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Published:November 24th, 2011 22:06 EST
Hugo 3-D Opens Thanksgiving Weekend: "Asa Butterfield as Hugo is Simply Captivating"

Hugo 3-D Opens Thanksgiving Weekend: "Asa Butterfield as Hugo is Simply Captivating"

By H.B. Forman

Finding just the right boy to portray the title character of 13-year-old Hugo in Martin Scorsese`s grand adventure was a tall order to fill. That is why London-born Asa Butterfield, who is the centerpiece of the film, had to wow everyone involved and he was certainly up to this tremendous undertaking.

The awe-inspiring movie Hugo is based on a best-selling book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and is simply magical. It is an amazing adventure of a resourceful boy was has basically lost everything, including his parents, his home, and his place for feeling safe. By taking an incredible adventure he unlocks the secret his father left to him, takes us on a journey to the beginnings of cinema and finds a safe and loving place that he can finally call home.

After reading two scenes for the great director, Butterfield, best known for his role in The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, had cinched the part in Paramount`s wondrous Thanksgiving holiday movie, Hugo in 3D, that will reawaken the child-like imagination and thirst for adventure in all of us. Hugo co-stars Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer and Chloe Grace Moretz.

A professional actor since the age of eight, Butterfield, now 14, lives in London with his 18-year-old brother, Morgan, and younger sister, Loxie. While he loves being an actor, he makes a point of not letting it take away from boyish pursuits in his life. He enjoys school, spending time with friends, plays piano, computer games, and squash and takes care of his cats. He is also a voracious reader. He was nominated as most promising newcomer from the British Independent Film Award for Stripped Pajamas, and there are early awards buzz for his brilliant portrayal in Hugo as well. His other screen credits include The Wolfman, Nanny McPhee Returns, and a role on the BBC series Merlin.

Tell me about delving into the character of Hugo to portray this massive undertaking. I heard that Hugo`s apparent mystery was a big draw for you.

ASA BUTTERFIELD: You never know much about him. Loads of traumatic things have happened to him, his father has died, his mother`s died. And he ends up living with his [drunken] uncle in a train station, doing a man`s job, fixing the train clocks. And then, his uncle leaves and doesn`t come back. By the time the story starts, all that`s happened to him, and he`s just left alone with his robotic figure, the automaton.

So he`s quite to himself until he meets Isabelle, and then that starts getting him out of his shell. Please describe your character, and what you felt was the key.

AB: Well, Hugo, he`s an orphan and because he`s had to grow up far faster than anyone else his age should have, I found it quite hard to relate to him because of all the hardships he`s gone through in his life.

So I just had to come up with false past for him that was similar to mine and relate to him in that way. What was the biggest challenge for you in making this movie?

AB: The biggest challenge filming it was probably dealing with the crying scenes were probably the hardest, but they`re draining mentally and physically.

The director, Martin Scorsese, gave you and the other actors a great story and he established a bit of the back-story, but did you guys think more in detail about the back-story? Did you talk about it or envision a sequel to continue the romances between the two teen-agers " Hugo and Isabelle?

AB: The relationship between Isabelle and Hugo was interesting because they both needed each other for some reason. They both had something that they didn`t have as parents, and they both wanted to be loved and they needed love. You know, I think Hugo needed someone to talk to, and someone to have close to him. And I needed someone to have an adventure with.

Asa, talk about working with the great director.

AB: Working with Marty was a completely new experience for me. Not only was it an amazing experience, it was an amazing education as well. Because he gave me lots of  `homework` as he called it, in old films both by George Melies and other old filmmakers, and some of these were movies that inspired him to become a director.

So it was amazing working in that way. And the things Marty does on set are just so different from other directors. Please tell me more.

AB: Okay, for example, rather than saying do this and do that, he lets the actors come up with their own ideas to bring to the theme. And because me and Chloe are kids and we could come up with like a truthful representation of how a child would react in certain situations rather than say an adult`s thinking of how a child would act. So it was really helpful working with him. I learned loads.

So how did it feel to be playing a character who is in a way a stand in for the young Scorsese the same way that he loved the early movies?

AB: Yeah, becoming Hugo was an amazing experience because before the auditions I was sort of looking up about sort of 1930s Paris, and what it was like. And when I finally got the part, and I saw the set that Dante Ferretti designed, and it was incredible. It was very Parisian and it was huge. So looking around there was nothing that could take you out of the character.

You couldn`t see a Coke bottle or litter or anything. It was completely spotless, and that was amazing doing that, and that would really help you to become the character. Wow, that sounds magical.       

AB: It was. The whole sort of backbone of the film is on cinema, and Hugo`s character, he`s sort of troubled, and an orphan but he also loves old cinema. So it was like a younger version of Martin Scorsese, and that was amazing working in that way. And then seeing the real version of him in working with him as it grew.

Asa, please talk about the train clocks and all the mechanical devices and everything that you were taking care of.

AB: Yeah, a lot of the clocks were actually in the train station. So they sort of took them down, and you had to go inside then. And some of them that just sort of blow out the insides so you could walk around the hanging clock tower, which Chloe and I spent quite a lot of scenes in. There was this big spinning thing, which a lot of the time I would stand up and it would smack me on the side of the head. And, the working clocks were incredible because they were real. You could actually wind them and they had weights on. And it was just incredible. I mean, as Sir Ben [Kingsley] said, it was a gift to the actors to work that way.