Earlier this year a six-year-old Alexander-James (A.J.) Houghton from Stagecoach Teddington and Stagecoach Talent Agency had the incredible opportunity to film with Nexflix in the much anticipated Bandersnatch.
Cast in Bandersnatch, a stand-alone interactive episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror, A.J. played the child-character of the main protagonist, Stefan Butler, a computer game programmer. Bandersnatch was a first for Netflix as it allows viewers to make decisions that dictate the fate of the lead character, Stefan, played by Fionn Whitehead. Viewers can choose from multiple storylines, with over a trillion possible combinations giving a degree of real control over the narrative and five potential endings to reach. In fact, AJ’s character Young Stefan had his own alternative ending of the episode.
The episode won the Emmy for Outstanding Television during the 71st Emmy Awards, which were held at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on September 22, 2019.
Auditions for the film were held back in April 2018 in front of casting director, Jina Jay, known for her work on Rogue One and Bird Box. AJ knows that with any audition not to think much of the end result but just to try to enjoy the moment. He was asked to bring his favourite toy to the audition and then improvise around losing it, showing how upset he would be.
AJ auditioned successfully and filming started later that year. To AJ the set was extremely impressive; huge cranes with floodlights, multiple cameras, cables, equipment and people running about, however, AJ took the whole experience in his stride.
Being on set can consist of long days and a lot of waiting around. AJ had just woken up after falling asleep in his trailer when he was called onto the set for the first time. Everyone was concerned he would be completely shell-shocked and overwhelmed, having just experienced all of this for the first time. However, AJ was mature and professional, walking onto the set as if it was second nature.
He had to work extremely hard, sometimes with the call times at 6 am and not getting home till 10 pm whilst juggling his school work. He learnt that a few seconds of the air time could be filmed for multiple hours sometimes in unconformable conditions. One scene, in particular, saw AJ in a train carriage in winter clothes, under the heat of the lights it did get tough but AJ’s determination pushed him forwards.
AJ’s character Young Stephen, had a close relationship with his mother, which he needed to practice, taking time to learn how to make their love look natural, often sitting on her lap and hugging her, give her a little kiss on a cheek during the set preparation time just to break the ice.
The Principal of Stagecoach Teddington, Will Chitty, said “I am exceptionally proud of A.J. for throwing himself into this amazing opportunity. It has been wonderful to see him flourish in the role. At Stagecoach, we aim to unlock Creative Courage for Life in all our students and I’m sure that the skills learned on set will stay with him far beyond this unique experience.”
AJ isn’t stopping with an Emmy award-winning show, he has just completed a LAMDA exam with 100/100 and is currently filming for a children's TV Show.