Asa Butterfield: “Sex education reassures people that they are not weird or alone” | Asa Butterfield
Asa Butterfield, 23, was born in London and began his acting career at the age of seven. He landed the leading roles in the Holocaust drama The boy in the striped pajamas at 10 years old and at Martin Scorsese Hugo to 13. Other movie credits include The end of the journey, X + Y, Greed, Son of Rambow and Miss Peregrine’s house for special children. He plays teenager Otis Milburn in hit Netflix comedy Sex education and is currently filming its third season.
How is filming going Sex education?
It’s a bit of a miracle to be back on set. When we started, it was a bit like getting out of prison. It was the first time someone had been in a large group of people in months and we were all excited. We have now slipped into the rhythm of the new normal. To work is a blessing. I won’t take it for granted anymore.
What can you tell us about season three?
There’s been a bit of a time jump from the Season 2 cliffhanger. Otis is back in school but he’s got different things on his plate. He grew up a bit and got a bit more sassy. It was fun portraying his new charisma. Don’t worry, though, he’s still tragically awkward too.
Doesn’t Otis have new facial hair?
We were photographed by paparazzi during filming and people freaked out that Otis had a mustache. I can only reveal that it is not real. It’s a stuntman ‘spot. And luckily, it doesn’t last all season. I don’t think anyone can bear to watch this thing for long.
Fans are heavily invested in the unrequited love between Otis and Maëva [played by Emma Mackey]. Do you feel their pain?
Absolutely. People get mad when we tease and stretch them. Their relationship continues to develop in season three. We also explore why Otis ran his sex therapy clinic in the first place. Was it just to be close to Maeve or does he thrive on helping people?
Is the series a positive force in terms of solving problems and normalizing insecurities?
Absolutely. It spreads positive messages and opens important conversations – about sexuality, the body, mental health. It is always difficult for parents and children to talk about these things. Our show treats them in an authentic, light and non-judgmental way. I wish it existed when I was a teenager. People have told me how much it has helped them – whether it is to tell their parents about it or to build their confidence. It reassures people that they are not weird or alone. Everyone has quirks and blockages.
How strange was it that your orgasmic face turned into a meme?
Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem so strange anymore. This spectacle desensitized me. I watched my masturbation montage in crowded cinemas. Once I was sitting next to my mother. But it wasn’t free, it was a tasteful, funny and artistic artistic handjob montage. It was “very sweet,” in my mother’s words.
How does it feel to be Gillian Anderson’s onscreen son?
It’s a legend. Me and Gillian have a real laugh on the set. I have not seen The crown again, but when we were shooting season two of Sex education, she was doing her preparation and showed me her prosthetic makeup. Luckily, she didn’t use her Thatcher voice to scold me. Not yet anyway.
Last year you starred alongside Steve Coogan in Greed, Michael winterbottomis a movie about a fashion mogul. How was it?
Filming in Mykonos was fun. We stayed in the same hotel where we were filming, and thanks to Michael’s naturalistic and improvised method, it was a bit like reality TV. I would open my door in the morning and there was a film crew outside shooting a scene in the hallway. Steve was brilliant. He had those overly white teeth, a whole bunch of fake tan, and was playing a full asshole. It was hilarious to watch closely.
You started working very young. What were the ups and downs of being a child star?
I missed parts of my growth and had to mature faster in some ways. But I went to school as usual, which I am grateful for. I never felt alienated from my peers. Some of my best friends are from school. I wouldn’t change it.
Have you ever thought that acting would become a long-term career?
In my first roles, I didn’t quite know what I was doing. You don’t think too much about things as a kid. It was like pretend play. Only by working on Hugo that I understood the process of making a film. Marty [Scorsese] told me about movie history and gave me movies to watch on weekends. It was the ultimate education. It captured my imagination and made me think maybe I could do it as an adult.
What’s in the pipeline after Sex education?
There are some exciting potential projects out there, but it’s hard to plan right now, especially if they involve travel. There’s a film adaptation of Stephen Fry’s novel The liar, what I hope will be done. It’s one of my favorite scripts for ages. I also wrote a treatment for a TV comedy with a friend, which gained momentum.
You are also a semi-pro player, aren’t you?
I have always loved games, both as entertainment and as a social activity. I have made a lot of good friends through the gaming community. While in lockdown, playing online was a great way to stay connected. I signed up with a esports team. Tournaments are nasty – like a sporting event meets a concert of music, in terms of spectacle and energy. Super Smash Bros is the one I played the most competitively. My main character is Donkey Kong. This is my guy.
Do you meet a lot of other Asas?
There are so few of us, it’s always a time to meet another. We tend to discuss the ridiculousness of our name, the way people spell it and mispronounce it. There is unity between Asas.
How did you experience the confinement?
I was lucky. I share an apartment with my brother and our two cats. We got busy. We have a band called Mambo Fresh, so we jammed a lot. I mainly play bass, but also piano and drums. We have binged the set of Mad Men. I did some cooking too. I make a Thai peanut curry. Waffles are my other specialty.
Did you take up any new hobbies while in lockdown?
I’m not sure you can call it a hobby, but I’ve tried teaching cats to use the toilet. I bought this kit online. You get a toilet shaped litter box, then gradually move it closer to the toilet, then put it on it and poke holes in it until they’re just sitting on the toilet seat. We were successful for about three days. There was kitty litter on our bathroom floor. It was horrible. When I got out of the shower and stepped in, it was the last straw.
What will be the first thing you do in a newly Covid-free Britain?
Listen to live music and dance. Give my friends a big sweaty hug and a slobbery kiss on the cheek.
Sex Education Season 3 premieres on Netflix later this year