Down to Earth – ‘THE SPACE BETWEEN US’ actor Asa Butterfield on the importance of human connection


Preston Barta // Editor

As children, we all looked to the imminent 21st century and thought of a big, sci-fi future. The kind of world where we’d take trips in hovercars to the grocery store and have robot butlers fold our laundry.

That version of the future hasn’t arrived. While our technology continues to grow rapidly, with cameras on our phones and the knowledge of the world at our fingertips, we don’t live on Mars, like many ’80s films predicted. For now, that vision remains in cinema.

The latest movie to explore this possibility of life on the big red planet next door is THE SPACE BETWEEN US, a story of a young man (Asa Butterfield) who was born on Mars but longs to experience all the joys and wonders of life on Earth.

With a plot like this, there are many directions it can go in. Comparison to last year’s The Martian are inevitable. However, the only similarities between those two films is its setting. THE SPACE BETWEEN US doesn’t much focus on the science of the mission. It’s more concerned with what connects us all.

“At the age I am [19], films made around teenagers are love stories. Young love is a very common theme,” Butterfield said during a stop in Dallas on a promotional tour. “It’s not an easy theme but it’s an approachable theme.”

The last few films Butterfield has done showcase this. Whether he’s locking lips with a character in Tim Burton’s MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR or being confronted by the irrational nature of love in 2014’s A BRILLIANT YOUNG TIME, young love is certainly a common thread in Butterfield’s filmography.

“I’d like to think of myself as a romantic, but I’m not very proactive about it,” Butterfield quipped. “I’m perfectly happy keeping to myself and kind of just going with whatever life throws at me. I don’t go out seeking things in particular. I very much live in the moment.”

Britt Roberston and Asa Butterfield are star-crossed lovers in THE SPACE BETWEEN US. Courtesy of STX Entertainment.

Another common element that ties Butterfield’s films together is the admiration of classic cinema. Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film HUGO is a clear standout. But in THE SPACE BETWEEN US, Butterfield’s character, Gardner Elliot, learns about love and human connection through the movies that are available to him on Mars, most notably 1987’s WINGS OF DESIRE.

“While movies didn’t necessarily inform me about love in my own life like it did my character, I watched a lot of films in preparation for this role, which shaped my character. WINGS OF DESIRE was the obvious one, as it was scripted and was used to sort of reflect what we see on screen in Gardner’s story,” Butterfield said.

Love for film can be seen all throughout THE SPACE BETWEEN US. Take Butterfield’s name for instance. The name and story influence comes from the 1979 Peter Sellers-starring film Being There, which centers on a man named Chauncey Gardiner who comes out into the real world for the first time in his life and explores it in a childlike manner.

“Doing this film and Hugo broadened my horizons with older cinema,” Butterfield said.

One touch that makes THE SPACE BETWEEN US a story to admire and one that is universal is its emphasis on human connectivity. In the film, Gardner meets a young teen named Tulsa (Britt Robertson) online while on Mars. He later joins up with her on Earth to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be. During one key sequence, Gardner talks about how his relationship with her makes him feel human.

“Having a connection with people, whether it’s your family or friends, human interaction and contact is what makes us feel alive,” Butterfield said when asked about what makes him feel human. “If we didn’t have it, I think we’d go mad.”

THE SPACE BETWEEN US may feature big concepts like space travel, advanced technology and life on Mars, but at the end of the day, it’s a film about love, acceptance and respect.

THE SPACE BETWEEN US opens on Friday.

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About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.