Belfast Telegraph

John Boyega: I love sci-fi but doing a comedy, something light, would be nice

John Boyega became a superstar when Star Wars film The Force Awakens hit cinemas in 2015, but he is keen to have clout behind the camera too. He talks to Laura Harding about becoming a producer for Pacific Rim Uprising

John Boyega is determined to be more than just an action star. While he's found global fame wielding a lightsaber as Finn in the Star Wars films, it's not enough for him to rule at the box office - he wants to make decisions behind the camera too.

That is what has spurred him to set up his own production company, which makes its debut this week, with Boyega's new film Pacific Rim Uprising, a sequel to 2013's Pacific Rim.

"It's a way of having creative freedom for yourself," he explains.

"I think it's independently a good business move and then, when you think about it long term, it's also an opportunity for others.

"You create a safe haven of creative ideas that you like, you get to develop things yourself, be involved in the process from early on.

"It's a good existence, rather than the normal actor-for-hire experience. It gives you an added knowledge."

That safe haven of ideas is important to the young star, who grew up on a council estate in Peckham, south London, the son of Nigerian immigrants.

His father is a Pentecostal preacher, while his mother works with the disabled.

After working with youth theatre groups, he got his first big break in 2011's cult sci-fi film Attack The Block. Roles in the HBO drama Da Brick, directed by Spike Lee, the film Half Of A Yellow Sun and 24 reboot Live Another Day followed, but he was a relative unknown when he landed the role of defecting stormtrooper Finn.

Fame came at him fast, with the record-breaking success of The Force Awakens in 2015 and the box office dominance of follow-up The Last Jedi, released in December.

Now he's 26 and giving opportunities to aspiring actors who grew up like him is just as important as finding his own material.

"Growing up the way I did, being discovered the way I was discovered and having to work the way I worked - going through the thing of flying over to LA as a British actor and all that kind of stuff - it's very important to have a home-grown place where people can get opportunities."

Indeed, when he won the Rising Star honour at the Bafta film awards in 2016, Boyega joked it was "a fluke" and said he wanted to share his award with "all the young dreamers, who are determined, who are hardworking and who are quite frankly, amazing".

It's not a coincidence that he started UpperRoom Productions with Femi Oguns, his agent and the founder of the Identity school of acting in Hackney, which also boasts Black Panther star Letitia Wright among its alumni.

When his name was called on stage at the Baftas, it was Oguns who he embraced and he was one of the people he shouted out from the stage.

Without that start at a drama school that champions diverse talent, he's not sure he would be sitting here in this plush hotel room, talking about his latest blockbuster.

"I really credit it," he says. "When I decided on part-time drama school, it was the best thing I could have hoped for, each week we were learning something new from various incredible teachers who had great experience in theatre, film and TV.

"It was a place to meet other people who were going through the same exact dream.

"That is where I met Letitia, now I'm in Star Wars and she's in Black Panther. It's crazy, what a way to live and be introduced to the hustle of what you want in life.

"So that place was incredible for me. I had a good old time."

Now in Pacific Rim Uprising, Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost, who was played by Idris Elba in the original film.

The sequel sees Jake leading a new generation of pilots for the robots, known as Jaegers, as they fight a new threat from the Kaiju monsters.

The first film was helmed by recent Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro, while this time Steven S DeKnight takes over the reins.

While Boyega won critical praise for his role in Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow's film about the 1967 riots, he is now taking on yet another huge franchise.

"In this kind of film, you're part of a big machine - a big jigsaw puzzle in which the responsibility is not only yours.

"You've got other people, other departments, you are all working together, collaborating.

"It just comes with much more of a challenge of where your mind should be at.

"You have to think, 'Yeah, let's be prepared so that we don't really feel it, this challenge, we are prepared for it'."

And while the next Star Wars film is lurking on the horizon (the as-yet-untitled Episode IX is due to be released in 2019), Boyega is already thinking long-term and looking to add some more variety to his repertoire.

"On average at my camp, we aim two or three years in advance because of how long these movies take to make.

"So we are thinking about other genres. I love drama - I love drama just as much as I love sci-fi, actually.

"An action thriller would be cool too and comedy would be nice, something nice and light.

"Seth Rogen, call me!"

Pacific Rim Uprising is out today

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