King of the rebooted Star Wars films. Star of the hard-hitting new civil rights film Detroit. The most exciting young actor the UK’s produced in aaaages. John Boyega’s a cool, straight-talking motherf**ker.
Detroit depicts a night of police brutality in 1967, but still resonates with our contemporary chaos, especially in the US. Can we do more to heed warnings from history?
“This movie is no longer an escape from our reality – it’s an in-depth look at it. You go outside and hear the same things are still going down. You watch Detroit knowing there’s a part for you to play right now. It’s not a film where all that injustice is ended and done, it’s asking you: what’s your role in this? I’ve questioned myself on that and understand I’ve failed at meeting those responsibilities, even just in clarifying it’s not a responsibility for me to shoulder.”
Do you hope Detroit can start a positive conversation and help us make sense of the violence and conflict in the world?
“I feel like if you have the truth it doesn’t necessarily give you the right to say it, if the intentions and the goals aren’t right. There’s a new reference of mine and you guys can have it: ‘clickbait clarity’. That’s where a lot of us are getting our information from now. There’ll be a funny, funky title the media puts out for us. We click on it, gain clarity, look at a video and then we just react, showing passion or some form of regard for an issue. We all know that really, deep down, it’s just temporary. After five minutes, you’re on to the next thing. But Detroit forces you to have an in-depth conversation. Not only with the people you’ve seen the film with, but with yourself. That’s what makes it so intriguing – your mind is taking in scenarios from different perspectives. I hope there’s more of that rather than just reactions on Twitter.”
What do you take from your experience with Star Wars that helps you on a film like this?
“No movie has ever intimidated me, big or small. The smaller movies can actually be more challenging because it requires you to be the machine and make them. I don’t ‘make’ Star Wars, you’re a part of that machine, a piece of the puzzle. Detroit has been the biggest step in my career… Kathryn Bigelow brings out a certain kind of performance from actors which gives you more confidence.”
Oscar Isaac [who plays Poe] told NME you really get to understand who your characters are in a crisis in The Last Jedi. What’s your take?
“I think Oscar stole that line from me! The friendships are there, strong bonds that get tested. The Force Awakens set up these new characters of Finn, Poe and Rey, and everything is moving forward. Star Wars fans have demanded much more clarity and you’ll get that.”
You’ve shared a picture of Finn undercover in a First Order uniform on your Instagram feed and said there’s still a chance for him to be the best he can be. What can we expect from his journey in The Last Jedi?
“He played his part with the Resistance and wants to get away from the war, head to the Outer Rim and find Rey. Loyalties are tested but expect Finn to get back in the action.”
Isaac confessed to not knowing who Gary Barlow was when his cameo was announced. Is there anyone you’ve been introduced to who was famous in their field but you didn’t have a clue and had to play along?
“Man, I can’t lie to you. When I’m on a red carpet it’s 95 per cent of those people! To be honest, I don’t pretend and I’ll just ask their name. I’ll always introduce myself, it’s the right way to do things, because what if the person has never seen Star Wars?”
Has it been difficult to adjust to being so recognisable that even the release of a Finn action figure has people guessing at Star Wars plot lines?
“It’s a strange thing… But I was in Tesco yesterday and no one bothered me. I don’t feel the intensity of celebrity when I’m just living my life. I’ll get the odd person say, ‘Hi!’ For now, that’s how it is. I’m sure that will change after Episode 8!”
What’s the weirdest moment you’ve had with a fan?
“I was doing a play at the Old Vic and this guy followed me from there to my friend’s house. When I was on the road outside he was stood there with a picture of me and a pen. He says, ‘Oh, John Boyega!’ acting as if he just saw me. I’m like, ‘Dude, that’s wack!’ But it’s mostly positive.”
What keeps you grounded and stops you from getting too ‘Hollywood’?
“When I wasn’t in the public eye and I looked at celebrities, I never added this whole seasoning to their lifestyle and separated them from everyone else. If a bullet was coming towards them they’d jump out of the way, the same as I would. I’ve lived 20 years as a normal person and it’s only been two years of fame. It’s not gonna rewrite all my stupid habits – but check me in 10 years!”
What are the habits you have to keep in check?
“I like to go shopping by myself… But I also like to iron my own damn clothes and clean my own house. I do the stuff we all do and that doesn’t change. The house is different! But it doesn’t change me because of that. Things get elevated by our clickbait culture but I’m not into that. You might see an actor surrounded by bodyguards but most of the time that’s just the movie studio, so that imagery, that elevation, is not necessarily the person. That’s why I think I get along with people, whether they’re well known or not, because I don’t care. If you’re cool, then you’re cool!”
‘Detroit’ is in cinemas now.