Mars is having a bit of a moment.
Not only is the Red Planet the primary setting for blockbusters like The Martian, but recent scientific achievements like the Curiosity rover and NASA’s discovery of flowing water have revitalized popular interest in our neighboring planet. Human settlement on Mars seems closer than ever, and the private organization Mars One is planning to establish a permanent colony there within the next few years. (NASA, on the other hand, thinks we’re a few decades away.) Now, Asa Butterfield stars as the first person born on Mars in STX’s upcoming intergalactic adventure — and EW has an exclusive first look.
The Space Between Us follows a group of astronauts on the first mission to colonize Mars, as one of them discovers that she’s pregnant after they’ve already launched. Shortly after the shuttle lands, she gives birth and soon dies from complications, never revealing the identity of her new son’s father.
Sixteen years later, Gardner Elliot (Butterfield) is now a teenager, having spent his entire life on a distant planet and only meeting 14 other people. Curious about the identity of his father — and the Earth he’s never known — he turns to the Internet, striking up an online friendship with a girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), who lives in Colorado.
“I first got the script years and years ago,” says Butterfield, who landed one of his first big roles at the age of 10 with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Since then, he’s starred in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and the sci-fi epic Ender’s Game, and the 18-year-old actor will soon appear in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiars. “It was at a similar time that I read the script for Ender’s Game. And so it’s been in the pipeline for years. And at that time, the character was also a lot younger. So I was in the running for that, and the script sort of developed the same way I did, I guess.”
Gardner and the team of astronauts eventually return to Earth, where he’s eager to begin exploring the home planet he’s never known, only to discover that his organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere. Still curious about his father, he breaks out of medical containment and meets up with Tulsa to continue the search, all while racing against his own failing biology.
“Ultimately, it’s all about Gardner finding his humanity and what it means to be human, through quite literally experiencing Earth for the first time,” Butterfield says.
Gary Oldman also stars as an Elon Musk-like character named Nathaniel Shepherd, who heads up the Mars colonization program. “It was nice to have another Brit on set,” Butterfield says about Oldman. “There were a few of us: me, [director Peter Chelsom], and Gary. So we all had a good laugh.”
While much of the film takes place on Earth, Butterfield did get to fall back on his Ender’s Game sci-fi roots and get back in a harness for zero-gravity training. “I think, for me, it’s actually the idea that all the technology and the ideas that are explored in science fiction are sort of plausible, in some way,” Butterfield says about why he’s such a sci-fi fan. “You can appreciate and understand them, but it also might one day be real. It’s quite interesting to take that idea and construct a world or fantasies that are possible and could ultimately be normality.”
The Space Between Us, which also stars Carla Gugino and was produced by Richard Lewis and Robbie Brenner, hits theaters on July 29.