friends.”

The actress agreed with her co-star, adding that as their character’s relationship “shifts, she’s acting like a mother, because she cares about him. But she begins acting that way before she even realizes that she’s doing it. She also realizes that she has to stand up and say that he has to go to Earth, or it won’t happen. She’s going to fiercely fight for that.”

Gugino added that Kendra and Gardener are alike in a way. “There’s a scene where he asks her how he’s supposed to act around other people. I used to have a response where I say, ‘I’m not the person to ask.” She’s also someone who could never figure people out. So in that way, I think they’re both loners-one from circumstance, and one by choice, and they’re thrown together.”

Another actress from ‘The Space Between Us’ who Butterfield and Cugino spoke about was Robertson. The actor noted that the performer who played his character’s love interest didn’t begin shooting her scenes until the second week of production. “We didn’t have much time rehearse, so we we would practice on the weekends,” Butterfield noted.

The actor added that the first scene that he shot with Robertson was the one where they meet in Tulsa’s school hallway. “There’s always tension and awkwardness in that type of situation, as you’re trying to figure out how to go ahead it,” he also pointed out.

Cugino also noted that she thinks Robertson is wonderful. “We went to have dinner at this random, but great, little Italian restaurant. It was Peter Chelsom’s favorite place in downtown Albuquerque. She ran in with her hair wet, and it was like, oh, the fourth member of our family has arrived! It felt very organic…she’s a total pro,” the actress revealed.

“It’s so funny-so many people have asked me about working with you, Asa, and with Britt as young actors. It’s interesting, because I started working when I was 13. But age isn’t something you think about when you work with a group pf people who are all there to tell the same story,” Cugino explained. “It’s more about having this sense of trust that you can try to find something better together. Britt was really open to that creative process.”

While the cast embraced the creative process of collaborating together and with the crew, Cugino also pointed out that there can sometimes be external circumstances that can influence their acting, and how a scene is shot. She explained, “It’s interesting that the most dramatic scenes in movies can be dominated by things like all of us trying not to have our teeth chatter. But in a way, something like that can help, because it makes you not be so precious when you’re playing the authenticity of the moment as it’s happening.”

Watch the official trailer for ‘The Space Between Us’ below.

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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