"Poe Dameron: Wha- why? Why are you helping me?
Finn: Because it's the right thing to do.
Poe Dameron: You need a pilot.
Finn: I need a pilot."
Landing a starring role in one of the biggest movie franchises of all time has a way of kick-starting a film career. Best known as the rebellious stormtrooper Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, John Boyega is quickly making a name for himself with other roles in Hollywood, such as Jake Pentecost in Pacific Rim: Uprising and Melvin Dismukes in Detroit. At 26 years old, things seem like they're just beginning for Boyega, but how did he end up where he is today? Where did he come from, and what's happened to him along the way? Keep on reading for 42 facts about everyone's favorite stormtrooper janitor turned hero of the resistance.
Aside from acting, Boyega has already entered the world of movie production. He partnered with his friend and agent, Femi Oguns, to produce Pacific Rim: Uprising through his company Upper Room Productions. Boyega enjoys the creative freedom of producing but also hopes his company can give a voice to other actors looking for their big break. Boyega mainly loves sci-fi and drama, so his production company may focus on that, but he also says wants to do something light: “Seth Rogen, call me.”
Boyega attended London’s Identity School of Acting part-time, starting when he was sixteen. He says it's important to have “home-grown” venues for actors to learn the craft in England, instead of having to rely on the mecca of LA. Identity allowed Boyega to meet Letitia Wright, who is now known for playing Shuri in Black Panther.
One of Boyega’s role models was Idris Elba, who he viewed as another humble Londoner who successfully made it big in Hollywood. Boyega initially heard about the first Pacific Rim when Idris Elba was cast, and a sequel seemed like the right choice when his production company was getting off the ground, so it's only fitting that Boyega end up playing Elba's son in Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Boyega’s first lead role was in Attack the Block, a film that got some attention for being produced by Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver). Boyega played Moses, the leader of a teenaged gang who help fight off an alien invasion in their neighborhood. While Boyega has gone on to Star Wars-level fame since, his co-star Jodie Whitaker has also gone on to star as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. Not bad at all.
Boyega actually met director JJ Abrams, director of The Force Awakens, in 2012 when the two were both at a Bad Robot (Abrams' production company) office. Boyega was there for a meeting about a TV boxing drama that never got picked up. Abrams walked out of a meeting, alongside Tom Cruise, and stopped to acknowledge Boyega. Abrams praised Boyega for his role in Attack the Block and said that he would get Boyega in a movie someday. Boyega didn’t believe it at the time, the same way we might grow disillusioned with yet another person that says they have connections to get us a job. In Boyega’s case, what he heard was the truth, and he was on set with Abrams a few years later.
Aside from meeting Letitia through acting classes, Boyega has actually kept in touch with Wright and other English talent, such as Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out). The duo came to the Star Wars premiere to support him and together they help form a new generation of actors who offer more diversity to Hollywood. Boyega also spoke out on Kaluuya’s behalf when Samuel L. Jackson argued that a black American should have starred in Get Out instead, arguing that the distinction between a black British actor and black American one shouldn’t matter.
While waiting to hear back about Star Wars, Boyega also received offers for roles in Power Rangers, Terminator: Genisys and for Cyborg in Justice League. If Boyega had picked any other role, he would have missed out on Star Wars. However, the role of Finn was far from a sure thing at this point, and Boyega didn't love his chances because he felt like one of his auditions didn’t go well since he was tired and forgot some of his lines. Understandably, Boyega’s reps advised him to pick another role, but he held out, and for the better—I think The Force Awakens was just a tad more successful than those other movies.
Prior to getting his role in Attack the Block, Boyega was pursuing film studies at Greenwich University. Boyega dropped out after a year to take the role and decided to pursue acting full time. If only all college drop out stories ended this happily.
Boyega has had a run-in with a stalker, although it didn’t end as dangerously as some such incidents do. He recalls leaving after a performance at the Old Vic theatre and having a fan follow him to his home. The fan finally spoke up when Boyega was near his home, equipped with a pen and a photo of Boyega. Boyega recognized it was “wack” but says that experiences like this one are thankfully a minority.
Boyega has graced the stage as well, most notably at London's iconic Old Vic theatre with the title role in the 19th century play Woyzeck. Boyega has actually said that he prefers stage acting to screen acting—though I'm sure he doesn't hate the paychecks from the latter.
Although he pursued acting for years prior to making it big, Boyega says his #1 dream job was actually as a newspaper cartoonist. Maybe he stopped pursuing that when he realized it doesn’t pay quite as well?
Boyega’s respect for his parents can’t be overstated, especially since he literally bowed to them when he returned home after finding out he got the role of Finn. The bow is a traditional Nigerian sign of respect, and Boyega’s first gesture of gratitude for their sacrifices.
Boyega had less than $200 in the bank when Abrams confirmed he got the role of Finn. A few years later, he bought his parents a house and used some more of his earnings to start his production company.
If you ever happen to run into John Boyega, skip the selfie requests. The actor usually refuses them since he’s never been a fan of selfies—you’d have better luck just chatting with him. Boyega can recall one time when he came across a group of schoolkids, one of whom had a bike like the one Boyega used to have. He asked the kid to do a wheelie and that led to a half-hour conversation.
Boyega doesn't just fight the Dark Side—he also fights cancer. Boyega has put his money to use supporting the UK’s DreamLab app. The app is a collaboration between the Vodafone Foundation and Imperial College, ultimately using the processing power of users’ phones to speed up the time it takes to match cancer drugs with patients. The app is intended to be used while users sleep, allowing them to contribute with the simplest of actions.
Some actors, like Tom Holland, are infamous for not being able to keep secrets about the films they’re in. Boyega is the anti-Holland, and wasn’t too happy when This Morning host, Holly Willoughby, revealed that Yoda was returning for The Last Jedi. “You can’t tell the fans exactly what happens… Get your ticket man.”
Boyega says his mom already treats him like a hero due to his film roles, adding that he’s the first person she goes to if she hears something creak in the house: “Do something like you did in the film.” His dad on the other hand is still waiting for his son to get to Bruce Willis’s level. When Boyega asked his dad if he respects him more than Bruce Willis, Boyega’s dad gave some brutal parental honesty and told him no. Sorry Johnny boy, we love Finn, but he's not quite John McLean level yet.
Finn was a life-changing role for Boyega, and it has helped him to get other roles since. However, we can’t fault him if he’s still attached to it. Boyega admits that when he first received the script for The Last Jedi, he skipped to the end to see if Finn made it out alive.
Some of the actors Boyega admires most include Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Andrew Garfield and Tom Hardy. Boyega views them as a group of actors who don’t just play themselves in every role and truly try to transform the medium and give audience something new.
Boyega has hinted that Finn will sport a new look for Episode IX, revealing that he’s growing his hair out for the December 2019 release. I find this interesting because I’m getting images of a Star Wars-style Mr. T.
Boyega’s friendship with co-star Daisy Ridley has captured the attention of fans, and likely fanfic writers, with everything from their interviews together to the online back and forth they used to share. Ridley has blown up Boyega’s phone with selfies, has said he’s like her brother, even admitting that they both call each other “peanut.” However, Boyega did once make the mistake of not inviting Daisy Ridley to one of his house parties... depending on who you believe; he said she that he invited her and she didn't show up, but she said that he told her that the party was happening, but didn't actually invite her. Who do you believe?
Boyega’s parents moved to England from Nigeria a few years prior to his birth, and so Boyega grew up on Nollywood films, with the first film he saw being Nollywood’s Blood Sisters. For that reason, he plans to produce a Nigerian film with an estimated budget of $20 to $25 million, which would be a record-breaking budget for a film based in the African nation.
Boyega was born in council estate housing in 1992, but he doesn’t like to frame his life as a violent one. He believes that it fits a racist stereotype and turns him into a “street kid.” He remembers reading an article saying that his building was rife with knives and guns, when that wasn't remotely the experience he had there. Boyega also hates the implication that he is no longer a part of Peckham, the area he grew up in, just because he's a big movie star now—he currently lives about twenty minutes away from his old home!
Ever thought that school needs to teach more practical stuff, e.g. taxes, business and housing? Well Boyega is a voice for the people, believing that a lot of what schools teach is “bull****.” Well said, John.
Boyega started taking acting seriously during elementary school, getting his start with school plays and dreaming of playing Othello one day. This is the guy that people try to label a "street kid," remember.
Boyega’s dad was a Pentecostal preacher and originally pushed his son to follow in the family business. His parents were struggling financially before he hit it big, and there was also pressure to go to school and find a stable job. However, Boyega was able to assuage any doubt, and his father now supports him wholeheartedly. Not Bruce Willis level, but still!
Comic-Con is every geek’s paradise, where you get to be surrounded by other people interested in the things you love and also get a chance to see some of Sci-Fi's biggest stars. Boyega actually took the opportunity to dress up as a stormtrooper, using the mask as a way to secretly interact with fans without the baggage of his role as Finn. One lucky fan still might not know the guy he had a lightsaber duel with was actually in a Star Wars movie.
If Star Wars remained as un-diverse in the new films as it did in the originals, Boyega never would have received his biggest role, so you can’t fault him for wanting diversity in the media he watches. He has gone on record saying that he isn’t a fan of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, “I ain’t paying money to see one type of person on-screen.”
When asked what his biggest personal failing is, Boyega remarked that it was his directness. He realizes that people who aren’t as direct as him can be put off by the way he acts. Boyega also realizes that this trait can be particularly harmful in an industry that relies on, as he says, “bull**** soup.” I say we need more people like Boyega.
Boyega says the moment that the reality of being in Star Wars clicked was when he first put on his stromtrooper costume. He was also eyeing “the way his glutes looked” but more importantly, it was the first tangible step into a galaxy far far away.
Anyone remember Jake Lloyd? The kid who played young Anakin Skywalker and grew up to absolutely resent his role in Star Wars? Apparently JJ Abrams does, because he didn’t give Boyega a happy-go-lucky speech when he gave Boyega his role. Abrams cautioned him the role would be a burden and that he shouldn’t simply feel happy in the moment. Abrams wanted Boyega to realize he would never escape playing Finn. Guess you have to weed out the people that don’t really want it.
Boyega took co-star Harrison Ford out for dinner when Ford was in London for The Force Awakens premiere. Since Ford wished to ditch the “glitzy” area, Boyega took him to an old favorite in his hometown of Peckham, an area dominated by working-class immigrants. Ford joined Boyega at Nigerian restaurant, 805, and Boyega was proud to see Ford eat most of his food without a utensil like a real Nigerian. If that experience wasn’t enough, Ford also said “it was cool for me.” Now Boyega can die happy.
Roles like Detroit don’t shy away from the issue of racism and racial profiling, and neither does Boyega. He recalls an incident in May 2017 when he visited a friend to work on a film. While waiting for his friend, Boyega walked in to his apartment building behind a couple, who went over to the concierge and spoke to them. The concierge called his friend’s apartment while they were waiting and asked if he knew the “suspicious” person that the couple reported. Boyega had his friend call the concierge back and tell him “Never call the apartment again with that kind of query.”
Aside from buying his parents a house, Boyega also looks out for his sister... or maybe she looks out for him? She serves as his publicist and assistant.
Boyega recalls staying in LA, trying to get roles, when it was announced that Attack the Block got US distribution. The filmmakers then arranged for Boyega to be moved from the Coral Sands motel to the Ritz Carlton during the American promotion push. Not a bad change of scenery!
Boyega realizes that the size of the Star Wars universe can bring more scrutiny to his character, but can also take some weight off, since the franchise doesn’t live or die by his performance. In Star Wars Boyega is just “a piece of the puzzle.” In contrast, the small roles like Detroit are the ones that can be more challenging since a smaller scale also leads to more pressure to deliver.
Boyega has been in that awkward situation where he meets someone who is a legend in their field, such as singer Gary Barlow, and wonders whether he should pretend like he knows them or ask them to explain what they do. Boyega always introduces himself, arguing that there’s a chance someone might not know Star Wars—after all, his parents aren’t big fans.
Finn received some criticism for being glorified being comic relief in The Force Awakens. Boyega believes Finn’s more bumbling role in The Force Awakens was part of a character trajectory that would make the character's evolution more interesting (perhaps in contrast to all the Mary Sue complaints Rey gets).
Boyega struggled financially prior to landing his role in Star Wars and also went through a phase where it felt like every other actor he knew was getting auditions. Once his agent finally got him his first audition for Star Wars, an eight month process of auditions followed. Boyega learned to thicken his skin in this time, especially since he had to deal with such advice as "John, you're fat. You need to lose some weight for this role."
Boyega is no stranger to toxic fan culture, since he received criticism for his skin color when it was revealed he was playing a stormtrooper. Boyega’s response on Twitter was, “To whom it may concern… Get used to it.” Boyega says he was advised to stay silent about the issue but he objected, believing that “you have to fight fire with fire sometimes.”
We’ve all had the moments (please tell me I'm not the only one) where we dream of fame and the adoration that it will bring. But from Boyega’s experience, it may not be all it's cracked up to be—he describes himself as “broke” when it comes to love. He says that “a lot of women” don’t like the potential attention that comes with dating someone like him. One nurse he was seeing stopped dating him specifically because he was in Star Wars.
Boyega knows that being famous brings increased scrutiny and pressure, which can lead people off the rails. He saw Robert Downey Jr. as an example of someone who experienced the highs and lows of Hollywood, but also re-emerged. Boyega asked his agent to contact Downey Jr.’s, hoping to have a conversation about navigating Hollywood. This led to waffles at Downey Jr.’s house (sadly, they weren't made by Downey Jr. himself), which included an impromptu visit from Orlando Bloom. Boyega is tight-lipped about the advice he got, so we’ll just have to wait and see if it was good or not.
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