This image released by Amazon Studios shows John Boyega in a scene from "Red, White and Blue." (Amazon Studios via AP)

John Boyega isn’t going to ‘take the money and shush’

John Boyega isn’t going to ‘take the money and shush’

NEW YORK — John Boyega is only 28, but being a professional actor of 10 years and a veteran of three “Star Wars” films has given him insight into what it’s like for a young performer breaking into Hollywood.

“I always tell young actors who are getting into it, they’ve got their first franchise or first big role: You’re gonna have to navigate people assuming that you’re a piece of (expletive),” says Boyega. “Normally the assumption is you keep quiet, you keep cashing checks and you keep it moving. That’s the hardest thing to navigate, when you don’t feel that way.”

This year, Boyega has made it clear he doesn’t feel that way, that he isn’t going to bite his tongue. In July, he gave a fiery speech at a London protest in the wake of George Floyd’s death, shouting through a megaphone and fighting back tears. He wondered aloud whether he’d have a career afterward.

“Black lives have always mattered,” Boyega told demonstrators. “We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain’t waiting.”

In September, Boyega severed ties with the London cosmetics brand Jo Malone after the company reshot, with a different brand ambassador, a video he had made that touched on his childhood neighbourhood and Nigerian heritage. He said on Twitter, “dismissively trading out one’s culture this way is not something I can condone.”

And in a GQ interview in September, Boyega criticized the makers of “Star Wars” for their uncertain handling of his character, Finn, and for giving “all the nuance” to characters played by Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley: “What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”

In a year riven with resistance, Boyega has seemed suited to the moment — an unapologetically candid actor breaking free of PR-controlled Hollywood constraints. He won’t, he says, “fashion my career to be like a politician” or “take the money and shush.”

“People need to go up there and reflect what’s real,” says Boyega, speaking by video conference in an interview from London. “Sometimes you get angry, sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right. Be human, rather than having to get into a space where you’re successful but then you have to lose your identity. That’s whack. No one’s doing that, especially not my generation.”

Boyega stars in Steve McQueen’s “Red White and Blue,” the third film in the director’s extraordinary anthology of Black life in London from the ’60s through the ’80s. The five-film series is playing on the BBC in the U.K. and on Amazon Prime in the U.S.; “Red, White and Blue” will debut Dec. 4 on Amazon. In the true story, Boyega plays Leroy Logan, an aspiring research scientist who gives up the lab to join the overwhelmingly white London police force in the 1980s.

It’s almost certainly Boyega’s best performance yet — a reintroduction, in a way, to a young actor who has shown flashes of his potential but who to most remains identifiable as a central “Star Wars” character who seemed to drift to the sidelines of the space saga. “Red, White and Blue” puts Boyega front and centre and wrestles with many of the social issues — race, change, belonging — that he is grappling with, too.

“There’s something about him right now that’s vital,” says McQueen. “You want to hear that voice. It reminds me of Jack Nicholson in the ’70s where you wanted to hear that voice. There’s something dangerous and uncensored and untethered and sexy about him. That’s what you want in a leading man.”

Logan’s decision to join the police is confounding to his father (Steve Toussaint), who was beaten by racist police officers. But Logan believes he can, as one of very few officers of colour, remake the system from the inside, despite regular abuse.

For an actor recoiling from his experience within the belly of blockbuster-making Hollywood, “Red White and Blue” has both powerful parallels and telling distinctions about navigating a system that can be inhospitable to people of colour.

“Everybody’s different and the fight requires all different types of people, all different types of strategies,” says Boyega. “Being an actor, living within that privilege and having the opportunity to go onto other projects and greenlight things, you can use a lot of that for the impactful stuff. I see the lines between the experiences…. But you understand that these obstacles are all too familiar.”

Born John Adedayo Bamidele Adegboyega to parents of Nigerian descent in the Peckham district of London, Boyega drew partly on his own upbringing for “Red, White and Blue” — a drama of institutional racism but also a father-son tale. An early scene recalls a memory of Boyega’s when his father, a Pentecostal minister, was searched by police on the way home from church.

McQueen said he, Boyega and co-writer Courttia Newland talked a lot “about what Black fathers said to their sons, because they wanted to protect them and they knew the dangers of the world out there. Obviously the movie is dealing with masculinity in a way. But it’s also one generation dealing with the same situation as the younger generation and how they deal with it differently. It’s a difficult conversation. When you want to integrate and be a part of something and you find out you’re not welcome, it’s difficult.”

Since Boyega’s comments about “Star Wars,” he’s received a supportive phone call from producer Kathleen Kennedy that Boyega has described as frank and transparent. Following his protest speech, many filmmakers and actors responded that they would be honoured to work with him. “We got you, John,” wrote Jordan Peele.

But if anyone thought that moment reflected a new John Boyega, it didn’t. He’s just being heard more clearly.

“I don’t think it’s me necessarily finding my voice. I think it’s the audience noticing me in that sense,” says Boyega. “This is kind of an eye-opener to you guys more than it is to me. I’ve kind of been about it.”


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - This file photo provided by Leonid Volkov and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, are seen in Germany in a Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, handout photo published to social media. The chief of staff to the imprisoned Russian president critic Alexei Navalny is calling on Ottawa to impose new sanctions on who he descripted as “Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, Leonid Volkov
Canada must sanction Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs: Alexei Navalny’s chief of staff

Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany

Ronald Smith, a Canadian on death row in the United States. is shown at the state prison in Deer Lodge, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland
Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

This Nov. 22, 2015 file photo shows Justin Bieber at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Bieber’s world tour is facing another setback as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The Stratford, Ont.-raised pop singer is pushing dozens of tour dates including stops in three Canadian cities.	THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
Justin Bieber postpones Canadian summer tour dates until 2022

52-date world tour will now kick off Feb. 18, 2022

LtE bug
Letter: Security company can help with shelter

Why don’t we leave Safe Harbour temporary shelter where it is and… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Good job on K-6 curriculum

Many are questioning the quality of the draft K-6 curriculum. It amazes… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
COVID becomes all too real when someone you love is ‘positive’

The third wave of the pandemic is hitting us hard. It is… Continue reading

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Toronto Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (37) hits a single to drive in two runs against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Most Read