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John Boyega Gets The Role of a Lifetime As Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega

Gets The Role of a Lifetime As Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Brad Balfour

In April, 2014,  British actor John Boyega was cast as storm trooper Finn, a lead character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – changing his personal and professional life and guaranteeing megastar status forever, especially at any Comic Con.

Directed by J.J. Abrams, the mega-selling Episode VII in the Star Wars saga introduced a whole new cast of characters, while bringing back original stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. The film and the 24-year-old Boyega’s performance received acclaim from audiences and critics alike.

Before attaining international recognition for work in the hotly received seventh film of this groundbreaking series, his other credits included 2013’s historical fiction feature, Half of a Yellow Sun, four episodes of the television series 24: Live Another Day and the drama, Imperial Dreams.

No stranger to sci-fi, Boyega established himself in his native United Kingdom for playing Moses in the 2011’s Attack the Block, which follows a young woman and gang of tough inner-city kids who defend their turf against an invasion of savage alien creatures, turning their South London apartment complex into a war-zone.

Born on March 17, 1992, the London native began acting at Theatre Peckham, a performing arts centre in for kids aged 9 to 14. At 16, he moved to South Thames College to study performing arts, and joined the Identity School of Acting in Hackney. Though he enrolled at Greenwich University, his career took off and left to concentrate on acting.

In this latest Star Wars edition, his character joins up with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger from the planet Jakku, who has found a BB-8 droid that knows the whereabouts of the long lost Luke Skywalker (Hamill).

They enlist the help of legendary smugglers/freedom fighters Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca to transport it to General Leia Organa (Fisher) of the Resistance before it falls into the hands of Kylo Ren and the First Order. 30 years ago, the Empire had been defeated but now this new threat has risen from its ashes. The series continues in Star Wars – Episode VIII due out in 2017.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

On preparing for the first audition:

I was in LA filming an indie film when they were doing a lot of auditions. Every single actor was auditioning for the part. It’s funny, I remember my boy came into my apartment like, “Yo, man, I got an audition!” I was like, “For what?” “For Star Wars!” I said, “I’ll help you, I’ll put you up on tape.” While he was reading, something went in me, “Where’s my audition?”

I just remember waiting a long time, hearing that all these different people were going up for the part. My agent – let’s give him a round of applause, please – he’s the guy that made everything happen. He called and was like, “You all right, mate?” and I go, “Yeah, I’m all right.” He goes, “Guess what?” I go, “What?” “Got an audition for Star Wars.” “Aaaaaaah! [pause] All right, when, where, how?”

I went into my first audition just looking to be as charming as possible, to have fun. It was tough, but thankfully there’s YouTube. There’s a video on YouTube – and you should all watch it – it’s of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill’s original audition. Before my last audition, my second to last audition wasn’t as grounding as I wanted it to be. I needed some inspiration so I watched Harrison’s audition.

I went in there like, “You know what, if I don’t get it, I get it. I’m just going to have fun.” And I had an amazing time. Booking it felt ridiculous. J.J. emailed me and was like, “Where are you?” I was like, “Uh, at an art gallery.” I wasn’t really at an art gallery, but I just wanted to sound busy. I wanted to be like, “No, no, I got a life, I’m not just waiting to see if I got the part for Star Wars, I’m not waiting!” He said, “Come to Mayfair.”

I think I had 85 pounds (British currency) in my account and spent it all on the taxi ride because it’s so far. I got there and he was on his phone with Larry Kasdan [the film’s screenwriter who did two earlier Star Wars films] next to him. He asked me a few questions about the process, how I felt. I thought this is my great moment to pitch to J.J. whether or not I can get one last audition.

I was like “J.J.,” “John,” “J.J.,” [and then] “John, you’re the new star of Star Wars.” I don’t react. Don’t react. I looked at the sugar cubes and it all went blurry. I just felt like doing [gets up and does dance].

Larry Kasdan was like, “This is going to change your life.” And it was an experience. I walked and I saw my agent Femmy in his office, and had a good little cry. It was a big cry. Both eyes. A big cry. I was so happy.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

On telling the other auditioning actors:

Not at all. I couldn’t care less about anybody else that was going after this part. It’s true. I’ve sworn to be very real throughout my whole career, so back me up here. The thing is, we weren’t exposed to who was going after what. In a process like that, going up for a role that you know will change your life, you’re not battling against anybody else but yourself because that kind of opportunity breeds a natural sense of insecurity. Did I get it? Did I do this right?

You’re not really thinking about the other seven actors going up for the part. All you’re thinking is: Will I be able to be the best I can be to really nail it? It’s like being a Jedi. Are you going for the Dark Side or are you going to be part of the Light? It’s a balance you’re trying to figure out. So all the other actors, watch the film.

On celebrating with friends and family:

Once I was able to tell everybody, I just slept. Seven months of auditioning is no joke, and what it does mentally is so crazy. Once you book the part and know it’s yours I just had to get some sleep because I knew we had to start filming. I didn’t pop any bottles, none of that. I don’t drink.

On being part of a mythic story:

I auditioned for this role for seven months. My second to last audition was a screen test in costume. For some reason, on the side I was talking to this guy called “furry dude” and they were trying to keep him a secret. And J.J. was like, “We’ve got a special guest for you to read off in your test.” It was Chewbacca and I was like, “Aaaaah!” It was so great to read with a full, moving, talking Chewie. It was such a great experience. I geeked out hard. It was one of the most magical moments for me.

I read over eight or nine times. It consisted of meetings and training at the same time. I was working as well. I’d go in to shoot this TV show and then I’d go audition. I literally felt like I was Batman. Normal dude by day; The Dark Knight by night.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

On telling the parents:

I didn’t tell my parents about any of it. My mum and dad were like, “This guy is getting picked up by blacktop cars and going to some location.” They wondered, “Maybe he’s getting involved in a different industry.” It was a shock to go through seven months of auditions, but it was worth it. “Guys, I booked it. How about that?”

My dad assumed that he knew. “I knew you were going up for something, John!” My dad is Nigerian, by the way. My dad was like, “I’m so proud of you. Oh my gosh, you’re in Star Wars.” Mind you, he didn’t know what Star Wars was, he just watched all six films. My mom is very sweet and is like, “Does this mean you’re going to be harmed? Does this mean you’re going to fight?” I’m like, “Mom, it’s called Star Wars.” And she just goes “Okay.”

On staying grounded:

Anything can happen. A human being has potential to be egotistical and all those other things, but so far I’ve had peace in the fact that I’m not a child. I’m not being released into the world wide-eyed. It feels different. I’m not one of the Harry Potter kids. I’ve had a life. I have friends. I have family who continue to support me. That’s something that makes this right easy.

I was talking to my agent and I was like, “I’m genuinely happy right now.” That’s a benefit. The posters and trailers and this movie coming out is great, but when you’re genuinely happy during this process, that’s something that it feels like Zen.

On the biggest fear in doing Star Wars:

A lot of my fear existed during the auditions because auditioning for a Star Wars movie isn’t easy. The possibility of your life being forever changed is dangling in front of your face, but it’s not yours yet. So it feels awkward. You can’t think about, “Oh this is going to be life changing” or any of that. You just have to think about the scenes.

Because it was such a long time auditioning, when we got to filming, I felt more than ready. I burn and bleed Finn. He’s a character I love so much. A part of [the] movie I loved exploring, so during filming it was like playing every day.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

On working with director J.J. Abrams:

Me and J.J., we had a previous friendship. So we knew about the prospect of us working together and that we would work well. But it’s such a long process it’s hard to trace back exactly what everyone was thinking. I was trying not to think about what Disney was thinking, what [George] Lucas was thinking. I was just trying to go into the scene and nail it as much as I can.

On working with Harrison Ford:

I feel like I’ve said this so many times, but I’ll say it again. Harrison is my best friend. He wouldn’t say it, but that’s what he means. We have a really cool relationship. One of the things I’m most excited to see is the relationship between Finn and Han Solo. They’re a dynamic duo that’s quite funny. Finn has no respect for what he has done in the past, and in return Han is just Han. He’s rude, he’s straight to the point, and it allows for choppy dialogue. That’s how me and Harrison’s relationship has been.

On chemistry with Daisy Ridley:

We had chemistry readings with each other. Daisy was cast before me. I came in late. We had chemistry readings to gauge whether or not we worked together on screen. It really, really worked. I don’t know why exactly. Daisy’s from London. I’m from London. We’re two laid-back people. We had great conversation. She’s a very lovable person, beautiful and stunning and powerful as Rey. It’s so funny, because Rey is one of my favorite characters in The Force Awakens. There’s a natural, organic friendship that we have that translates onto the film in a very, very nice way.

On the first day of shooting:

I was ready to go, yes. It was exciting. We had the set in Abu Dhabi, but we also had this village that was like a mini town and Jakku was there. It wasn’t a green screen, it was Jakku. There were droids moving around, even between takes, just moving. It’s what Star Wars Land is going to be like at Disney World. The world just exists. I was excited to be a part of it. Also, I just wanted J.J. to get some footage of me before he tried to recast it. You filmed it J.J., I’m in it. It was fun. All I did for the first day was walk in the desert. So there was a lot of thinking during those scenes.

Daisy, on the other hand, was doing hand-to-hand combat on the first day and running and jumping. I’m like, “You alright, love?” She went straight into the deep end, but I got some chill time.

On inheriting an American accent:

Yes, of course, it is a challenge. You guys, the way you talk really hurts my throat. An American accent in Star Wars is not like a natural American in everyday life. It’s larger than life, like all the characters. Han Solo spoke with this beautiful voice that sparked with charisma and bravado and it affects the accent. It’s fun because once you get over all that stuff, it’s natural. I did try out for Finn in the British accent but it does not work, it really doesn’t work. So it was good to try another accent.

On speaking the language of Star Wars:

It is difficult, but the script is so well written that when you research the context, it’s like researching Shakespeare. When you know the meanings, it’s easier for your brain to process the words. It naturally feels like you would say Jakku or “hyper ignition line”. You guys don’t understand a word of that, do you? Exactly.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

John Boyega at New York Apple Store discussing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Photo copyright 2016 Brad Balfour.

On holding a light saber:

Yeah, the light saber’s definitely enhanced digitally, but it’s as close as you’re ever going to get [to the real thing]. A real hilt. You do have a blade that lights up and ignites with colors. When they clash they spark and light up. J.J. wasn’t playing. He said practical effects,; it’s no joke. There’s no green screen fake stuff going on. It was just, saber in your hand, pause, switch on the thing. Old school kind of filmmaking.

It felt so good. They brought the saber to me in a black case. And honestly, have you ever felt glory? Who has ever won a fight against a bully? You feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. “Are you entertained?” It’s a glorious feeling to have that in your hand. I didn’t allow anyone else to touch it. These young dudes that put the technology together wanted to clean the hilt and I was like, “Give me the towel, I’ll do it.” To have it in your hand feels like something else.

On working on other movies:

I just wrapped on a movie called The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson by James Ponsoldt, who had done The Spectacular Now. It was a very intricate piece. As Episode VII wrapped I had a few weeks’ break and went on to do The Circle. The movie I had shot in 2013, called Imperial Dreams, is also coming out after Star Wars. I’m blessed to have two projects that are nothing alike because I love doing different stories.

On his favorite Star Wars film beside The Force Awakens:

Empire Strikes Back! [1980’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back]

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: February 20, 2016.

Photos © 2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.

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