Hugo’s Young Ones

by Anthony Kaufman SOURCE V Magazine
Photo Credit: Victor Demarcheller

Rising actors Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield may be starring in the season’s blockbuster 3-D Scorsese film, but offscreen they’re just kids—Which is exactly why Hollywood loves them.

“I know your name: it is youth!”

So says Martin Scorsese, the master filmmaker, referencing a line of dialogue in Jean Renoir’s classic film Boudu Saved from Drowning. “There’s a great scene early on where one of the characters says [that line] to a young man,” Scorsese explains. “That’s what I felt working with Asa and Chloë—youth, exuberance, creativity, talent, and energy to burn.”

Indeed, Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz, the stars of Scorsese’s upcoming 3-D fantasy film, Hugo, exude that luminescent quality that comes along every few years and reignites the allure and magic of the movies. Every generation needs them. Whether it’s the Gish sisters of D.W. Griffith’s silent epics, 1940s glamour girls like Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake, Miss Norma Jeane Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe), or more recently, bright once-young things like Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Portman, Hollywood depends on its youth for survival.

But the funny thing about young stars is that they’re also just regular kids. Or they try to be. They go to school (at the moment, Butterfield is studying Of Mice and Men, physics, and advertising; Moretz is a fan of Wuthering Heights); they listen to music (“anything with a strong beat,” says Butterfield); and they lie on their beds, look up at the ceiling and fantasize about their futures. They don’t even know who they are. (“I still haven’t lived a lot,” admits Moretz.)

And yet, they are asked to portray the suffering of the Holocaust, as the British-born Butterfield did at just 10 years old in his breakout role in The Boy with the Striped Pajamas, or avenge the death of a loved one by maiming and slaughtering dozens of bad guys, as Moretz managed at just 11 in her major big-screen debut Kick-Ass. How are they so young and yet so mature at the same time?
At the ripe old age of 14, Butterfield and Moretz don’t think much of their acting prowess. “You just have to get into the character,” says the former, “and say to yourself, if I were this character and experienced what he had, how would I be feeling and how would that affect my voice and emotions?” Moretz adds that, “It’s just acting. You just make feelings up.”

But talk to “Marty,” as Butterfield and Moretz now refer to Scorsese, the acclaimed director of Raging Bull and The Departed, who spotted an innate and instinctive—even mystical—quality in these fledgling thespians. It was Scorsese, after all, who cast a 13-year-old Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.

In Hugo, Butterfield plays the title character, Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in the Paris subway and sets out on a journey to solve the puzzle of his own life. “Just looking at Asa’s face, watching him on-screen, you’re immediately drawn into a mystery,” says Scorsese. “You see those eyes—they seem to absorb everything. They have great power and eloquence, they’re mysterious.” Moretz plays Isabelle, a young girl that Hugo befriends and who helps him along the way. Scorsese says, “It was amazing to see her modify her own unique characteristics—the way she turns her head, the way she glances at the world around her, the way she smiles—and transform them into Isabelle’s characteristics. Actually,” he adds, “it was magical.”

You might think such claims of amazement—not to mention the screaming fans, red carpets, and flashing cameras—might inflate the young actors’ egos. But Butterfield and Moretz maintain their bearing. “I don’t let it get to my head,” says Butterfield. “If you saw me on the street, you’d think I’m just a normal kid; I am a normal kid, pretty much.”
Moretz says it’s mostly her family that keeps her grounded. “I have four older brothers and an amazing mom,” she says. “Without that family behind you, that’s when you stray from your values. But I have very strong spiritual values. And everybody makes sure that I’m not getting a big head.”

Making movies is also not as glamorous as it sounds. Butterfield says he was often “fed up” during the eight months spent shooting Hugo in 3-D. “It was all really hard,” he admits. “The exhaustion of the long hours; the set was boiling hot; and there were scenes where you were running for hours on end, being chased by a dog, or carrying something over your shoulder. And it was also mentally draining, because there were a lot of scenes where I had to cry.”

For the relatively veteran Moretz, who’s already acted in some thirty-five movies and TV shows (including the upcoming Tim Burton gothic, Dark Shadows), the biggest challenge of Hugo was the British accent. “I watched Shakespeare in Love thousands and thousands of times,” she says. Ultimately, she adds, it was just refreshing to play a “sweet girl,” as opposed to vampires or killers.

At the moment, the rising stars are taking a break. In between promoting Hugo, they’re trying to catch up on their schoolwork. Butterfield enjoys his photography classes, and hopes someday to play a “young James Bond,” he says. “Guns and girls,” he adds, “quite cool.” And while Moretz dreams of portraying Scarlett O’Hara—”because she’s so strong, and she doesn’t take a backseat to a man and she knows what she wants and how to get it”—she’s also begging her mom for driving lessons. “I get my learner’s permit next year.”

Chloë Grace Moretz in New York and Asa Butterfield in London, September 2011
Styling Anthony Unwin
Moretz wears Dress Prada Shoes Christian Louboutin

Butterfield wears T-shirt and mesh sweater Dolce & Gabbana
Glasses his own