JOHN BOYEGA IS FINN
FINN, THE FIRST NEW CHARACTER WE SAW IN THE TEASER TRAILER BACK IN THE FALL OF 2014, IS PLAYED BY THE CHARISMATIC ACTOR, JOHN BOYEGA.
StarWars Insider: Tell us about the audition process?
John Boyega: 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 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, 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 it 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 with Chewbacca came, which was exciting. Then, I got the call to say that I had got the part, and that was after seven months of extreme auditioning! From the get-go, they specifi ed that it was a male leading role. Star Wars is an ensemble cast, so we have lots of leads that create the narrative, and I didn’t know that he was so central to the story. I only found that out halfway through the audition process when J.J. said, “You’re the guy. You know that, right?” I was like, “Ahh! Okay, it’s time to get the acting chops together and do something!” Do you remember the moment when you were told that you got the part? Prior to getting the part, I had been at a premiere for 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 said, “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 got an email from J.J. asking where I was. I told him I was at home and he asked if I could get to a little café in Mayfair, London. I hopped in a cab, drove down, and saw J.J. in the café by himself, drinking a cup of tea. We had a brief conversation and he asked me whether I was ready. 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 said, “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 dreamland. 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 I was a part of history and that just made me really, really happy.
How long was it before the table read that you knew you got the role?
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 parents! They found out the day of the read-through because I was told specifi cally to keep it quiet. Were you a Star Wars fan? 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 defi nitely an artistic infl uence for actors, directors, and everybody in the entertainment fi eld, from visual effects to everybody that makes the magic happen. Star Wars has defi nitely been a part of my sci-fi nerd, geek side. I’m a big comicbook reader and it’s part of that universe. Who were your favorite characters? Han Solo and Chewbacca. I’m a big R2-D2 fan, too. Now we’ve got our new droid, 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 fi t together. George Lucas did a good job.
Do you have a favorite Star Wars film?
Return of the Jedi is my favorite film, because you find Luke Skywalker at a very vulnerable time. In the first fi lm 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 fi nd 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 fi rst two fi lms as from the point of view of R2-D2 and C-3PO. I only cared about these droids. These droids are just being exchanged, and passed around, and the story is told from their viewpoint. But, Return of the Jedi is fi xated on Luke Skywalker’s story and he’s becoming the top Jedi on the streets right now and that was really cool to me.
How did you feel on your first day of shooting in Abu Dhabi?
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 was just amazing. Just looking around and taking it all in and saying, “I am here. We are about to fi lm this movie.” I knew it was going to be an experience I would never forget.
What was it like shooting in Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi is a beautiful place. We were there to shoot the fi rst 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 walked on to the set, I saw 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 a stormtrooper outfi t. I had to wear it in this heat for the next couple of days. Let’s just say I relied on 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 very hot.
When did you meet Daisy Ridley and how did you two get along?
Daisy Ridley and I met during the audition process, and it was important for us to know each other so that we could have 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! 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 of 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 are somewhat 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.
We hear you made rap songs?
The official Daisy Ridley and John Boyega Star Wars album was based on some time off in the desert. We’re not always in front of the camera, so we had a lot of time hanging out. We decided to make raps about our experience. Just think of it as poetry. How was working with J.J. Abrams? 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 about Star Wars and very energetic on the set. 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!
How did J.J. Abrams influence Finn?
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. That’s a part of J.J. 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. Is J.J. Abrams celebrating old school filmmaking with this new film? 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 Studios to film Star Wars, I always think to myself, What am I going to see with my very eyes today? And there always is something. As a fan who loves all sides of technology and practical effects, how do you think J.J. Abrams has done? J.J. has managed to keep the balance between what we’re used to from the old Star Wars fi lms—physical effects, real, loveable, relatable characters, a great story arc—and what 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. You’ve trained hard for the film.
What was your regime?
For a role like this, and for a film like Star Wars, there’s a lot of action and J.J. is great at doing action both in space and on the ground. As actors, we needed to learn some hand-to-hand combat and how to use the lightsabers, so I was involved in over seven months of training. There was actually a lot of John Williams Star Wars music 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 fi lming, I felt like I was really ready.
Was the combat training pretty serious stuff?
It was. Our lightsabers are really heavy, so you do get a sense of this power and this power that’s coming out of this weapon and it does really do something to you, but you do have to be strong and you 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.
Did you enjoy working with Oscar Isaac?
I love Oscar Isaac. He’s a very articulate man and has a great sense of art. He takes this very seriously, and, also, at the same with a character like Poe Dameron, he’s very charming, handsome and fun. I’m younger than him and he’s done so much more, so it’s great to learn from him.
What was Pinewood Studios like?
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 movies. 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 defi nitely carrying on with that. Is it fun to be surrounded by all the strange creatures? I’m defi nitely having fun surrounded by the creatures. I am a big creature-feature fan, and I love physical effects. I love the creatures being right there in my face. We have a great team that does the puppetry on these creatures. It’s hilarious, 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 fi nd yourself having conversations with several different species you’ve never met before!
Do people recognize you more, now?
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 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 here to help us and to talk to us about the exposure and the amazing things that are going to happen when the film is released. How does the huge expectation for this film make you feel? 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 videogames, books, and 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.
What are you most looking forward to when the film comes out?
When the film comes out in December I am looking forward to sitting down at the IMAX in Waterloo, London, 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 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 fans’ 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 with some soda in there, and have a great time and watch Star Wars like any other fan!
What do the new generation of characters add to the film?
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 Legends stories, 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. I think the audience will enjoy a relatable character and his experiences. Was your American accent hard to master? Doing an American accent is quite interesting. I remember auditioning and there were talks about whether Finn was going to be doing an American accent, or a British accent. I was very happy that they chose an American accent because one of my favorite characters, obviously, is Han Solo, and Han Solo has this very boyish, charismatic American accent and it makes him sound like he’s king of the world. The accent does help me channel that energy a bit. It’s great for Finn, and it does help with making him funny and relatable. What will it be like when you see your action fi gure? Seeing my own action fi gure will be super-exciting. I don’t know how I’ll react.