Adapting a beloved novel with legions of die-hard nerd-fans isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Writer/Director Gavin Hood and stars Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, and Harrison Ford talked about the challenges of filming Ender’s Game at a recent press day for the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s iconic book.
For Hood, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with the source material’s complex internal story. The book deals heavily in Ender’s inner monologue, his thoughts and feelings, which aren’t so easily translated on film. “We have living breathing actors, which the book doesn’t have,” he said, “where the book might take two or three paragraphs to describe what a character is feeling, which you can get in a second off a great reaction shot.”
Casting presented a challenge, especially in a film dominated by kids. “We saw hundreds of kids all over the world,” Hood said. “The emotional demands on a young actor are enormous,” he added, “especially in the role of Ender. The kid’s born and bred to be a battle hardened general by the age of 12. It’s not an easy role to fill.”
“Not all of them could hold their ground up against Harrison Ford,” Hood noted.
The filmmakers got lucky with Asa Butterfield, whom they cast as Ender Wiggin. He held his own with Ford playing Colonel Graff. Not only was Butterfield able to deliver a strong performance as Ender, filmmakers took advantage of the completely organic (and understandable) intimidating effect Ford had on Butterfield. Who wouldn’t be a little nervous going to work with Han Solo every morning? As shooting went on, though, Butterfield came into his own in much the same way Ender does on screen; ge grew into himself both off camera and on, quite literally in some senses: “Asa grew two inches during the course of filming,” which drove the costumers crazy, according to Hood.
Butterfield admitted to being more than a little intimidated by Harrison Ford on day one, but it worked to his advantage. “He really brought the best out of us,” he said.
Clamming up on set was the least of his worries in preparing for the film. Butterfield and the film’s entire child cast endured extensive training before filming started. They all went to space camp for six weeks, and worked with Cirque du Soleil-style trainers to get comfortable on the wires that would simulate a zero-gravity environment.
Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Petra, enjoyed the training just as much, but endured a little more harshness as one of the only girls on set. “There was some teasing,” she said, “But we were a team, a unit together.”
The kids took to the training pretty quickly, but they weren’t alone: even Harrison Ford had to strap on a harness and go up on wires for some space time. “It’s better than having a real job,” he said.
This is Ford’s first return to outer space since his stint commanding the Millenium Falcon, and he found that things have changed a bit. “They were making models out of pieces from model cars and model trains, gluing them together, hanging them from sticks, and flying them past the camera,” he said of Star Wars’ special effects. “And it worked.”
Ford added that it’s easy for special effects to overwhelm viewers in a film like Ender’s Game. “You can lose human scale, the eye doesn’t know where to go. You can lose touch with the human characters,” he said. But that’s not the case here, he insisted, with so many strong actors working together. When asked if his status as a “film icon” affected his experience on set, Ford was more baffled than anything else. “I don’t know what an icon does,” he mused, “besides, I guess, stand in a corner and receive praise. There’s not utility in being an icon.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt.
Ender’s Game is in theaters November 1st. Are you excited for the film? Let us know in the comments below.