John Boyega adores Lupita Nyong’o and is about ‘Ewoks all day. I hate porgs.’
The ‘Pacific Rim’ and ‘Star Wars’ star likes his Jay-Z and Kanye — and his grime and afropop
He burst onto the scene in 2015 as Finn, the black storm trooper-turned-hero in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but John Boyega has proved that he won’t be defined by that life-changing role.
He’s since demonstrated his versatility in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit and onstage as lead in an adaptation of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck in his native London — before bringing Finn back in Star Wars: The Last Jedi last December. Now Boyega is out front in the sequel to 2013 cult classic Pacific Rim, the new Pacific Rim Uprising.
Boyega is part of a large wave of black British actors who have taken over the American box office in recent years. Daniel Kaluuya was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Get Out. David Oyelowo was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Selma. And Letitia Wright and Kaluuya both starred in Marvel’s Black Panther, which is on pace to become the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time.
“I’m proud,” Boyega said. “We all trained very, very hard to get here, gave up our lives in the U.K. to pursue something better, and in return America gave us that shot. It feels absolutely epic to be a part of this movement right now.”
Boyega’s ambitions don’t end in front of the camera. After filming The Force Awakens, he used his earnings to start a production company called UpperRoom Entertainment Limited, which was launched in January 2016. His company co-produced Pacific Rim Uprising, giving Boyega the first producer credit of his career. It’s safe to say that the shine of the talented upstart isn’t fading anytime soon.
If your character, Jack, in Pacific Rim Uprising played a CD in his Jaeger (the large robots featured in the film), what are you playing?
Favorite song off that album?
‘No Church in the Wild.’ It’s a good song, especially for the fighting in Pacific Rim. A bit upbeat.
Your dad is a preacher. Any music that wasn’t allowed in the house growing up?
We listened to all of it. Christians are nuanced. Some people believe you shouldn’t hear any secular music — my dad didn’t believe that. We listened to Michael Jackson growing up. We couldn’t listen to hardcore rap music or anything like that, but can’t lie, we listened to that when we were in school.
Who are your favorite musical artists right now?
I love SZA. She’s fantastic. Kendrick Lamar. I’m loving what Stormzy in the U.K. is doing. I’m loving what Skepta is doing with the fashion and the music. And then homegrown talent: I love Wizkid, I love Davido, Tekno. Those are the Afrobeat stars that I listen to.
On Instagram, you posted that you put Wizkid’s “Daddy Yo” in Pacific Rim Uprising. How important is diversity within those working behind the camera?
What people get to experience are ideas that come out from very different people. We all collaborate to bring together ideas that help move the story forward. With that being said, my background is very unique. Being able to make that kind of decision is cool, and to make that kind of history is cool as well. To put those worlds together and have our lead sci-fi hero enjoying an Afrobeat Nigerian song, it’s something to be proud of.
What aspect of Nigerian culture would you like to see represented more in the U.S.?
A whole bunch of things. It’s hard to see the perspective of the world and not be too concerned with only the portal that you have, which is America … the bubble that America creates. The food is something that I think … could be accepted in the mainstream. On top of that, definitely the music, which has gotten a bit more recognition, which is definitely quite cool. I believe that as human beings, any chance we get to relate with someone different enough, we are actively changing the world in a positive way.
Advice for your 15 year-old self?
Stop eating all those sweets, man. Seriously, you need to stop that (laughs).
How does it feel to be a part of this wave of black British actors taking over American film in recent years?
Myself and Letitia Wright went to the same drama school. I met Daniel Kaluuya at a very young age while he was doing his stage thing. I’ve met various British actors where I have auditioned in the U.K. I’m very, very happy. These are good actors, high-quality actors who are nuanced and are able to do things on-screen that are intriguing, draw the audience in.
A Grace Jones concert.
Favorite line from Black Panther?
Oh, man. Hmmm. The colonizer line (laughs). That made me crack up. That definitely was my favorite. I have a film club that I go to, [and] Black Panther is the talking topic for the next two weeks. A lot of Michael B. Jordan’s lines come up — so well-written. The stuff he says about enslavement and how it relates to what’s going on today. Those lines are important.
Is it true that you once wanted to be a soccer star?
I didn’t actually want to be a soccer star, I just wanted to try it out to see if my right foot could kick straight. I decided my talents were best suited for being in the [soccer] audience, watching.
Did you have a favorite soccer club growing up?
The family supported Manchester United. My sister got married and she transferred to Arsenal and literally broke the family code. When she did that there wasn’t enough motivation for my dad to stay with MU because I think at the time we had a pretty crap Premier League. And then what happened, my dad became a glory hunter. You asked him what team he’d support, he’d say whatever team wins.
What will you always be a champion of?
Online Star Wars Battlefront.
Any bad habits?
I hardly make my bed when I’m leaving.
Actor or actress you’d most like to work with in the future?
Best advice you’ve received from another actor/actress?
I wouldn’t really call this advice, but talking to Lupita in-depth about the industry, in-depth about the way which we see our roles in this whole movement. I’ve always felt I could call her and speak to her about any challenges I’ve faced. And, for me, hearing her side of the story and hearing not only the perspective but also an insight into how I could be a part of the change.
While you’ve made your name in sci-fi, you’ve also been in films rooted in African-American (Detroit) and Nigerian (Half of a Yellow Sun) history. Any upcoming roles?
Yes, but I’ve got to keep that one to myself.
Ewoks or Porgs?
Ewoks all day. I hate porgs.