It's a chilly morning in October of 2015, and when the bell rings at this New Mexico high school, it's impossible to tell the difference between the real students and the extras on the set of The Space Between Us. With only six days left of filming, the cast has settled comfortably into their various roles... with the slight exception of Britt Robertson, who can't seem to kick start her motorcycle into gear.
She's tiny yet feisty, blonde and beautiful, and with every take, she hops on the bike with fierce determination. Amidst all of the cameras and lights and crew, it's the loud sputter of the motorcycle that clearly separates the ordinary high school activities around us (backpack-adorned teens in clumps, sharing chips and homework tips) from the Hollywood intrusion (make-up artists and craft services carts). The surreal nature of the whole affair is appropriate when you consider that the protagonist of the film, a boy who grew up on Mars, would consider even the most typical adolescent scenes as something completely alien.
At its very core, The Space Between Us, which hits theaters on February 3rd, explores what it means to be human. To elaborate, here's the official synopsis:
In this interplanetary adventure, a space shuttle embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars, only to discover after takeoff that one of the astronauts is pregnant. Shortly after landing, she dies from complications while giving birth to the first human born on the red planet – never revealing who the father is. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot – an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his very unconventional upbringing. While searching for clues about his father, and the home planet he’s never known, Gardner begins an online friendship with a street smart girl in Colorado named Tulsa. When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, he’s eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read about on Mars – from the most simple to the extraordinary. But once his explorations begin, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere. Eager to find his father, Gardner escapes the team of scientists and joins with Tulsa on a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where he belongs in the universe.
Asa Butterfield, who requires no make-up to look gorgeously unearthly, was drawn to the theme of "finding where you belong." Oh, and the part where he got to jump onto a moving crop duster plane. For Britt Robertson, it was "the opportunities to do weird things and fun things and be spontaneous."
It's clear that both actors are well-suited to playing characters who are searching for a home. Asa possesses a sweetly dazed, lost quality, while Britt is a natural for the tough girl hiding vulnerabilities under her mean left hook. Watching the two film the scene where they first meet face-to-face, it was impossible to miss the tenderness between them, even amidst the slams of lockers and the smell of a high school hallway (which hopefully won't waft from the screen).
This is a coming-of-age story, but it's also a well-researched slice of science fiction, as evidenced by the way Asa carries himself during filming to reflect the difference in gravity between where he grew up (Mars) and where he's playing hooky (Earth). Neither of the actors is interested in checking out the Red Planet, although Butterfield is game for heading into space. As for Robertson, she sums it up succinctly: "They don't have Mountain Dew there."