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Cast and Characters
"We saw hundreds of young actors for the role of Bruno, the camp commandant's son,” says director Mark Herman. "Asa Butterfield's was the first tape I received and he was the third person I saw. I thought he was fantastic but we kept on searching, just because we wanted to make sure that no stone was unturned. In the end, we went back to him because the crucial thing was to find a child who can hold the screen. Asa does that. And he has just the right blend of innocence and curiosity for the role, and such compelling, watchful eyes."

"Mark helped me a lot by telling me when to do what,” says 10 year-old actor Asa Butterfield matter-of-factly. "The only thing I don't like about making films is having to do scenes over and over again, but I guess that's what filming is about!” Before getting the part, Asa knew something of the historical context of the story. "Some of it I already knew about,” he says. "But I didn't know that it was called the Holocaust. I nearly cried when I read the script.”

For the casting of Shmuel, the Jewish boy on the other side of the fence, Herman says: "I saw Jack Scanlon quite late in the process of seeing hundreds of boys. Jack can be moving without being sentimental; he has a natural dignity about him. But I had to see who had the right chemistry with our Bruno before choosing an actor to play Shmuel. Having narrowed it down to about three boys, we tried different pairings with Asa. Jack and Asa played very well against one another."

Eight year-old Jack Scanlon makes his feature film debut in the role of Shmuel. His potted history of the period runs as follows, complete with a conclusion that demonstrates his perfectly accurate grasp of the injustice wrought upon the victims: "The Germans lost quite badly in the First World War to the English. So Hitler got back at them by getting all the Jews, and people who were against him and his countrymen, and putting them into these things called ‘ghettos'. Then they brought them into the camps. And Bruno thinks it's because the Jews are the best workers. But really, Hitler just puts them there because it's like a punishment. But really it's not, because what have they done wrong?”

For the role of Bruno's sister Gretel, Herman chose young actress Amber Beattie. "She was stunning in the auditions,” recalls Herman. "And, as with Asa, Amber became the yardstick for other potential Gretels to measure up to. Nobody ever did - she was ahead of the pack all the way. Amber has a plucky directness about her, and as Gretel, although she disdains Bruno and is seduced by the Hitler Youth, as the story progresses she manages to retain our sympathy.”

Young teenager Amber Beattie is part of the core audience for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She wept while reading the book and on seeing the film for the first time, and took away a simple but essential message from the story: "I think the lesson in the film is don't judge other people, treat everyone as an equal. Because, really, everyone else is the same as you.”

Producer David Heyman was impressed with Mark Herman's rapport with his cast and in particular, appreciated his skill in communicating with its younger members. "It's very easy to pander or to patronize,” say Heyman, "but Mark didn't do that. He treated the kids as mature people with their own thoughts and ideas; he treated them with the respect they deserved and required and I think the children responded accordingly. I think they realized that they were doing something serious and dramatic, something that demanded effort and attention, and had worth and value. As a result, they treated the work with the same respect Mark gave to them. Mark Herman is a very compassionate director – he has a real sympathy for the characters he writes about and the actors he directs.”

American actress Vera Farmiga plays El

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