Today we’re sharing one of the funnier hours of our visit to the ‘Ender’s Game’ movie set last May. In a round table interview with Asa Butterfield (Ender Wiggin), Hailee Steinfeld (Petra Arkanian), Nonso Anoznie (Sergeant Dap), Aramis Knight (Bean), Khylin Rhambo (Dink), Suraj Partha (Alai), Conor Caroll (Barnard), and Caleb Thaggard (Stilson), laughed more than we spoke! Read below the interview below to learn about the cast’s arduous training process, what the formics look like, costume hell, and plenty of shenanigans from the ‘Ender’s Game’ film set. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow, when we’ll share set descriptions, interviews from the set designers, and an interview with Sir Ben Kingsley.
Q: What was your familiarity with the book when you found out about this project and what kind of drew you in once you knew what you were up for?
Hailee Steinfeld: I wasn’t very familiar before I had booked the part, but afterwards I read the script and kind of breezed through the book a bit and the first thing that kind of drew me in was the fact that it had to do with a lot of kids. This was the first time working with kids my age and it’s been so much fun, more fun than I imagined, but aside from the character itself just the whole story really drew me in.
Q: What about your specific character? What do you think are the similarities between what’s in the book and what’s on the page?
Steinfeld: It’s very similar. The movie is as close to the book as a two hour movie can get. But for my character I love that Petra is a very strong independent girl and I love that. […] When I first read a character if it’s a strong female role that’s kind of a perk for me.
Asa Butterfield: I’m Asa by the way. [Joke.]
Steinfeld: I’m Hailee nice to meet you. [Joke.]
Butterfield: Nice to meet you. [They shake hands.]
Q: What was the boot camp style training like that they had you go through, both of you?
Butterfield: Before we started filming we went to space camp which was fun. We did loads there. It was sort of our first time spending time with all the other guys so it was really good breaking the ice and getting to know each other and that’s when we really formed a tight relationship with everyone and we learned a lot about astronauts, team-building exercises and something called Aviation Challenge which we all went in these fighter jets and we were all practicing for the simulation room. Then we formed missions, which we would have to communicate with each other and fight off other planes or blow up a nuclear facility or something. So yeah, it was a great time there.
Q: In terms of actual military drills was there stuff like that too?
Butterfield: Yeah we did the military training- all the cadences and it was tough. They weren’t friendly, if we did something wrong ten push-ups straight away and then if we did it wrong again another twenty and it was grueling but it really helped us get into the character.
Q: What was the casting process like for both of you? How did you guys initially get involved with the project?
Steinfeld: I don’t even remember, my goodness. How was it, Mom? I don’t remember, I think it was […] a phone call away. Yeah so I just kind of found out about it and I don’t know. That’s pretty much it.
Roberto Orci: We begged you guys.
Butterfield: For me, I sent off a lot of audition tapes. The harder part of it was, of course, getting into the accent so I had a lot of dialect training and once I sent off a few tapes I ended up meeting Gavin in LA where I spoke to him and I performed in front of him. I can’t remember how long after that it was. It was during the press tour for Hugo and my mom told me that I got the part.
Q: How did you react to that when you heard the news?
Butterfield: Well actually it was just before our flight out to New York to start everything and my mom came into my bedroom and this is pretty much word for word. She was like, “Ok, take a deep breath.” And as soon as she said that I knew what had happened. I literally screamed. I was flipping out. It was amazing.
Q: Had you read the book before?
Butterfield: I read it as soon as I had got the part.
Q: Before you accepted your role as Ender you stated in a number of interviews that you wanted to play a James Bond type character. Do you think Ender has fulfilled that wish for you or do you still want to play James Bond?
Butterfield: Ender is pretty up there with ideal characters for any 15-14-year-old boy and of course it would still be pretty cool to be James Bond, but this is definitely up there.
Q: Now you guys had some crazy stunt training and stunts that happened in the movie. Was there one that really stands out for you as a really amazing scene that you got to film?
Steinfeld: What do you think?
Butterfield: I mean there are loads…
Butterfield: Too many to count. There are hundreds of amazing scenes, but in terms of stunt work there was the hamster wheel.
Butterfield: Go on you explain it. You explain the hamster wheel.
Q: I think we saw a clip of it today!
Steinfeld: Did you? What it fast or slow? We did both. We could barely look at each other with a straight face.
Q: Relatively speaking I don’t know how fast. It was going around pretty quickly.
Butterfield: It felt a lot faster than it looked. It might have been going really slow, but we were to us we were going around a hundred miles per hour.
Steinfeld: But our helmets! We were working with our stunt coordinator, Garrett Warren. He’s so passionate about what he does that it makes it that much more fun for us. He has something new, he’s like “Hey guys, let’s check this out! Let’s try this!” And if something doesn’t work he’s like, “Forget it! Let’s do something else.” He’s always up for new things and new challenges, but the hamster wheel is one that we did where we couldn’t even look at each other with a straight face because our helmets were super tight and once we were upside down it kind of…
Butterfield: Made us look hamsterish. Hence the name. I hadn’t actually thought of that until now.
Steinfeld: But they’re all really been a lot of fun.
Q: Aside from all the training, do you guys do any sort of additional research to get into these characters?
Butterfield: I mean the book really helped with the background for Ender with the whole thing about his family. So that was really helpful. And there is a lot on Wikipedia about the past and all the lore to the hegemon and the strategos. So that was all really helpful.
Q: Do you ever reference the book while you’re filming?
Butterfield: Gavin does a lot. The script is as true to the book as can be without it being 10 hours long. There’s a lot of references to the book.
Q: You guys have been tweeting a lot about how great you guys get along on set and you have so many young people your own age to hang out with so what sort of things do have you guys been doing in between takes. Have there been any pranks or anything like that on set? Who’s the prankster?
Butterfield: In terms of things we do outside of set, there’s not much to do in New Orleans unless you’re 21. We go to the cinema- or the theater.
Steinfeld The movies.
Butterfield: The movies. We’ll be down on the weekends, walk around. [What’s he saying here?!]
Steinfeld: The weekend is really our time to relax so whether it’s just going over to each other’s houses or just hanging laying low rally, just spending time together is the best.
Q: After you’ve hung out for a while together is it ever challenging get back into not treating each other not as nice in the movie?
Butterfield: Apart from Moises-Bonzo’s relationship, my relationship with the other guys is similar to how it is in the book. We’re all really really tight friends like a family. And as soon as we do on set, we’re professional.
Q: Is it really different for you guys joining in on a project that already has such a huge fan base […] Is there pressure on you in any way?
Steinfeld I don’t feel that personally. Speaking for myself, I think the others could agree that coming onto a project that does have such a huge fan base, I found that in general coming on and being a part of it is just kind of an honor rather than feeling the pressure of it.
Butterfield: Totally. It’s an amazing opportunity to be on this and it’s been an amazing experience. There is a massive fan base for this and as soon as I got the part one of the things I told my mom was “One of the main things I want to do in this is still appeal to the massive cult that already follows Ender’s Game.” So that was what I was thinking about when I was doing the role.
Q: You’ve both done adaptations of very popular books before, does this compare in any way or is it a whole new level in terms of a fandom that’s already.
Butterfield: Ender’s Game has been out for a lot longer than Hugo Cabret, the book. I think Ender is a lot more cult. There’s much more of a cult following this. This is much deeper.
Steinfeld Looking at it as an adaptation is looking at it like as an extra reference. There’s really no comparison. It’s not that much different.
Q: Have you learned anything that you would apply to your own lives from playing your roles?
Butterfield: Yeah, there are a lot of ideas in this film. When people watch the movie there are a lot of these ideas that you can relate to in real life. The bullying aspect and the ideas of different kinds of leadership and everyone can use these in life. I think we’re all going to take something away from this.
Q: You’ve worked with some big name academy award-winning actors in both of your previous projects. With the adult actors in this film, speaking with them I assume you want to be career actors. What kind of advice or what kind of memory have you sort of gleamed from this experience from those specific actors?
Butterfield: Well, I’ve worked with Sir Ben before and he is still an amazing actor. He is definitely one of the most incredible actors I’ve ever worked with and it’s really interesting for [me] to able to watch him play two different characters. It’s an amazing experience working with him and Harrison and Viola.
Steinfeld: I think there’s just so much to learn. The other day we were filming a scene with Harrison and Viola and I was off camera and I was just there as an eye-line and I found myself so distracted into what they were doing that I forgot why I was there and what I was supposed to do. It’s just so inspiring to watch them and watch what they do and that they go to lunch and come back and do their job. It’s really cool.
Q: How do you get into your zone? Do you guys have routines or do you have a way that you maintain..?
Nonso Anozie: I play Sergeant Dap in case anyone was wondering.
Butterfield: We were just talking about how we get into the zone. I don’t really know, it depends on what your character is doing. If your character is crying it requires a completely different technique than if your character is running away from someone. It all depends on what scene you’re doing.
Steinfeld: Gavin has a lot to do with that I think, helping us get there.
Q: You guys have so many scenes together. What was one thing you were surprised to learn about Hailee now that you’re super close to her, and Hailee what’s one thing you were surprised to learn about Asa? And you’re right there so don’t be nice obviously!
Steinfeld: I know right!
Butterfield: Oh no, Hailee was horrible.
Steinfeld: I try. That’s a hard question!
Butterfield: Hailee’s been amazing to work with!
Butterfield: She’s an incredible actress and it’s been an honor.
Steinfeld Same for Asa. I think what’s so great is that we’ve found so much in common, him and I. Working together has just been kind of a breeze. We completely goof off between takes.
Butterfield: At the end of the day we have our… we reach our…
Steinfeld Delirious point!
Butterfield: Delirious point. It’s usually around 5 o’clock, 5:50 at which point, if we work together, anything we say we’ll be on the floor laughing.
Steinfeld That’s kind of how it is, but it’s been very fun.
Q: We spoke to Garrett earlier and he was very excited about the fight scene in the shower room. How hard was that to film? It’s something kind of intense.
Butterfield: It is intense. It’s an amazing scene from what I’ve scene of it. It was one of the first scenes I had filmed with Moises and we’re both really excited about it. When we were at the hotel, we were both wondering, ‘Ok am I going to do a backflip over you or something?’ And of course, it’s a lot more realistic than that. We had our fantasies about how epic it would be. It’s an amazing scene. And of course there’s that part… it was difficult to shoot because they could never show me naked so they had to always shoot me from the waist up. It’s an amazing scene.
Q: Do you guys try to balance your school work with your production?
Q: What’s that been like?
Steinfeld: Every time if we’re not on set we’re-
Butterfield: In school.
Steinfeld: Yeah, we’re in school.
Q: Had that been difficult?
Butterfield: I’m in the middle of my exams, big exams which will be getting me into college so that’s tough. I’ve been preparing for them whenever I’m not off filming I’m working. When I go home, I do some more work and then I sleep and then I wake up and then I work again.
Steinfeld: It’s a lot more fun than that.
Butterfield: Of course there’s the school side and then there’s the-
Q: So how many of you does it take to take this guy [Nonso] down? Have you tried it?
Anozie: I don’t think they could take down such a tall guy.
Q: He [Asa] was eyeing you just now. He was sizing you up- contemplating.
Anozie: We’re good friends. We’re good friends. We could never fight. It would never get to that.
Q: You’ve got some serious costume and gear going on. Are you going to keep those boots?
Steinfeld: That’d be cool right.
Butterfield: I really like these boots.
Steinfeld: I could see you wearing them.
Q: Did you [Nonso] do all the training in terms of boot camp and space camp as well?
Anozie: I did. We actually got a drill sergeant that came on board and taught me how to call out all the cadences and the left march and the right march. I got me into the spirit of Sergeant Dap. It was really good a few weeks before we started actually filming. I was wondering how far I could go, if I could really shout at the kids. It was a real good experience.
Q: How far could you go?
Butterfield: He shouted!
Anozie: I shouted. After my few scenes I was walking around for a few days with a hoarse voice. Asa and I have worked together before. We had a good relationship going on from the start.
Q: Orson Scott Card was here a week and a half ago, did you get a chance to meet with him? What was that like?
Butterfield: Yeah, he talked to us. It was during the scene with me and Harrison in the shuttle. He’s a great guy and I really enjoyed talking with him. He was really interested in what it’s like being an actor. He asked a lot of questions like how you balance school and working life. He’s a really nice guy.
Steinfeld: I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to meet him, but hopefully soon.
Q: What kind of questions would like you to ask him about your character?
Steinfeld: In my script I have loads of questions and little ideas and things. I have a lot to ask him, but it’d just be fun really to just talk to him about it in general. We’ve had Gavin to talk to who’s been really amazing about figuring it out and establishing the characters and everything.
Q: Did you [Asa] have any questions for him [Card]? What is he up to here?
Butterfield: I think the scene […] was the scene we shot in the book? The one with Harrison in the shuttle? Is that in the book? […] I didn’t have any questions to ask him. He was the one asking most of the questions.
Q: When you’re doing things like the final simulation and the mind game you’re obviously looking at things that aren’t there on set. How specific do they tell you what you’re looking at or how much do you have to imagine completely out of full cloth?
Butterfield: I was talking to the guys who were doing it and the plan is rather then me basing my actions of what it’s going to look like, they’re going to base what it looks like on everything I do so I’m not confined to doing anything. I’m free. I can do anything I want. They’ll add in all the visuals. From what I’ve seen it looks jaw-dropping.
Q: What are some of your favorite science fiction films or space films?
Butterfield: Of course ‘Star Wars’.
Steinfeld: Yeah, I was going to say that.
Q: Do you have a favorite?
Butterfield: Oh what’s my favorite ‘Star Wars’?
Steinfeld: That’s hard.
Butterfield: That’s a tough one. The one I’ve seen the most times is probably ‘The Phantom Menace’. I had that one on VCR all those years ago, I’d just go and play it. Those are amazing.
Q: For you [Nonso] similarly, do you have a favorite military movie?
Anozie: I like ‘Full Metal Jacket’. I really really like the original Alien movie. […] A lot of the sets that surprised me on this film are really built. You’re not just looking at green screen all the time.
Q: ‘Ender’s Game’ is chalk full of technology that doesn’t necessarily exist. If you could take one piece of technology from ‘Ender’s Game’ what would it be?
Aramis Knight: I think the little mouse for our computer that we saw today. […] It’s cool how a little de
Khylin Rhambo: I’d take a flash gun.
Suraj Partha: If I could, I would take the whole thing, I would literally make a museum out of it. There’s a device they used last week with Bonzo. It’s real prototype from a university. It’s just this really crazy thing that they use to perform surgery on. It’s like this giant machine. ‘The Claw’, it’s one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. It was crazy!
Caleb Thaggard: I would have to say the desk. Those things are like iPads times twenty. It can be a Gameboy or a computer. It can be whatever you want.
Anozie: I would say that as well. I think that’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen. A lot of the stuff is actually not that far removed from what we have today. We’ve taken what we have today and it’s just been upgraded maybe twenty times and it’s something that you’re familiar with and not familiar with. I think that the desks are really cool to get your hands on. A lot of the stuff is working. A lot of the stuff you can hold and pick up. That’s the thing I like about this movie. There are things you can actually grad ahold of.
Q: Are the creatures, the formics around all the time? Do we get to see them a lot? Can you guys talk about your first impressions, seeing the creatures? Is it scary or is it kind of like you want to be one?
Knight: The first time I think all of us them it was just a picture in PREVIS. They just looked like really giant ants, giant ants with claws, teeth, it just shows everything. The science- there’s some crazy names on all of them. […]
Conor Caroll: I had two impressions when I first saw them. The first one was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they look like this!’ I always thought they were humanoid. […] My second thought was I don’t want to be one of them, because I have to be with other formics all the time! […]
Rhambo: Yeah, they’re intimidating looking.
Partha: I think the artists have done a good job, though. There is sort of a beauty to them as well. You’re supposed to be grossed out by them, but they’ve done a job with the color and really making them creatures that once you get to know them, you would love and would want live in peace with. It’s really interesting.
Thaggard: The formics are supposed to be an intelligent adversary. […] The facial design itself kind of have expressionism and intelligence to it. So we were like, ‘Oh ok, yeah, I can see how this thing would kick our butt in a space battle, because they just look advanced. They look like a threat.
Q: We touched on this question earlier with Hailee and Asa, but just reading your guys’ tweets- you guys are so funny- what’s been the most fun, silliest, the funniest moment you’ve had on set?
Caroll: This is a really long story and I’ll try to keep it short. It was during one scene where scene where Ender enter the battle, and Fly [Molo] falls off and breaks his leg… And this one person who works on the movie- it was his birthday. I don’t know why but he dressed up as an enormous bunny. And so Gavin said, ‘Ok, great. Nice job everyone, let’s do one more take.’ So we were all getting ready, and the man in the bunny suit came in and said, ‘Come on everyone, time to go into space!’ Everyone laughed so hard!
Knight: I was like, ‘Should I go with it?’
Q: Can you talk a little bit more about the training process you had to go through early on?
Knight: A lot of sit-ups and diamond push-ups…
Rhambo: We got pretty buff from this.
Knight: As you see! We’re trying to catch up with Nonso a bit! We had to do a lot of sit-ups, and push-ups, and learning balance. I was a lot of preparation.
Khylin: It was a lot of hardwork, but a lot of fun. It was where we got to know each other. We worked together; it was a good experience. It was a month or two.
Anozie: I was surprised to see how much you guys would do every day. If you got the cadence wrong, if you got the marching wrong, it was ‘Ok, let’s get real strong and we’re going to go do some push-ups!’ It was tough!
Partha: We did a lot of physical stuff, but then we learned quite a bit about the military, about the rank structure, about space, about how you would act in space, energies and how everything would move. Things like that. Especially when we went to space camp we learned quite a bit.
Knight: Because we do use spaceships, they also sent us to the Aviation Challenge. It’s like a flight simulator. [It has] all the switches, it’s joy stick, and it’s a screen. It’s like an interactive video game that you […] but it’s actually physical. I think they said it’s the closest thing to flying a real plane. […]
Q: Where any of you guys any good at it?
Knight: This guy [Suraj Partha] was!
Caroll: I literally crashed my plane at least seventeen times!
Knight: I think we can all agree that [Suraj Partha] was the best!
Partha: I think I was good because I could land.
Q: Were you guys afraid of heights or spinning too fast? Were there certain aspects of this where you said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this!’ Anything you were afraid of before?
Rhambo: One thing I was not so afraid of, but I was wondering how I could possibly do this, was the wires. Because it looks sure fun, but the whole, I-have-to-do-multiple-things-at-the-same-time thing and be in zero gravity… If I’m in pain I have to look like I’m not in pain. I was curious to see how it was going to work out. It wasn’t as bad as I thought once we practiced everyday. That was one thing I saw as pretty interesting.
Partha: For me one the funniest gaps that I have in my memory, in my knowledge, is that I never learned how to do a summersault. We did a lot of martial arts. We did judo, aikido, and we had to do flips a lot. Part of the flip was we had to roll into summersaults so we didn’t get hurt.
Knight: They weren’t just summersaults, they were tough summersaults!
Partha: They were really physical.
Knight: You had to tuck you head like this and roll on your side. We all head a bit of trouble with that, but we’re all pretty dang good now. I’ve seen the most improvement in [Suraj Partha].
Q: So after all the wire work, you all have six packs now right?
Partha: Moises does!
Caroll: I have a twelve pack. My six pack has a six pack!
Knight: Moises came in here with a twelve pack. He has like an eighteen pack now. […]
Q: What sort of things did you guy do when you weren’t filming?
Partha: I’ve been learning to beat box from Asa!
Knight: I’ve been teaching these guys a little bit about basketball!
Q: Do you guys ever get revved up with some music? How do you get pumped?
Rhambo: We have chants, we always chat. When was have to get pumped, when we get ready for battle, right before they say ‘action’ we’re doing chants. We’re stomping. It’s like a football team. It’s super cool though, it gets you in the moment.
Q: What’s been one of the most fun stunts you guys have done?
Rhambo: The first sequence when you see us run into the battle room, because we’re on a zip line. They said, ‘Let go. You can go as fast as you want. Run. Do whatever you want to do. If you want to flip or jump out.’ It was amazing.
Knight: I stunt that me, Bernard, and Alai did… we did one where they had me on a tagline. I frozen and they had me flying through the room and every time they had to catch me. Every time they would let the slack down, they would have my full weight and we would fall down and I would be like, ‘I have to get up.’ That was a tough one. It took a couple takes, but we nailed it.
Caroll: One of my favorite scenes [….] He [Aramis Knight] is on the zip line and he’s laying face down on one of the windows looking out, and I grabbed his leg, and he kicked me and I have to do a couple somersaults in space. It was one of the hardest scenes I have ever done, because my gun kept dropping, or I didn’t spin a number of times, or I spun to the side…
Knight: And I told him that if I had any anger towards him I was going to let it out in that scene. I really went for it. I kicked him. It felt great!
Q: Caleb, you obviously didn’t have any scenes on the wires. Did you get to try any of this out?
Thaggard: Well, with these guys telling me how much those thing hurt, I really had no inclination to. ‘Hey do you want to try it?’ I was like, ‘No man! I’ll be an Earth brat! I’m good. I chill on Earth.’ […] I had a new respect for every single one of them. The stuff that they had to do every day… I only had to do marching, and if I messed that up I only had to do push-ups. These dudes had to do push-ups, sit-ups, sparring. I was like, ‘You guys are breastly!’
Knight: We had pictures where we’d have to throw each other into moves and you see this dwarf Bean over there and this big guy, Bernard. You see me, I’m trying to throw him. It was tough.
Caroll: I think when Bean was lifting me, I had to jump a couple feet and land on my back.
Knight: I felt so strong! I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m Iron Man!’
Q: What has been your favorite costume?
Everyone: The flash suits!
Q: Where they comfortable?
Knight: That’s why we said favorite looking!
Rhambo: My favorite one was the pajamas!
Everyone: Yes! Those were the best!
Partha: The flash suits looked really, really good on camera. One of the funniest things was that in the dormitories we have all he flash suits and part of the thing was that we were supposed to get dressed really quickly and run over to the battle room. I don’t think that anyone is ever going to realize that to get these things on we had like four people on us tugging at the pants, trying to get the jacket over, trying to zip…
Knight: […] You can move, it just gets tough to breathe after a while just because it’s tight and so well-fitted. It also gets hot because there’s at least nine layers.
Partha: I think there’s a balance between how it looks on camera and how it’s going to feel. Part of the thing is, when the material is slack, when they’re not stretched out, everything gets really wrinkled. A lot of times they had to try to get it as tight as possible so that it looked really streamlined, because they wanted to have a really streamlined look to it. I think that once we see it on camera though, it’ll all wash away. It was all worth it.
Q: Do they have you on a strict diet or anything?
Knight: One of the wardrobe ladies told me the other day- this is a true story, I’m not making it up- she told me, ‘You need to stop playing basketball because you’re going to get bigger and then this not going to fit! Wait like two weeks!’ I was like, ‘Oh! I don’t know if I can do that one!’ […]
Q: Was there an adjustment period after you guys put on the suits for the first time? Was it a little more difficult to get your moves back?
Rhambo: Exactly what Aramis said. When we got our fitting, they measure us and it fit me perfectly, but then once we went to training and push-ups and sit-ups and stuff I put on the same suit and I almost fainted! I felt like I was getting hugged by Nonso! It was crazy tight, but it got much better after they tailored it. It wasn’t as bad as they’re making it sound, but it’s definitely going to look really good on camera.
Knight: It’s like a pair of shoes really, you have to wear it in. Wear them a couple times and then you can really feel it, because they have two different suits for us. […] We put it [the new suit] on and it felt like, ‘Ok, I don’t like this one! Just put me back in my old one!’ They weren’t terrible.
Q: Are your diets restricted? Are you allowed to eat candy?
Caroll: I think it’s that you have to eat under two thousand calories a day. I think that’s really reasonable.
Partha: I think Moises has quilted us all into eating healthier. He does not eat anything unhealthy! He is the most healthy eater I have ever seen!
Knight: That guy has some serious workout ethics!
Q: Nonso, you said in a previous interview that your character does a lot of yelling. Was it hard to yell at these kids?
Anozie: Well, someone’s got to keep them in line. As you can see, we have some characters here. They’re all pretty good. They all have their own characters. They pretty much do what had been asked of them. I got to do a lot of yelling. I got to take out any kind of stress I had. It was actually good therapy for me.
Knight: Trust me, we listened! The scarier part is that when he comes in her has to go down under the door because his head would touch the top! […]
Q: Are you guys contracted to do more of these if the first one does well?
The ‘Ender’s Game’ film will be released in U.S. theaters on November 1, 2013.