He went from un­known to Hol­ly­wood player at warp speed. But John Boyega is loving the ride

WHO - - In this Issue - By Kara Warner

John Boyega got his big break in Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens; now he’s crossed gen­res in the gritty new Detroit.

John Boyega has had some big breaks. At 22, he was plucked from ob­scu­rity to play rene­gade stormtrooper Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens. Now all of 25, he’s im­press­ing crit­ics with his role in Kathryn Bigelow’s gritty new movie, Detroit (out Nov. 9). But the mo­ment that re­ally launched his ca­reer? That would be land­ing the part of a leop­ard in a pri­mary-school play. With one growl, Boyega knew he had found his call­ing. “I’ve al­ways aimed high,” says the Lon­don-born son of Nige­rian im­mi­grants. “I’ve been work­ing to­wards this for a very long time.”

Well, not re­ally all that long, if you mea­sure Boyega’s tra­jec­tory in mere years. But there was noth­ing in the ac­tor’s early life to sug­gest that wealth and fame were on the cards. The son of Sam­son Boyega, a Pen­te­costal min­is­ter, and his

wife, Abi­gail, a carer for dis­abled chil­dren, he grew up in work­ing-class Peck­ham, a neigh­bour­hood pop­u­lated by mi­grants from around the world. The Boye­gas didn’t have much money, but their son was spot­ted by the direc­tor of a lo­cal theatre—at 9, he was given a grant to pay for drama classes and to per­form. “I al­ways knew that it was my happy place,” he says. “Act­ing made my child­hood so dope be­cause I learned how to re­late to and in­ter­act with peo­ple.”

Boyega went on to study drama in col­lege, and in 2011 landed a role in the low-bud­get Bri­tish sci-fi thriller At­tack the Block. Hap­pily enough, the cult movie had an im­por­tant fan: The Force Awak­ens direc­tor J.J. Abrams. Af­ter months of au­di­tions and screen tests, Abrams cast the new­comer in a lead­ing role. “Ev­ery­thing froze,” Boyega says of get­ting the news. “The whole world was per­fect.” On-set the ea­ger Brit geeked out in the pres­ence of Har­ri­son Ford, who he asked to au­to­graph a gi­ant Han Solo ac­tion fig­ure. “He said, ‘This is weird,’ ’’ Boyega re­calls. “But he signed it!”

Star­ring in one of the most suc­cess­ful movie fran­chises of all time keeps Boyega very busy— in De­cem­ber, he’ll ap­pear in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But it’s also given him op­por­tu­ni­ties to take on chal­leng­ing new roles. In Detroit, which is based on ac­tual events, Boyega plays a se­cu­rity guard who finds him­self caught in the vi­o­lence that swept the city in 1967. “Detroit is my chance to get out of the Star Wars um­brella and do some­thing that is quite epic on another for­mat,” he says. As for re­lat­ing to the tragic Amer­i­can story, “I have unique ex­pe­ri­ence when it comes to race,” he adds. “There’s no kind of jour­ney that needs to be made in terms of un­der­stand­ing the pain and the sor­row of the sit­u­a­tion. Th­ese is­sues are global.” Direc­tor Bigelow says her star brought ev­ery­thing to a gru­elling part: “Even in still­ness he com­mands at­ten­tion. John is an in­cred­i­ble tal­ent—and a won­der­ful hu­man be­ing.” He hopes to make more dra­mas, and hope­fully, a few come­dies, too. “I’m ver­sa­tile,” he says. “I’d like to tell di­verse sto­ries.”

But if his op­por­tu­ni­ties are dif­fer­ent, life back in Lon­don hasn’t changed too much. Boyega bought a new home for his par­ents, who he calls “my king and queen,” and keeps his ties to his old neigh­bour­hood. “I get recog­nised by a few peo­ple,” he says. “But I’m mostly in my house, so I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ev­ery­thing from a win­dow, go­ing, ‘OK, this is cool.’ ” In­deed it is, and the ac­tor couldn’t be more grate­ful for the jour­ney. “I’ve just been hav­ing fun,” he says. “I’m en­joy­ing my­self.”

“Act­ing made me feel like I was liv­ing my pur­pose” —John Boyega

Grow­ing up in Lon­don, Boyega found the city a “hot­box of cre­ativ­ity.” Act­ing was his way to a brighter fu­ture. “I al­ways felt happy do­ing it. I was for­tu­nate enough to dis­cover that quite young.”

Boyega’s first film, 2011’s At­tack the Block, was a cult hit.

In Detroit, he plays se­cu­rity guard Melvin Dis­mukes with “emo­tional dex­ter­ity and depth,” says direc­tor Kathryn Bigelow.

With Daisy Ri­d­ley in The Force Awak­ens.

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