By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Britt Robertson played a young inventor drawn into a time-traveling adventure with George Clooney in the 2015 sci-fi fantasy “Tomorrowland.” In “The Space Between Us,” the youthful looking actress—she can still convincingly play an adolescent although she is 26—now plays a foster teen who befriends a mysterious young man online who turns out to be the first human born on Mars, and then proceeds to help him search for his father when he returns to Earth. TV fans may remember her from the sci-fi series “Under the Dome.”
It may be simply a coincidence that this South Carolina-raised actress is drawn to roles in projects involving adventure, outer space and delving into the unknown. The in-demand actress will play the lead role in the Netflix series “Girlboss,” based on the Sophia Amoruso bestseller about her experience as the founder of millennial retail brand Nasty Gal. Robertson also has an arc on Hulu’s comedy series “Casual.” On the big screen, she can be seen in Lasse Hallstrom’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” about a reincarnated dog and its various owners.
Having banked so many projects, it’s no wonder the first thing Robertson wants to do when she arrives for an interview at a tony hotel suite is to kick off her boots and prop up her feet on a chair.
The petite, blue-eyed actress co-stars alongside “Hugo’s” Asa Butterfield, Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino and BD Wong, in this star-crossed romance directed by Peter Chelsom (“Serendipity”) from a screenplay by Allan Loeb.
Robertson plays Tulsa, a high school student who’s been shuttled from one foster home to the next. She begins an online romance with a boy (Butterfield as Gardner Elliot, a nod to “Being There” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”) who claims to live in Manhattan but who actually is the first human born on Mars. The two hatch a plan to get him to Earth where he escapes the billionaire who financed the mission (Oldman) to find out more about his mother, an astronaut who died giving birth to him and to find his father. Time is of the essence because Earth’s unfamiliar gravity may kill Gardner before he completes his quest.
Q: Dating anyone can be like dating a Martian anyway, right?
Robertson: Yes, exactly.
Q: Could you relate to this on a personal level because guys are just strange beings?
Robertson: Different beings. It’s true. I find that in my life now. I’m sitting in therapy and I’m literally like “He thinks this way and I just don’t get it.” I’ve had a male therapist and a female therapist, and what’s interesting about that is they both give different advice from two different perspectives. It helps me, especially when speaking to a male about males. I’ll say, “Oh, that’s how they think. Now it make so much more sense,” because you really don’t understand that perspective, that point of view, that biological thing, whatever it is that make (the genders) so different until you get the perspective from the (male) being.
So, for me, with this film, there was a lot that I think I was able to pull from for the Tulsa side of it because she’s constantly trying to figure this guy out. Is he lying? Is he shady? Is he weirdly innocent? She could not understand him and I think it’s a big part of the draw originally because he’s so mysterious but he seems so kind and sweet-hearted. And yet she just can’t get a grasp as to who this guy is. Then, once it’s revealed that he’s just this genuinely innocent, sweet kid who (grew up on) Mars, she’s like, “Oh, now I love you so much more.” (She laughs).
Q: Even though your character was born and has lived on Earth, she seems more isolated starting out than Gardner does.
Robertson: Yeah, because although he’s been living on Mars, he’s been nurtured (by Carla Gugino’s character). People are hyper aware of him.
Q: And she’s been passed around from place to place.
Roberston: Yeah, no one cares. There’s something really isolating about not having that human connection.
Q: Did you research the experiences of foster children? I suppose they have to grow up faster and be more responsible for themselves.
Robertson: Exactly. You’re taking care of yourself. I’ve done a lot of research on foster kids because I’ve played a foster kid before. I did a series called “Life Unexpected,” where I played a foster child so I worked with different organizations and different kids. I’ve done some mentoring work in Imperial Heights at the Dream Center so I’ve been around people who have experienced what it’s like to not have a real home or family or being tossed around from home to home. I think a lot of similarities that they all carry are this hardened edge, this real, desperate need to protect themselves as best they can whatever that means to them, whether it’s emotionally, physically, whatever. That’s what I tried to bring to Tulsa, this guarded chick who has had to provide for herself basically. But, as her connection with Gardner grows, you see the layers unfold and the person who she is brightens. There’s something kind of great about that.
Q: How would you describe Tulsa and Gardner’s relationship initially?
Robertson: She’s kind of maternal toward him because of the way she’s always been with everyone. I’m sure every foster home she has been in she’s had six little ones younger than her and she’s instructing them to do whatever. That’s how a lot of these young girls are when they get to this age. They’ve parented many, many kids. You just learn that that’s your role.
Q : How do you suppose Tulsa met online ? What do you think was their connection, since they come from different worlds, literally?
Robertson: Yeah, I was like, “What? This guy’s just spaced out? I don’t get it.” Yeah, and Tulsanater2456 was really interested in this guy who seemed a little out there and he wasn’t rooted in the world, and all of the things that plague our minds that seem so big, but are really just kind of meaningless. I think that was a big part of her draw, after meeting him and wanting to maybe explore this friendship, relationship, whatever, she’s never really met anyone like this before. I do think it served her well. It brought her out of her shell and it gave her a way to be open and kind and vulnerable with someone, which she’s never really had.
Q: Do you have an interest in space exploration, not personally but in general? Recently, SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon 9 rocket. Did you watch the launch on TV?
Robertson: No. I didn’t watch it, but I’ve been at NASA for a launch before. I’ve seen a real life launch. I’ve read a few books about it, I learned about it in school, but it’s never been a specific interest of mine. But I do find it cool.
Q: Two years ago you received worldwide attention for starring in Disney’s “Tomorrowland” with George Clooney. How did that role impact your career?
Robertson: It opened up doors for opportunities absolutely. It gave me a change to go out there and make the most of that opportunity. It put me into a different space than I was before in terms of people being like “Who’s on the next big blockbuster?” then my name would come across so it put me out there more than I’d been used to.
Q: When you started out doing community theater and appearing in local commercials in South Carolina, what was the impetus to move to California?
Robertson: Looking back on it, I look at my mom and I’m like “Why would she?” I would never let my kid just fly to L.A. and live there for four months and try to be an actor. But, for me, I was going to these conventions twice a year where we’d do monologues and commercials and there were agents from New York and L.A. and one of them was like “You should move to L.A. We’ll represent you and you can audition.” We were all stupid enough to think it could work out and, hello, stupidity worked out for all of us. But I don’t think I would have ever done it had I been 22 or 26. It just worked out at the perfect time in my life that I was able to be here. I was 12. When you’re that young, you don’t care. You don’t think about being defeated or anything. You just feel fearless.
Q: What keeps you grounded? Do you have a ranch somewhere to get out of L.A.?
Robertson: That’s kind of a goal. I’d love to have a ranch somewhere and would retire out there but, for now, I live in the (San Fernando) Valley. I have lots of really great friends and two amazing dogs. I have my L.A. family: my agent and all of her friends that I love so much. It’s a really nice life. They keep me grounded. My people around me keep me grounded but also just my lifestyle is very relaxed. I get stressed out when I’m doing too many things and I think, “Am I going to have a Saturday to do nothing?” There’s something peaceful about just having your own time.
Q: What do you do in your downtime? Do you fly airplanes as Tulsa does? Did doing that in the movie make you want to go fly?
Robertson: No. I read. I watch a lot of movies and TV. I cook a lot.
Q: Are you a southern cook?
Robertson: No. I wish. My mom doesn’t really cook. My dad owns a restaurant but he doesn’t do the cooking. None of my people cook. I’ve gotten recipes online. Also, my boyfriend’s mom gave me 10 recipes that I have mastered. I’m not as good a cook as her but I can still cook a decent meal. I have a few things that I rotate out, and I switch it up every now and then.
Q: Gardner has so many experiences for the first time in “The Space Between Us” that are commonplace to teenagers his age. What are the things that you would like to experience for the first time, that you can’t wait, that you have never experienced?
Robertson: Oh, I would love to re-watch for the first time, “The Jinx.” That is my dream, to be able to re-watch that as if it was me experiencing it for the first time again. Aside from that, I would say skydiving’s cool. I’d love to go on a safari. I love animals. I want to go cage diving with great white sharks off of Seal Island. Lots of cool things.
Q: You’ve got “Girlboss” premiering on Netflix soon. That’s exciting, isn’t it?
Robertson: Yeah, it was fun to shoot. I’ve seen four episodes now. I’m excited to see the rest of them and see how people respond to it. It’s really cool show. I’m proud of it.
Q: Does it extend to the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last November?
Robertson: No, not in the first season but I think it will (eventually be addressed). We’re only in the first season now and it takes it up to her launching Nasty Gal. Hopefully, there will be more seasons and we could do the rise and the downfall and then the rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Q: Did you actually meet Sophia before you played her? What did you make of her?
Robertson: She’s a riot. She is a good time, man. The first time that I met her was at a dinner and she came dressed to the nines, looked amazing and the second time I met her she took me out for brunch and took me on a Nasty Gal shopping spree and bought me so many clothes which was really sweet. She’s been really involved and great throughout the process. She’s a funny weirdo in the best way.
Q: Do you feel like you are ready to headline a film at this point?
Robertson: No. I’m not really interested in headlining a film. I’m more interested in working. “Girlboss” was a huge undertaking for me specifically at the time that it happened I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready to be the star of a show.” Every day I would be going in to work and being in every scene. It takes a lot out of you and you have to give so much of yourself and be willing to give so much of yourself but it ended up being the best experience. It was a very hard experience but so fun. I don’t know if it’s about me being ready so much as being ready for the right thing. I think I can handle just about anything when it comes to this stuff. It’s just a matter if I want to or not.
Q: And you’ve got “A Dog’s Purpose.”
Robertson: Yeah, “Dog’s Purpose” and “The Space Between Us” I sort of did back-to-back and (Garry Marshall’s) “Mother’s Day.” I did all three of them in a four-month span. “Girlboss” I just did over the summer. It’s actually a pretty luxurious schedule that I have. You try to work as much as you can but not work so much that it’s not fun anymore.
Q: Do you ever get a chance to go home to South Carolina? Do you have friends and family there?
Robertson: I do. My whole family is there. My sister is pregnant now so I’m going back a lot now. We have her baby shower coming up and then she’s delivering soon. I’m going to be an aunt for the first time so it’s really cool. I’m the oldest so I never thought that it would be (this way). They were all waiting for me to pop out kids. I’m like, “Nope, the 22-year-old is going to do it.”