Game boy in real life

In the new science-fiction film Ender's Game, children are the world's best hope for leading an impending fight against alien invaders, largely because they were raised on computer games so their brains are better suited to the demands of computerised warfare.

It was a happy coincidence, though, that the film ended up casting a real-life tech-savvy teenager, Asa Butterfield, as Ender, a bright young boy who rises through the ranks of the military because of his gaming prowess.

Butterfield, 16, is an accomplished actor who has been performing since the age of seven.

His film credits include Martin Scorsese's 2011 fantasy Hugo, in which he played the title role, and 2008's The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, where his character befriends a boy trapped in a concentration camp.

But Ender's Game, which opens in Singapore this week, is Butterfield's biggest movie to date.

Directed by Gavin Hood, who was behind 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the 2005 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Tsotsi, it sees him sharing top billing with megastar Harrison Ford.

Ender clashes repeatedly with Ford's character, a military commander, and in one scene gets to yell at the legendary Star Wars and Indiana Jones actor.

He admits that this was pretty cool.

"Yeah, it's Harrison Ford, what more can you say? I was nervous, as anyone would be," he says, revealing that the 71-year-old was deliberately frosty towards him between takes so as not to break character.

Ultimately, though, Ford was a great co-star. "He makes you feel so comfortable that you forget that it's Hans Solo," says the boy.

As for the film itself, he is not entirely unsure whether the young people it is being marketed to will understand the questions it raises about the morality of violence, remote warfare and the use of child soldiers - themes that made the 1985 Orson Scott Card novel it is based on a critical and commercial success.

The "more mature ones definitely will", he tells Life!.

"Because it's such a complex film, and there are so many themes and ideas that are relevant to society today, I think there is a lot they can get out of it," says the actor, an avid gamer who likes multiplayer strategy titles such as Dota 2.

For him, Ender's Game also marks a critical juncture in his life, for its success will determine the possibility of a franchise based on the other books in the series, which the author recently promised to add to.

"I'm trying not to get too excited about possibilities, but I'd love to be Ender again," says the teen, who is now studying for his A levels in Britain.

Whether he goes to university after that will "partially depend on how my career is going, and whether I'm still getting good projects".

Or, he adds, "whether I still want to be an actor. You never know, I might have a change of heart".

This could, of course, just be a bit of bravado in case the movie does not do well, or if the sequel ends up casting an older actor in keeping with the books, the second of which finds Ender in his 30s.

But unlike many child actors, Butterfield seems to have enough interests outside of acting to make an alternative path viable.

He is already a budding app developer, having designed an iPad car-racing game called Racing Blind, which he says is "the only game on the app store that you can play with your eyes closed".

He and family members "came up with the idea years ago, before the iPad existed", and played it on pen and paper.

"But the iPad screen is the perfect size, so my dad, my older brother and I coded it, designed the music and created the tracks," he says of the turn-based multiplayer game, which allows up to nine people to take turns driving a car around a track. Butterfield has two younger sisters.

"Video games can improve spatial awareness and memory, and this game takes both into account.

"You see the track, you see your car and then you close your eyes and try to remember where everything is. It's surprisingly difficult, you have to get used to it and the only way you know that you've crashed is when you hear the sound and the music cuts out," he explains, adding that it sold well on the Apple app store since its April debut.

The actor enjoys photography and making music too, and says he does not rule these out as careers.

For now, though, he is waiting to see how fans of the Card books - many of whom are now adults - will react to the long-awaited film adaptation, which took about 25 years to develop.

"There's a lot of anticipation for this. The books have been around for 30 years, there are millions of fans and the character of Ender is so highly regarded in the science-fiction world.

"So yeah, there are some pressures in bringing a film of this scale to life after so many years. And for me, being quite young, it has put more pressure on me than any other role I've done. I hope I've done it justice."


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