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An interview with John Boyega

An interview with John Boyega

19 May 2017

Via a galaxy far, far away, film star John Boyega is back within three miles of where it all began: Peckham’s hottest property is taking the lead role in the brand new production of Woyzeck at the Old Vic. In between his departure and return Boyega has rubbed shoulders with both Hollywood and actual royalty, while winning awards along the way, as London Calling discovers.

When the majority of the world first saw John Boyega, he happened to be sweating profusely, panting heavily and wearing a helmet-less Stormtrooper’s uniform - all framed against the backdrop of an alien desert landscape loved and fetishised by millions of geeks, nerds and normal people around the global.
 
For those without a predilection for pan-generational space drama, this unveiling to mass popular culture was Boyega’s appearance in the opening shot of the very first teaser trailer for 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which attracted a record-breaking 58 million YouTube views in its first week.
 
That trailer now has 77 million watches and Boyega has recently announced his reappearance in the latest Star Wars instalment The Last Jedi, due for release in December this year. Until then, it’s back to treading the London boards, which is where his acting career started. After eight years away, Boyega says his return to the stage is “like riding a bike”.


 
First published in 1879, Woyzeck is a stage play written by German dramatist Georg Büchner. In it Boyega plays a young soldier who, along with the love of his life, desperately tries to build a better future for their child, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Berlin.
 
Comparing working on stage to a film set, Boyega says, “You're on the stage and suddenly the lights are on and there's an audience either clapping or throwing tomatoes at you. You have to adjust [from being on a film set] as there’s only one take. The turnaround time is much shorter, too.”
 
Boyega was born in March 1992 in Peckham to Nigerian parents, Abigail and Samson, and attended Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, where he started acting at the age of nine in the school play. Even at that improbably young age it didn’t take Boyega long to be spotted.
 
The artistic director of Theatre Peckham, Teresa Early, helped Boyega obtain financial assistance from a hardship fund and Boyega joined Theatre Peckham, spending his time there outside school hours from the ages of nine and 14. “Theatre just represented freedom to me,” he says. “There was so much to explore, and more than anything else is just felt so good to achieve something… to achieve new things every time I went there.”
 
Then, at 18, Boyega got a part in Attack the Block, a British science fiction comedy horror film set close to home on a South London council estate. In the same year, Boyega was cast in an American HBO pilot which didn’t see the light of day, but travelling across the Atlantic to audition for work offered a new vantage point for his ambitions. “I loved going across to LA,” he says. “It was an adventure. Even sitting on the tarmac waiting to depart it felt like the next two weeks would offer so many surprises and new experiences, despite the number of terrorist checks I used to have to encounter!”
 


Being a globally recognised face will help with undisrupted free passage, no question. Are there any other perks to being famous? “I was once let off without a ticket when I parked on double yellow lines in London. The ticket inspector recognised me and let it pass. That’s honestly about it!”
 
When asked if there are any downsides to being famous, Boyega recounts the evening he was on a date, driving through Times Square, when the woman he was with asked what he did for a living. “I just pointed up at the Star Wars billboard that showed me with a lightsabre and said, ‘That!’.”
 
Counterintuitively, that revelation didn’t impress his date: “That was the end of the relationship – the poster really affected her,” Boyega remembers.
 
On the subject of romance in the context of global fame, Boyega describes the advice given to him by fellow actor Orlando Bloom, “He told me to secure the love of my life before all the fame takes off.”


 
But Boyega doesn’t like what all actors have to proffer, having publicly disagreed with Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained star Samuel L. Jackson, who decried the decision to hire British actor Daniel Kaluuya in the horror hit Get Out, a film ostensibly about American racial tension.
 
Boyega said that Jackson’s comments were creating a “stupid ass conflict we don't have time for”. He continues, “I love him [Jackson] but he didn't have to go there. I just think there's no end result in black Brits and African Americans going back and forth at each other.”
 
One actor Boyega will unquestionably concur with is his Star Wars colleague Harrison Ford, who said of Boyega, “John is a very distinct individual and a fascinating guy and very talented. He is going to have a wonderful career.”
 
This is an opinion of the young man from Peckham that seems to be shared by most in Hollywood and beyond.
 
John Boyega stars in Woyzeck at the Old Vic from May 13 - June 24.

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