TIME Magazine: A Star of His Own Making
In person, John Boyega carries himself with an assuredness that could be mistaken for self-importance. He’s one of those actors who look as tall and sturdy in real life as they do onscreen. He fills whatever room he happens to be in with inviting, boisterous chatter, thanks, no doubt, to years of voice training on the English stage. And he’s dead certain he’s going to be a big, big movie star.
I first meet Boyega in a cramped hallway at ABC Studios in Manhattan in July. We barely manage a hurried handshake as he proceeds in Aaron Sorkin–like strides toward a nearby stage. His publicist and his sister—who also acts as his assistant and is Googling where they can find British pub food in New York—are drafting in his wake. I watch off set as Boyega sits down with the hosts of Live With Kelly and Ryan, his first of three interviews for the day. Each sit-down requires the same thing of the 25-year-old Brit: promoting his latest film, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, about the city’s 1967 riots, and expounding on the state of race relations in neat, 30-second sound bites. Naturally, interviewers also want to ask about his other new movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, coming out in December.
If the challenge of figuring out how to discuss Black Lives Matter and lightsabers in the same breath weighs on him, Boyega doesn’t show it. “I see what I do in part as creating change through art,” he tells me. “Sometimes that responsibility can feel like a burden, but it’s not. It pushes you to find your purpose in the world.”
Most people know Boyega as Finn, the Stormtrooper who defects to the Rebels and helps an aspiring Jedi (Daisy Ridley) in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Boyega is confident that he can sidestep the quagmire of franchise fame that has kept some actors from ever eclipsing their first blockbuster roles. So when I finally sit down with him for lunch, I begin by asking if he’d rather follow the Denzel Washington/Harrison Ford path to stardom—bringing the same charming swagger to every role—or if he’d prefer to go the Judi Dench/Idris Elba route of disappearing into parts. He grins at me and says, “I think to be a real star, you have to do both. I’m going to do both.”
Which might seem presumptuous if Boyega hadn’t been consistently checking off items on his superstardom to-do list. Since his breakout role two years ago, he has produced and starred in another franchise film, the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising (become a producer: check), played opposite Tom Hanks in the poorly reviewed The Circle (inevitable flop: check), returned to London to play a soldier with PTSD at the Old Vic (reaffirm acting chops onstage: check) and, with Detroit, become the face of an Academy Award winner’s latest gritty film (make an Oscar bid: check). And he’s working on writing and producing his own movies in hopes of leading a generation of artists who bring more diverse stories to the screen.
So, yes, John Boyega will be a big, big movie star. And he plans to get there his own way.