Through The Eyes of a Boy
Child actors Jack Scanlon and Asa Butterfield were unaware of the gravity of the Holocaust before they were cast in the powerful The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, out on DVD now.
For eleven-year-old Jack Scanlon and twelve-year-old Asa Butterfield, the roles of the two young boys caught on different sides of the concentration camp wire in WW2 Germany in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas marked a gripping cinematic debut. The horror of the Holocaust has become almost a genre of filmmaking in itself. The list of films about the subject that came out last year alone is exhausting. But the eight-year-old perspective on the war and concentration camps in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas provided a refreshing departure from other films on the subject.
The world witnessed through the innocent eyes of Butterfield's Bruno, son of the concentration camp commander, and Scanlon's Shmuel, the boy in the striped pyjamas, makes for a haunting and compelling story. When asked if they had known about the seriousness of the movie's subject matter before filming, the young actors' answers parallel the innocence of their characters.
"I had heard about World War II," Scanlon said. "I was in Year Four at school when I got the film and it is in Year Six that we learn about World War II. After the first audition I looked at some books. That was mainly to find out about the Holocaust. I had not heard about The Boy In The Striped Pajamas or anything about the book at all until I heard about the film. I have not read it all."
Butterfield added that he "knew a little bit about the Holocaust and concentration camps and Hitler but I knew more about it after making the film. After my second audition I got the book and started to read it but I did not finish it. I read about 20 pages."
Despite their lack of knowledge beforehand, both actors turn in absorbing performances; Butterfield as the avid observer who mistakes the camp as a farm, and Scanlon as the shaven, frail prisoner covered in dirt. For Scanlon, the process of putting on dirty make-up to get into character was one of the worst aspects. "I hated the actual make-up, all the dirt on me," he said, "I had a pretty good routine with the teeth...I dried my teeth and then the black was painted on."
Although the film doesn't have any explicit violent acts, Butterfield found the sight of the concentration camp hard to forget. "It was weird because it was not like any of the other scenes in the film," he said. "All of the other scenes for me were usually in the house or playing outside. Here it was really hot and it was crowded with all the extras that played the concentration camp prisoners. That made it even more scary."
The impact of the story and the immensity of the horror of the Holocaust were not lost on the young actors, despite understanding little about the history.
"I took my grandparents and some friends to see the film," Scanlon said. "There were five all together and three or four of that group of people cried. When I saw the film I jumped when I saw the scene when Pavel (David Hayman) is beaten for accidentally spilling the wine at the table."
"I cried [when I saw the film]," Butterfield said, "My mum cried every time."
After convincingly portraying the roles of two boys in a situation both they and their characters didn't fully understand, acting prospects look good for the two. Scanlon said that he may make acting his career "because acting is quite fun." Butterfield however, remains uncertain. "I really don't know what I would like to do," Butterfield admits. "With acting you have to do 20 takes of every scene. You get tired of that. I think it is too early to decide what I want to do. But I am enjoying this just now."
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is available now to rent and buy on DVD.