Redefining Film With John Boyega
Stepping into the room at Lagos Continental Hotel for his photo shoot, John Boyega had a poise and elegance that was almost palpable. On closer observation, a hidden layer to his persona that I didn’t notice at first glance started to become more evident. This layer was humility.
With all that he has achieved, John Boyega is a man that is very aware of where he is coming from and the steps that have led him to where he is now. This consciousness of his roots plays a major role in the decisions he has made throughout his career and life in general.
At the beginning, Boyega did not know the trajectory his career would take. The future was hazy and success was not guaranteed. But he was willing to put in the hard work. “It’s something I hoped for and imagined several times, but I didn’t exactly know when or how it was going to happen. I think I was just willing to do the work and to put the work in.”
Moving to Los Angeles and shuttling back and forth from London were some of the sacrifices he had to make on his journey. He also mentioned he had a lot of downtimes, missed opportunities and embarrassments which he counts as a part of the growth process.
“I filmed a TV pilot for HBO that got cancelled. At first, I thought I was going to be in a good financial state and working as a result of that show, but the show got cancelled and I still kept going regardless because I believe in myself and I believe in what I want to accomplish. I made a few sacrifices along the way. So, what seems like overnight success didn’t exactly feel like that. But I’m glad to be here and I’m happy for the opportunity.”
His rise to the top was not without a familial support with his dad being a constant source of impetus to move toward excellence. The support, he said, shaped his work ethic because he considered his success, ultimately, their success too.
“My first school performance ever, my dad was there. My dad has always been there to see,” he said.
Regardless of them being supportive, however, his parents were worried. Acting was not what they envisioned him getting into. The volatility of the career and the probability of him failing at it were scary possibilities.
“When I dropped out of the University of Greenwich, I had to clear it with my dad first. The great thing is that my manager is also Nigerian so we found a way to beg and negotiate. So, my dad gave me a year to figure it out or I had to go back to the drawing board.”
The Star Wars franchise is one of the biggest and oldest running franchises in Hollywood and Boyega is right at the centre of it. In the film, he plays the role of Finn, a former stormtrooper who ends up joining the resistance. Asking him about the responsibility he has to carry on the Star Wars culture which began long before him, he said,
“Going into Star Wars and auditioning for Star Wars for several months, I wasn’t thinking of how people would respond or react. But I found it to be a great opportunity for myself and it felt like a moment to reflect and look back on myself to see how far I’ve come. It doesn’t feel like a responsibility but it feels like an opportunity.”
He added that going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi was different from Star Wars: The Force Awakens because he was already familiar with the character and the concept of the universe. However, he pointed out that, at the time, he had not been involved in a project where he had to come back to play a recurring character. This added to the difference in approach.
Upperroom Entertainment Limited
Boyega launched his own production company called Upperoom Entertainment in 2016 which was heavily involved in the production of Pacific Rim: Uprising — a film which he starred in and co-produced — which hit theatres in March.
He was inspired to start a production company because he wanted to create more opportunities for himself.
“I think my perspective and upbringing is unique, and that’s something I haven’t really seen being captured in film before. I wanted to be a part of [the] change in that perspective,” he explained.
With his production outfit, he can focus on developing and nurturing scripts and getting them to a point when it’s up on its feet. With his first project, Pacific Rim, which has fetched over $55.6 million in the US alone and $212.1 million across the world according to Boxofficemojo.com, he has been able to announce his arrival as a producer of note to Hollywood.
“Pacific Rim is our first project and we’re so happy to be a part of it and to guide in the creative process so it can be the best it can be,” he said.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising”
The movie, which was released in March, had a very different tone when compared with its predecessor, Pacific Rim, which was released in 2013. Boyega explained that, with the film, they made a deliberate change of tone to create a story that was relatable to a variety of audiences. He also commended the director of the film, Steven S. DeKnight, for leading the charge creatively and bringing the tone he wanted to the film.
“I knew that I wanted a lead character that was more relatable, younger and fresh cast. So that’s the route that we took and we found that the audiences are much more comfortable when they can laugh in moments because it is a ‘larger than life’ film that requires a lot of imagination. I’m glad it all worked out.”
His appearance in the film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun back in 2013 made him familiar with some major players in the Nollywood. And Boyega is ready to go beyond with just being with Nollywood A-listers. In the near future, Upperroom may be working on original Nigerian stories. He said, “I’ve always been interested in the stories that come from Nigeria, not just the historical stories but the original stories that could be thought up as well. It’s definitely a part of the plan to develop ideas and to hopefully get it into a script because as an actor that gives me an opportunity for versatility as well.”
Over the past couple of weeks, there were rumours all over the internet about Boyega finding a place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood, producing films like Avengers, Iron Man and the more recent Black Panther. When asked if he had any plans in this direction, he said, “Not for now, Star Wars is huge and it is its own kind of MCU; it’s so big.”
He added that versatility is very important to him at this time and he wants to be more involved in more ground-level stories and drama.
The budding actor
Finally, when asked for nuggets and lessons from his life that could help a young actor who is currently nursing dreams similar to his. He mentioned that one of the most powerful things he has learned on his journey so far is not to base his end goal on his present situation.
“To get where you’re going it takes work, a bit of hurt, failure and pain to be able to achieve these things. I think when people want to achieve a certain goal, they want to be easy and they don’t want to get hurt and they forget that being hurt is a part of the process,” he said.
He finished by saying that there is no successful person who hasn’t experienced failure. Therefore, the more people accept failure as a part of the process, the easier it is to pick themselves up after a disappointment to continue their journey.
Creative direction: Chidera Muoka
Photography: Niyi Okeowo
Styling: Nkem Okorafor