Next Gen 2015: John Boyega on 'Star Wars' Expectations, Why He Has Six Lightsabers
Boyega plans to give away the lightsabers to certain people — and keep one for himself. "There is one that is open to just swing around a few seconds when I walk around the house," he says.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The stars seem to hold the key to John Boyega's future. When he was just 19 years old, the South London native strode into theaters like a proto-Denzel Washington in Attack the Block, director Joe Cornish's aliens-invade-a-London-project cult thriller. After a sojourn to television for Fox's 24: Live Another Day miniseries, and supporting roles in films like 2013's Nigeria-set drama Half of a Yellow Sun and Imperial Dreams (which won the Audience Award at 2014's Sundance Film Festival), Boyega finds himself at the center of a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Currently living in Los Angeles, Boyega has no real idea what's in store for him when J.J. Abrams' sequel invades theaters — even though he's been working with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, all of whom saw their life turned upside down when Star Wars first hit screens in 1977. "This is the first Star Wars movie in the age of social media, and it's a different path," says Boyega the day after the final Force Awakens trailer premiered (along with the Instagram video of him going nuts over it). "The stories they've shared, … I've been able to pick out a few things that are beneficial, but in terms of direct advice none of them have given any."
For some actors, like Ford and Fisher, being in a Star Wars movie is a great career catalyst. For others, like Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor, it kind of has no discernable impact. And for others still, like Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, it kind of destroys them. How much of that did you take into account before you took this on?
None of it. I am all about opportunity. I'm all about story. When J.J. signed on as director I was very much interested to come and read for him. It was just a matter of whether or not I could do the job, and apparently I could. For me, it's just all about making sure that this is a really cool film. That [Finn] the best character I can make him. In terms of it being a failure for some actors and all that stuff, it's been a long time since the last Star Wars movie came out. I haven't been scared with the risks and all that stuff. As an actor I wanted to do a great, great piece. As a fan as well.
How do you maintain a semblance of normal? Given the world is going nuts around you and about you — fans are crushing websites to buy advance tickets — how do you keep an even keel?
I think the major thing is I've had a life before. Two years ago I wouldn't have sworn this was a conversation I would be having. So it hasn't taken over my life just yet. As actors we have to try to maintain some sort of balance. I think in the coming months that will change and I'll know exactly what the dynamics are. But for now, there hasn't been anything that has completely changed the way my whole life works.
Coming off of Attack the Block did you have a blueprint for the way you wanted your career to develop? Was there a plan you were working off of?
Yeah, absolutely. Once we recognized Attack the Block would be a project the States would receive, once Big Talk Productions had [arranged] for distribution in the States at Screen Gems, we knew that was a great opportunity to go to America and get involved in some new projects. So the plan was to go over to the States, do a TV show, or a movie, and slowly build up a portfolio of work. But you know how life goes: Some things work out, some things don't.
I'm sure there's a contractually obligated answer to this question, but were you a Star Wars fan as a kid?
(Laughs.) What kind of contract would that be? Absolutely. Yeah, definitely I was.
Did your parents get your love for Star Wars?
No. My parents are not interested in Star Wars whatsoever. They're only interested in The Force Awakens. In terms of the rest, they're like, "OK, cool, but you're not in it." They're all about stakes. I've always been a fan, especially of the extended universe, like the comic books, the games. I had watched all the movies before being cast. I was fully aware of what Star Wars was. I didn't have to get an update.
I'm sure it's like dancing between raindrops, but can you talk a little bit about what you responded to in the script and your character specifically. Aside from the fact that it's a Star Wars movie, what about him made you have to play him?
I think I'm always interested in characters that start off one way and end another. I find it very boring to have to read a script where the character always knows what to do, knows who they are, has a blueprint for their lives. I just feel that sort of character is painted for a perfect story. What has always interested me, and what has interested a lot of people, are the characters that are unlikely. The characters that don't necessarily fit or match the status quo. Finn isn't a guy you would expect to be involved in this story. The fact that he's a Stormtrooper. We don't [usually] go into [Stormtroopers'] pasts or lives much: how the dynamics work for them, how they were recruited — we don't ever really see much about the past there. It was interesting to me to have that kind of character.
As much as most of Star Wars fandom is warm and embracing, there is this strain of ugliness, this whole #BoycottStarWars movement, where people are upset that Star Wars has been co-opted by women and people of color. How did you feel when you first heard about it?
The biggest movement so far is the fact that Star Wars probably beat Hunger Games in presales eight times over. So my question is, how is that little other agenda doing?
Yeah. And on the flip side of that there's a whole generation of kids for whom this is gonna be their first Star Wars movie.
The lead is being played by a black man wielding a lightsaber. Their first Jedi, like their first president, is black. Is that a responsibility you thought of before going into it?
No. (Pauses.) I am 23, so I don't have information about the way the world works when it comes to different mentalities. What I'm being exposed to now is new. I'm not the ordinary when it comes to this stuff. To me, going into a Star Wars film, having a responsibility to the world — I feel like if I thought about that my audition would not have been great. I would have been crying and making speeches halfway through the audition. For me, I went in as an actor. That has always been the main fixation. Whatever inspiration anyone draws from that is absolutely fantastic. It's always good to feel like you're involved in anything positive. In terms of my approach to Star Wars the main fixation to me was the role, the story and making sure Star Wars is honored in a very respectable way.
What's been the most surreal part of the ride so far?
I think just watching the trailers, for me. That's surreal. It doesn't get realer than that. We went to Comic-Con, met the fans, but watching the actual content is ridiculous. I've never seen myself in that kind of format before — in a movie that is probably the biggest movie of all time. It's a culture. It's like a religion for some people. It's like, it's so crazy to see yourself heavily involved in it.
Last question. Do you still have your lightsaber?
Let me go to my room. I have one, two, three, four, five lightsabers. Wait, there's one on the floor. Six lightsabers. Lightsabers I'm going to give away to certain people when I see them.
Do you have one you keep somewhere safe? One that's important just to you?
There is one that is open to just swing around a few seconds when I walk around the house.
Just in case.
Yeah, just in case.