He’s one of the most popular actors in the current Star Wars trilogy, but fans might not know about John Boyega’s road to fame. Sure, Boyega has a great career ahead of him – from his lead role in Pacific Rim Uprising, playing the son of Idris Elba’s character from the original movie, to Star Wars: Episode IX, which shoots later this year – but many predicted that years ago, after his first starring role in the small but heavy-hitting film Attack the Block.
A Passion For Acting
The 26-year-old actor was born in London to British Nigerian parents. Boyega began acting at the age of nine, which is also when a theatre director first noticed him. After receiving financial aid, he joined a theatre which focused on young actors. Boyega spent most of his free time outside of school at the theatre, and his parents supported their son’s love for acting.
Boyega followed his acting aspirations throughout secondary school. He enrolled in Westminster City School where he took part in all the school’s productions. To study for a National Diploma in Performing Arts, he attended South Thames College. Boyega then went on to the University of Greenwich for a BA in Film Studies & Media Writing. He eventually dropped out of college to completely focus on his acting career. He began training and received roles at multiple theatres in London.
Boyega’s First Major Film Role
Theatre work led to Boyega’s film debut in the 2011 British sci-fi comedy Attack the Block. The film follows a street gang which defends its South London neighborhood against alien invaders. Boyega stars as the gang’s leader, Moses. He’s excellent in the role, whether dealing with other residents of the apartment block, or toothy alien invaders. The movie, directed by Joe Cornish, also stars Jodie Whittaker and Nick Frost.
Back in 2011, Boyega explained how he got the role of Moses in an interview with Complex:
“Producer Nira Park (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) saw me in a play and after that it was basically recall after recall. I found out face-to-face that I had got the part of “Moses” in the movie and it was like that scene in Pursuit of Happyness, when Will Smith got the job. I felt extremely blessed and happy.”
Released on May 11, 2011 in the U.K., Attack the Block made a good run at the box office despite playing against Thor and Fast Five. Distributors were hesitant about a US release, however, because they believed audiences wouldn’t understand the slang. After a successful screening at SXSW, the film was eventually given a limited theatrical release. Its popularity took off after positive reviews started to circulate.
In the seven years since its release, Attack the Block has become a must-see, with cult-classic status for its unique mix of sci-fi and comedy. The relatively unknown cast gave standout performances, with Boyega being the most notable. Aliens invading a rough London neighborhood might sound absurd, but Cornish and Boyega pulled it off and made a fun movie from beginning to end.
To A Galaxy Far, Far Away
After his film debut, Boyega appeared in projects including Junkhearts, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Imperial Dreams. He was also cast in an HBO series based on Mike Tyson’s life, but the network decided not to pick up the show. Then his life changed forever when he was cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in 2014.
Boyega brought a fresh presence to the Star Wars franchise. His character Finn, a First Order Stormtrooper who leaves the cruelty of the First Order behind, gives us a new view on the classic series. As Finn winds up assisting the Resistance and eventually teams up with Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. The duo of Boyega and Ridley became a highlight of The Force Awakens. The young actor earned the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2016 after his work in Star Wars.
A New Level Of Stardom
Before reprising his Star Wars role in The Last Jedi, Boyega starred in The Circle with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. He also worked on Katherina Bigelow’s intense, harrowing Detroit, which details the experiences of one set of cops and citizens during the Detroit riots in 1967. Despite the star power he gained playing Finn, Boyega considers his role in Detroit a career-changing move. He explained his reasoning in an interview with a Hollywood Reporter podcast last summer:
“And they go, ‘Are you crazy? You’ve been in Star Wars! How can Detroit be the biggest movie of your career?’ Because it depends on what you value as quality. For me, quality is longevity, and longevity in acting comes from an access to skills and an appeal that could see you getting work for years, hopefully. And so, for me, I just felt like I discovered that side of myself while doing Detroit. Whatever you see me do after Detroit will have been inspired by the artistic freedom I felt I had and how deep I felt I was able to go into a character.”
To follow Detroit and The Last Jedi, Boyega bounced to another sci-fi series with the lead role in the Pacific Rim sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising. Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s character, General Stacker Pentecost. The reluctant Jake ends up working with the Pan Pacific Defense Corps to fight off a new incursion of Kaiju and another unexpected threat.
Pacific Rim Uprising also marks Boyega taking the role of producer. Taking part in that aspect of the business could help Boyega create and develop his own projects and roles going forward, which in turn should further his appeal to both studios and audiences.
Pacific Rim Uprising hits theaters March 23, 2018.