John Boyega might have been on the acting scene since 2011 with his first feature film Attack the Block, but he’s gone relatively unknown until this point, but with the imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that’s all set to change.
And Boyega is more than happy to go along for the ride.
The 23-year-old grew up in Peckham, London to Nigerian parents. His father, a preacher, hoped Boyega would follow in his footsteps, they went to church everyday as a family, but from an early age the actor only had one thing in mind.
His first role was that of a leopard in a play at his primary school at the age of five, he was then noticed by the Director of Theatre, Teresa Earls, who saw him act in a primary school play and invited him to join the theatre school for talented children between the ages of 9 and 14 after obtaining financial assistance from a hardship fund.
His feature-film debut when he was 19 in Attack the Block, a British sci-fi comedy written and directed by Joe Cornish, certainly set him up for his future, Boyega earned praise for the role and got him on the radar of J.J. Abrams.
Speaking to V magazine about the casting process for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he explained: “There was already contact between me and J.J. He was a big fan of Attack the Block and we were waiting for a project where we could collaborate. The casting took seven months. Disney is a four billion pound company; they wanted to make sure they got the right person for the job. I learned I got the part over a nice breakfast in Mayfair. J.J. said, ‘John, you’re the new star of Star Wars.’ And everything froze for a moment.”
John admits he’s always been a fan of the franchise and the real thrill of it comes through the glorious geekery of it all, like wielding a lightsaber for the first time, seeing himself cast as an action figure, or getting to stroke a Wookiee – the furry, humanoid creatures whose most famous member is Chewbacca, Han Solo’s sidekick.
But what will he be doing as the film is released? He told the BBC: “This is the image I have. I’m going to be in my bed, with my cat next to me and a stormtrooper mug full of hot chocolate, and I’m just going to be looking at the box office figures. I’m just going to be looking at the numbers, at how many people are going to see the movie. I can’t wait to see how well we do.”
The Force Awakens has been tipped by some to be only the third film ever to make more than $2billion (£1.3billion), after Titanic and Avatar, but time will only tell.
John is thankful the pressure isn’t only on him though: “I feel very responsible for my character specifically – for the things we do in the scenes, and for the collaborative energy we have. But, thankfully, we have a great studio who are overseeing the release of the movie, and we have JJ Abrams who is the perfect mix of serious director and fan boy. The responsibility’s there, but I’m not the only shoulder it leans on.”
He’s also hoping the world doesn’t end before the film’s release because he’s really proud of the film, he told ASOS magazine: “I can’t see past Star Wars being released. It’s like there’s a plate of jollof rice and chicken in the microwave and I’m smelling it, but I can’t get it until my mum says. I’m looking after the animals, cleaning up after myself, being as helpful as possible, because if the end of the world comes before Star Wars is released I’m going to be so annoyed.”
And while some may think that appearing in Star Wars is a great platform, it’s no guarantee of a long, successful film career. But John has some wise words for that: “There’s no guarantee of life, first of all. And second of all, I just think when it comes to the acting career it’s all choice. I’m not stressed; I don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow. For me, right now is about supporting a movie that I love, a franchise that’s been part of my life for a very long time, and just having fun.”
But what’s next for the star? Well, 2016 will see him put work ethic over everything and maybe he’ll start developing the scripts that he writes when he’s bored: “I’ll develop them, I can’t be bothered to write something and for it not to on screen.”
With the film release this week, things are about to get even more crazy for the 23-year-old, and he certainly looks set to embrace it all.