Asa Butterfield is feeling the heat.
It's a gloriously sunny Friday and he's just walked in the door of his London flat after spending the afternoon at the park. First stop: his paddling pool.
A cursory glance at his Instagram tells me that it's slighter larger than your average garden inflatable. He is a Hollywood star, after all.
Asa lives with his older brother Morgan and his two cats, Lyra and Atlas, who are also related:
"The cats are loving having all this attention because everyone's at home. They've been keeping me entertained."
He should be filming Sex Education right now, but normal service has yet to be resumed following the devastation wrought by That Which Shall Not Be Named.
He should be back on set in August – his co-star Aimee Lou Wood, who plays Aimee, told Digital Spy that "it looks like it's on track".
Asa plays Otis in the Netflix series, a teenager who dishes out sex and relationship advice that he's picked up from his therapist mother to his fellow students at Moordale High, for a princely sum, of course. But he quickly learns that he doesn't have all the answers, especially when it comes to his own problems.
"I think we are similar," he says. "He's definitely one of the most familiar parts I've played. I put a lot of myself into this, into Otis.
"My brother watched it and said he saw so much of me in it, in those situations, in the way Otis would react."
He adds: "Like Otis, I don't really want to be the centre of attention – ever."
But the British comedy-drama immediately attracted a legion of loyal fans when it arrived back in 2018, which makes fading into the background tricky.
40 million households tuned in to watch season one in its first month, according to Netflix, and it was in the platform's top-ten most popular series of 2019 in the UK and US.
We're predicting just as much love for the next chapter.
It hasn't quite been all play and no work for Asa during lockdown. "There's still a lot going on behind the scenes, in terms of scripts being sent and conversations about projects that will hopefully start once things go back to normal," he tells me.
But the extended holiday has given him some space to enjoy another of his creative pursuits:
"It's been really nice to step back and focus on other things, and not be thinking about the next project. I've got some instruments, so we've been playing a lot of music. We've got ourselves a musical corner of the living room."
Given that he's 23 and has been acting since he was "7 or 8", it's really no wonder that Asa has relished this unforeseen opening in his schedule.
But despite the sheer amount of work that he already has under his belt at such a young age – he was directed by Martin Scorsese in Hugo and Tim Burton in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and has starred opposite Eva Green in the latter and Harrison Ford in Ender's Game – being a seasoned pro does still have its own challenges.
"Because I was young when I started, I didn't have a lot of those nerves going into it, as opposed to perhaps an older actor, where the stakes are a bit higher, and you've got more to prove," he explains.
"As a kid, you're able to go along with it and not think too much about everything else that's going on around it."
But even a CV as extensive as his didn't entirely prepare Asa for the level of exposure that comes with starring in a supremely popular Netflix series:
"I've been doing this for 15 years, so I'm somewhat used to being known and having people recognise me. But even so, it was a little bit of a shock. I was in Kenya last year and I got recognised. It's amazing how widespread this show is. It has ramped up in terms of being known and being recognised.
"But I was definitely more prepared for it than some of the other actors. It's their first job, so it must have been quite hard."
Asa is understandably reluctant to say much about the upcoming third season of Sex Education, but he did tell me that he's "really happy" with the opening episode.
"It didn't go where I anticipated it to," he adds. "A few things have changed. I'm excited."
The series belongs to Laurie Nunn. As its creator, what she says, goes, with the customary input from the writers' room she assembled. But naturally, Asa has his own preferences for what he'd like to see happen:
"I want more of Otis and Maeve. We didn't get so much of that in season two as we did in season one. And I always like working with Emma [Mackey, who plays Maeve].
"I think it's a great relationship – not even in a romantic sense, but they really understand each other, and they really get the best out of each other as people."
In the season two finale, Otis finally surrendered to his emotions and confessed his feelings to Maeve. Well, her voicemail, if we're being pernickety.
"It's you," he said. "It's always been you. I love you."
But Maeve's new neighbour Isaac, who had also taken a shine to her, scuppered Otis's plan when he deleted the message, further prolonging our agony.
But were Isaac's actions a blessing in disguise?
"I think they both have some things to learn, or to come to terms with before – and if – they do anything romantically," says Asa. "I think they're perhaps not quite ready for each other yet, if it ends up going in that direction.
"I want Otis to come out of his shell a bit, and maybe do some other things he's never done before. He likes his bubble, and his safe space. I'd like to see Otis come out of that and start to tread on some new ground in season three."
Season two did go someway to releasing Otis from his cage during *that* house party, which saw him humiliate both Ola and Maeve in front of half of the school. It was new territory for the character, but as cruel as he was, Asa explains why it was important to see that aspect of him:
"You definitely saw his slightly more selfish side, his childish side, which I think is great. To have a character who is flawed in that way and isn't necessarily everything you would expect him to be is important.
"I think that really was a boiling point for him. He had a lot going on internally. He'd just broken up with Ola, and Maeve had sort of confessed her feelings to him. And as well as that, his dad had essentially abandoned him again. He had so much internally that he was keeping inside and bottling up, and obviously having a lot of drinks never helps in those situations.
"He needed to let it out. It was cathartic for him to finally say all these things he'd been thinking in his head, even if it did separate them all for a while, and he was an arse about it [laughs]."
Cathartic is the word that springs to mind when you consider the power that Sex Education wields over its audience.
"Being able to show these very real people in very awkward and funny and potentially embarrassing moments, and to normalise it, I think people have really responded to that," says Asa.
"There was a cumulative wave of things that I would read on Twitter or on Reddit, as well as people coming up to us in the street and saying how helpful it was for them, whether it was helping them to have a conversation with their parents, or to give them the confidence to start those conversations.
"That's what a lot of Otis's messages are about – the importance of communicating."
On a personal level, Sex Education has also been a gateway to something new for Asa:
"It's been amazing for me to dive into a much more comedic role, on a more comedic show because I have grown up mostly doing dramas. The first few films I did were all quite heavy and quite dark, especially for a young kid."
(His second feature film was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in which Asa played Bruno, a German who befriends a Jewish boy called Shmuel through the wire fence of a concentration camp.)
"To really step into a much more spontaneous and funny... to try to push the boundaries of what I'd done, was challenging, but exciting for me, going into set."
Sex Education has certainly not shied away from putting its cast to the test.
"We have that huge [wanking] montage at the beginning of season two which, when I first read that, I could not believe it," laughs Asa. "I was like, 'Ben [Taylor, the director], how are we going to do this?'
"He assured me it was going to be beautiful, and I do trust him.
"Once you do it a couple of times, it's sort of funny. The embarrassment fades quite quickly, especially on a show like this where it's such an important aspect of it, and normalising it. It really just felt like a part of the character. So very quickly, you're like, 'Oh, yeah, here we go, another wanking scene. Alright guys. Don't mind me.'"
We're predicting plenty more montages – and so much more – in season three. But what about the show's future beyond that?
"I think it's a relatively simple story this one," he says. "Obviously we're in college, so there's that time constraint. I don't think this show would ever go for 10 seasons. But I don't know. Until I read the rest of season three, it's very hard to tell.
"I don't think it needs more than four or five [seasons]. But who knows. Maybe it's all going to end in season three."
Sex Education seasons one and two are available to stream now on Netflix.
Digital Spy now has a newsletter – sign up to get it sent straight to your inbox.
Looking for more TV recommendations and discussion? Head over to our Facebook Group to see new picks every day, and chat with other readers about what they're watching right now.
You Might Also Like