John Boyega has a contagious laugh. It’s impossible to hear his hearty chuckle, see that accompanying foot stomp or that hand swat at whatever is nearby, and not join in on the fun. Sitting on a couch in the sun-drenched lobby of a swanky hotel in New York City’s Soho neighborhood, he is in the midst of doing back-to-back interviews to promote the release of his latest project, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A casual observer might think the actor is chatting with old friends instead of talking to journalists as part of his press run, but in Boyega’s world, work is entertainment.
The London born Nigerian seems to be having a grand old time talking about reprising his role as Finn, a black Stormtrooper looking to find his way in a world of Jedis and Sith. Decked out in a sweater, slacks, and sweet pair of kicks that perfectly match the tan, blue, and red in his sweater, the 25-year-old is in his element and at ease. The baby-face and playful banter belie the years of hustle and work that have brought Boyega to this point. Far from an overnight success (as some thought in his 2015 Star Wars debut), Boyega has put in the sweat equity. Now, he’s a power player starring in and producing movies.
Complex caught up with Boyega to chat about Finn’s character evolution, the one film genre he would never do, and his choice for a leading lady. The London bloke also shares his thoughts on the latest royal engagement.
When the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in 2015, there were some who responded negatively when it was revealed that you were playing a black Stormtrooper. Did you go into The Last Jedi expecting more racist backlash?
Nope. I have to be in a certain position for you to know who I am and I don’t even know you exist. If you take your time to comment, I must be pretty successful. You have to be in a certain position for this many people to be talking, so it’s good. It’s part of the package of this job and it’s something that I accept. But I’m not the type to gracefully stay silent about it. I let them know.
When we first met Finn, he was on a very particular path that seemed predetermined and then he took a sharp left. How has your character’s story arc evolved in the sequel?
Finn wakes up thinking he’s still in the snowy forest. His first word is, “Rey.” He still thinks he’s in that fight and he’s kind of delirious. He wakes up on a ship that is not in good shape. Then you have someone right there, like, “Okay, here’s where you are, here are these clothes, let’s go.” With this [film] we see him in a transition trying to decide exactly where he belongs.
For some people, you seemed like an overnight success.
That’s the media effect. People don’t see you grinding on the day to day. Sometimes people are like, “Are you surprised this happened to you?” It’s not an egotistical thing to say, “No.” I’m not surprised because I worked for it for a long time. If you’re going to auditions and all this, you have to have some type of belief that you might book something. I just didn’t know specifically what it would be, but I knew that I’d do something. I can’t help but be thankful that it was Star Wars specifically. It comes more of a relief. All those years of flying to LA and flying back and forth and using that money to invest in my career. It paid off.
Unfortunately, we lost the iconic Carrie Fisher, who plays General Leia Organa, earlier this year, so this will be her final film. Did you get to spend much time with her on set?
Everyone dealt with Carrie Fisher’s death differently…. As far as the movie, they pay her dues and respect in this and she deserves it. It’s a fitting final curtain call.
Yes, you get to see nuanced interactions between Finn and Leia. She’s the head of the Resistance now. And you get to see Poe (Oscar Isaac) and how they interact. They’re really under pressure. Even though it was all serious and epic and stuff, we were just joking the whole time on the set. It’s Carrie, so that’s just how she was. We were laughing the whole time. It was fun.
Everyone dealt with her death differently. I was already back home in Nigeria when I heard about it. As far as the movie, they pay her dues and respect in this and she deserves it. It’s a fitting final curtain call.
I’m told you have a lot of screen time with a character named Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran. Is this a romantic relationship for Finn?
She’s my new bae. Finn’s working his way up in the Resistance. They heard about the guy who stood in front of Rey and took a slash to the back by a lightsaber. Everyone thinks he’s a big deal and the women can’t help but approach Finn sometimes. Rose is cool. It’s a way of showing Finn who he is and where he belongs. She’s so sure of herself and determined. She’s a big influence in his path to becoming a hero.
Do you think there is a larger take-away from Finn’s character evolution beyond lightsabers and action?
It’s up to interpretation. In the Star Wars universe, it was just absolutely sick to see a stormtrooper break free of the brainwashing and basically become woke and figure out where he belongs and how he’s different. That’s influenced a lot about the performance in The Last Jedi. I made Finn over the top and larger than life because he doesn’t really know how to interact with real humans. He’s essentially coming into his own and that’s what people can relate to and that’s what I relate to.
Outside of Star Wars, what other projects do you have in the works?
Pacific Rim: Uprising comes out next March and I star in it and produce it as well through my production company, UpperRoom Productions. It’s been fun. I’m hitting different genres. I’m still trying to convince Lupita Nyong’o to be the love of my life in a movie. That really should happen. But as far as my career, it’s about exploring and figuring out different collaborations and different stories. I’m not closed to any genre except horror. It’s never really been a thing to me. But I did watch It and it was bloody good. It was so good.
So you’re definitely going to do more behind-the-scenes work?
We’re prepping and developing several projects. We’re in the UK and LA. We get to expand on the creative options we have. For me, I’m just looking for new stories and new perspectives. I think there’s a drought in origin stories and it’s great that I’m in a position to locate and put whoever I want in it and influence the way cinema is defined and categorized.
Being that you’re from across the pond, what do you think about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent engagement?
Me not care. But seriously, Prince Harry is a G. I like his vibe. They came for an official visit on the Star Wars set. It was nice talking to him, it was like talking to one of the lads from down the road. He got himself a nice woman who’s going to back him up and make him become the best man he can be. I saw a headline that said, “Successful Actress Marries Unemployed Ex-Soldier.” I love that. They were like, “Nope. Give her the glory.” And I believe that. I just can’t wait to see them kids with that black in them. We about to have a cookout at Buckingham Palace! They said we’re gonna have Nigerian food at the palace. I’m here for it.