Q&A With John Boyega Of Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Star Wars saga begin a long, long time ago, way back in 1977. And now the eighth (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)  instalment of the popular film franchise, set three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire in Return of the Jedi, is currently in cinemas worldwide, breaking so many box office records.

Now, a new threat arises, and the Resistance and a small band of heroes are the only one who can stop them. The First Order is certainly a malevolent force to be reckoned with.

John Boyega – Finn

JohnBoyegaFinnStarWarsBorn in London, England, actor John Boyega plays Finn, a former Stormtrooper (designation FN-2187). He is trying to give up his connection to the First Order and soon finds himself in the midst of the battle between good and evil, as he meets up with the films heroes.

Q: Please introduce yourself and who you play.

A: Hello, I’m John Boyega and I play Finn.

Q: Tell us about the audition process.

A: I got a call about the auditions for “Star Wars” and my agent told me that J.J. Abrams wanted to meet with me and wanted to put me on tape for the role. I didn’t know what part I was going up for and I hadn’t read the script obviously, so I took a train into Central London, met J.J., spoke about the role, and then did the scenes. It was two scenes; I practiced it a few times, and then we put in on tape. It was quite the experience because it was nerve-wracking knowing that it was “Star Wars” but not knowing the specifics of the part. After that it was recall after recall, then a screen test in which Chewbacca came, which was exciting. Then I got the call saying that I got the part, and that was after seven months of extreme auditioning.

Q: Do you remember the moment when you were actually told that you got the part?

A: Prior to getting the part, I had been at a premiere at another film I had done, and my mind was definitely more fixated on whether I’d receive the part or not. I remember being on the red carpet and it had leaked that I was up for the “Star Wars” part. So, there were various media outlets asking if I was up for “Star Wars.” I was like, “I haven’t heard anything, but if J.J. Abrams wants me to be in ‘Star Wars’ that would be amazing.” The next day, I get an e-mail from J.J. asking where I was. I told him I was at home and he asked if I could get to a little cafe in Mayfair. I hopped in a cab, drove down, and saw J.J. in the cafe by himself, drinking a cup of tea. We had a brief conversation and he asked me whether I was ready, if this role could possibly happen. He asked me if would be interested in working out and training, both as an actor and physically. He asked me if I realized how big the responsibility would be. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll do anything.” Then he told me I was the new star in “Star Wars.” Everything stopped. I noticed everything. I noticed how many sugar cubes were in this little cup on the table. All the time it was going through my head: “He just said I’m the new star in ‘Star Wars.’” I was willing myself to breathe. Then J.J. raised a cup of water and said, “Congratulations.”

I was ecstatic. It was probably the happiest day of my life. I walked all around London just in dream land. This felt different. I’ve received calls for roles that I fought for before, but this not only felt like a triumph for me as an actor, but a day that felt like a day that I was a part of history and that just made me really, really happy.

Q: How long was it before the table read that you knew you got the role?

A: I was told I had the role about one week before the read through. We were told to keep quiet; we couldn’t tell any family or friends. No one knew about it. Obviously, there was no press release and it was really hard just going through normal life without saying that I was cast in “Star Wars”! But I was really excited that the picture came out with all of us at the read through. It was really historical. It was amazing. I didn’t even tell my Mum or Dad! They found out the day of the read through because I was told specifically to keep it quiet.

April 29th, Pinewood Studios, UK – Writer/Director/Producer J.J. Abrams (top center right) at the cast read-through of Star Wars: Episode VII at Pinewood Studios with (clockwise from right) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Writer Lawrence Kasdan. Ph: David James © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved
April 29th, Pinewood Studios, UK – Writer/Director/Producer J.J. Abrams (top center right) at the cast read-through of Star Wars: Episode VII at Pinewood Studios with (clockwise from right) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Writer Lawrence Kasdan.
Ph: David James
© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved

Q: Were you a “Star Wars” fan?

A: I was born in 1992, so I grew up on the prequels, and then my dad told me that I should go back and watch the originals also because that rounds up the whole Anakin and Luke Skywalker story. So I did go back and watch the originals and thought they were amazing. Every actor captured our imaginations and it was definitely an artistic influence for actors, directors, and everybody in the entertainment field from visual effects to everybody that makes the magic happen. “Star Wars” has definitely been a part of my Sci-fi nerd, geek side. I’m a big comic book reader and it’s part of that universe. Now I’m in it. It’s crazy!

Q: Who were your favorite characters?

A: Han Solo and Chewbacca. I’m a big R2-D2 fan, too. Now we’ve got our new BB-8 who’s probably like the young, upcoming R2-D2. But the whole universe is just amazing to me. The whole narrative and the character arcs really just fit together. George Lucas did a good job.

Q: Do you have a favorite “Star Wars” film?

A: “Return of the Jedi” is my favorite film because you find Luke Skywalker at a very vulnerable time. In the first film he was learning who he is and learning about this special world that’s out there that he never knew about. “Return of the Jedi” is a great mix of drama, comedy, and somewhat expands the universe in terms of the Ewoks and other creatures that you find in the movie. It’s my favorite because it’s the establishment of each character at a different point in their lives. You see the whole story from a different point of view. I always saw the first two films as from the point of view of R2-D2 and C-3PO. That’s how I saw it when I was younger. I only cared about these droids. These droids are just being exchanged, and passed around, and it’s just from their POV of what their masters are doing. But, “Return of the Jedi” is fixated on Luke Skywalker’s story and he’s becoming the top Jedi on the streets right now and that was really cool to me. I love it. I could talk about this all day.

Q: How did you feel on your first day of shooting in Abu Dhabi?

A: Abu Dhabi, in the heat, was quite the experience. Going out there and being in this environment—huge desert, loads of props, a big set, and obviously J.J. Abrams with his enthusiasm and his energy, coming in and saying that we’re starting “Star Wars” Episode Seven—was just amazing. Just looking around and taking it all in and saying, “I am here. We are about to film this movie.” I knew it was going to be an experience I would never forget.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ph: Film Frame
©Lucasfilm 2015

Q: What was it like shooting in Abu Dhabi?

A: Abu Dhabi is very hot as everybody knows but it is a beautiful place. We were there to shoot the first part of the movie. I’m in this nice hotel and I get in my car and as we’re driving, I’m looking all around at the structure of Abu Dhabi. It looks amazing. We ended up in the desert where the TIE Fighter scene was being shot.

When I walk to set, I see this huge, life-size TIE Fighter, black and red, crushed in the sand. Balls of fire everywhere. Debris. TIE Fighter skid marks going 200 yards. And of course Finn has to be in the Stormtrooper outfit. I had to wear a Stormtrooper outfit in this heat for the next couple of days. Let’s just say it was a combination of sweat, passion, fandom, ice cubes, eye drops and a lot of water. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got out of the Stormtrooper outfit. But, most days, it got easier based on passion and fandom alone. I was trying to be professional but every time J.J. Abrams would come up to me with a note, I’d be like, “It’s a TIE Fighter!” I was literally star-struck seeing the TIE Fighter next to me. It made the scenes easier, though it was absolutely hot.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Finn (John Boyega) Ph: David James ©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Finn (John Boyega)
Ph: David James
©Lucasfilm 2015

Q: When did you meet Daisy Ridley and how did you two get along?

A: Daisy Ridley and I met during the audition process and it was important for us to have chemistry reads and just get to know each other so that we could have a good chemistry on screen. Ever since then we’ve just bonded and we had a great time. It’s funny because we’re both going through this same experience of being in a picture that’s huge, and being on something of this scale is new to both of us. We’re kind of holding each other’s hand through this experience and we’ve been having fun! Cracking jokes and singing nice sing-along songs every morning, which everyone else doesn’t like, but we do our thing. We’ve been having fun.

Daisy and I get along on screen and off screen, so what you will see in the movie, in terms of our rhythm, in terms of our banter, is real off screen. When J.J. was going through the script with us, he made some tweaks based on our relationship and the rhythm in the way we talk to each other. It’s great that’s been implemented in the movie because people will feel that these two strangers, who’ve come from two different worlds, but somewhat are the same, are bonding and that there’s a real friendship between them. When you believe in characters that have great chemistry, you buy into the reality of it. You care about the characters. So it’s been wonderful working with Daisy, and having this real chemistry on screen. It’ll benefit the whole movie.

Q: Tell us about you rap songs.

A: The official Daisy Ridley and John Boyega “Star Wars” album was founded based on some time off in the desert. We’re not always in front of the screen, so we had a lot of time hanging out. We decided to make raps about our experience. Just think of it as poetry.

Q: Daisy Ridley seems very serious about this role.

A: Daisy Ridley is a hard worker. She’s very serious and passionate about this. From the moment I met her, she was fixated on making this role believable and relatable. She’s worked hard in collaboration with J.J. to make Rey loveable and soft, vulnerable, innocent, but at the same time you believe that Rey can become stern, and hard, and kick some butt and that’s what she does. She’s really strong, and it helps to have someone like that to bounce off of. We’re able to collaborate in certain scenes and get the best laughs. It’s been amazing not being in this by myself. Not being a young lead by myself. I love the fact that it’s a duo of leads. So, whatever experience we go through for the first time, it’s both of us going through it. In real life and in the movie. The whole experience, the process, has helped create balance in the galaxy and on Earth.

Q: What did you think of BB-8?

A: BB-8 is amazing. BB-8 is so cute and charismatic…and a little bit feisty. I’m starting to wonder if R2-D2 is a distant cousin. BB-8 is lovely to work with. I have to talk about BB-8 as an actor because BB-8 is actually there on set. On “Star Wars” we’re not messing around. It’s puppetry; it’s animatronics, and BB-8 is a combination of both. It’s been amazing working with BB-8. Sometimes he’s a bit rude and has to work on his attitude a bit. But, as a droid that just got this part, he has a long way to go.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens L to R: Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) Ph: David James © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
L to R: Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)
Ph: David James
© 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.

Q: Talk about J.J. Abrams as a director.

A: J.J. Abrams is an actor’s director. He understands the balance between the technical and the artistic. He’ll get the best out of his crew and his cast. Until we reach a balance, he won’t be satisfied. That’s what I love about J.J. Also, J.J. is a “Star Wars” fan. He’s clued up on “Star Wars” and very energetic on the set. He has his microphone next to him and always beatboxing, playing music. He’s a very vibrant young man. From an actor’s perspective, he gives you the best notes in terms of a scene and helps you get the best out of your character. It’s been fun working with him. They couldn’t give this opportunity to a better guy, and what I’ve seen so far looks really good. J.J. Abrams—he’s got this. He’s good.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens L to R: Director J.J. Abrams on set w/ John Boyega (Finn). Ph: David James ©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
L to R: Director J.J. Abrams on set w/ John Boyega (Finn).
Ph: David James
©Lucasfilm 2015

Q: Do you have a sense of J.J. Abrams’ vision?

A: J.J.’s influence is definitely evident when you read the script. Especially with Finn because Finn is charismatic like J.J.; fun, very funny and very real and that’s something that’s a part of J.J. I feel that he’s put in Finn. But also it connects to the original “Star Wars,” where there was danger but it wasn’t like, drama-danger, it’s “Star Wars” danger; it’s exciting and thrilling and that’s something J.J. has a big influence over, and he’s doing a great job.

Q: Would you say that J.J. Abrams is celebrating the old in this new film?

A: I will say it’s true that J.J. is definitely accepting the new with the CGI but also at the same time he is paying homage to the old with physical effects, and it has been amazing because every time I get in that car to come to Pinewood to film “Star Wars,” I always think to myself, “What am I going to see with my very eyes today that’s going to make me go, ‘Wow, I’m filming Star Wars?’!” And there always is something. I feel like it’s going to continue like that for the rest of the shoot.

Q: As a fan who loves all sides of technology and practical, how do you think J.J. Abrams has done?

A: J.J. has managed to keep the balance between what we’re used to from the old “Star Wars” films—physical effects, real, loveable, relatable characters, great story arc—and the balance between what we know something we’re used to now, such as CGI and motion capture, and he’s managed to make this really good balance within the movie. He’ll do everything he can do physically before then expanding his ideas to what we can do on the computer. J.J. has done a very good job with making sure that the fans get to keep what made them love the “Star Wars” films, but also opening up the world to a new generation. It’s a good collaboration and that’s what you need for a space opera.

Q: What was it like working with Harrison Ford?

A: As he works on set, Harrison has a great understanding of the artistic side of shooting a movie as well as the technical side of shooting a film. If anyone asks me what I have learned from working with Harrison Ford on “Star Wars,” I’ve learned that whatever film I go on to after this, shooting a film or a movie as an actor is a balance of the technical and the artistic. As an artist, you’re portraying a role, being an actor, and performing. But the camera is the eye of the audience, so you have to also facilitate that. You have to facilitate the lighting, the positions and the visual effects. Harrison knows how to do all of that with great balance but also have fun and make it a comfortable set. He hangs out with us after filming. I took him to southeast London to a nice Nigerian restaurant. He spoke to me about all the things that he’d been through and all the things he’d seen over the years as an actor. It was great to learn from an actor. He’s a cool man.

Q: You’ve trained hard. Talk us through your regimen.

A: So for a role like this, and for a film like “Star Wars,” there’s a lot of action and definitely J.J. is great at doing the action both in space and on ground. As actors we definitely need to learn some hand-to-hand combat and how to use the lightsabers, so I was involved in over seven months of training. I actually played a lot of “Star Wars” music; there was a lot of John Williams coming from the speakers in the gym. I would do some intervals and run and do some cardio, skipping, boxing, weight training, all that kind of stuff. When we started filming, I felt like I was ready.

Q: Was the combat training pretty serious stuff?

A: It was. Our lightsabers are really heavy, so you do get a sense of this power and this Force that’s coming out of this weapon and it does really do something to you, but you do have to be strong and you do have to have skill. But it’s been fun doing the stunt training because I’ve always wanted to swing a lightsaber. We were actually working with wooden sticks for a long time to keep safe and get used to the movement and to learn the choreography.

Q: How was it like working with Oscar Isaac?

A: I definitely love Oscar Isaac.. He’s very articulate and has a great sense of art. He does take this very seriously, and also at the same with a character like Poe, he’s very charming and handsome and fun. I’m younger than him and he’s done so much more, so it’s great to learn from him.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens L to R: Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) Ph: David James © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
L to R: Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)
Ph: David James
© 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.

Q: Describe the experience of being at Pinewood Studios.

A: It’s amazing. When you come on set, it takes your breath away. The sets match what they were back in the first three original “Star Wars.” It’s easier to act when everything is physical, everything is around you and you can play with some things. It’s the “Star Wars” magic and that’s something George Lucas started and we’re definitely carrying on with that.

Q: Are you finding it fun to be surrounded by all the creatures?

A: I’m definitely having fun surrounded by the creatures. I am a big creature-feature fan, and I love physical effects. I love the creatures being there right in my face. We have a great team that does the puppetry on these creatures. It’s quite hilarious also because when the camera’s not rolling they still stay in it, so the animatronics are still going, the puppetry’s still going, so you find yourself having conversations with several different species you’ve never met before. It’s a good time.

Q: Do people recognize you on the street?

A: In terms of recognition, no. I’m definitely taking in the privacy and the fun of just being able to go to the store and buy a few groceries and have no one bother me. I’m definitely taking that in now because London is a special city to me; it’s where I grew up and I love going to Central London. I love walking the London streets and for me I’m just doing all of that now, and I’ve accepted that it’s going to change. I’m fine with that because it is something special that we’re doing here, and we’re working with good people who are definitely here to help us and to talk to us about the exposure and the amazing things that are going to happen in the next few months. It’s going to be unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Q: There is a huge global expectation for this film. How does that make you feel?

A: Working on “Star Wars,” I feel a sense of responsibility because “Star Wars” is bigger than just the movies, although the movies are the core of “Star Wars,” but there are the video games and the comic books. People are relating to these characters in different ways and, for me, I do feel a sense of responsibility for whatever character I am creating. I want to make sure that “Star Wars” fans are happy after they leave the cinema and that they have a lot to talk about. With this film and with the script, you have different characters, different dynamics and everybody is filling the shoes to make this really works.

Q: What are you most looking forward to when the film comes out?

A: When the film comes out in December I am looking forward to sitting down at the IMAX in Waterloo, because that’s where I always used to go growing up, and watching it with my family and friends and just enjoying “Star Wars” as a fan, nothing more. I know what, obviously I know the story, I know about the characters, but I feel like I’m blessed to a certain extent that I can watch a film I’m in and just accept it as an independent thing, I almost let it go and it’s the audience’s now, it’s the fan’s now, and I want to partake in that, I want to be a Star Wars fan, I want to go there with a Chewbacca t-shirt, have my R2-D2 mug put some soda in there and have a great time and watch Star Wars like any other fan, that’s all I want to do.

Q: What do the new generation characters add to the film?

A: There’s something amazing about the new generation characters in “Star Wars.” They are obviously younger, and less experienced, and they don’t know about themselves as much as the other characters do. They don’t have an established view of the galaxy and they are learning.

Finn is definitely the physical representation of the young generation when it comes to the “Star Wars” universe. “Star Wars” has a huge following but there is a small percentage of young people who haven’t been introduced to the “Star Wars” universe, or who are more into the expanded universe, but don’t know how to relate to the movies. Finn is their direct link. He doesn’t know what’s going on and is freaked out by droids and aliens. So, I think the audience will enjoy a relatable character that is going through these situations.

Read the SAMDB Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens here.

By Andrew Germishuys

Founder of SAMDB, Andrew has worked full time in the film industry since the early 2000's. He has trained as an actor, completing his LAMDA Gold Medal, and attending many courses in Cape Town acting studios, with masterclasses with some of the international industries top directors, producers and filmmakers.

Working as an actor and armourer in the film and television industry have given Andrew a great balance of skills across the board when it comes to the entertainment industry.

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