John Boyega's goal is to best the roles he became famous for in "Attack the Block" and "Star Wars."
Boyega said in an interview with TODAY that he told his agent to only consider roles distinct from himself in an effort to remove some of the unofficial restrictions actors face when vying for roles. "I think we’ve got very political and very stiff now, to where actors have to portray people that they are and that’s not what acting is," he said.
"I've watched myself to a certain level to be able to now go for roles that are not based on me at all, because I'm trying to bring back the real definition of acting," Boyega said. "In making that choice, I sat down with my agent and said, 'I want to do real acting. I'm sick of the conversations of it being about who can do what.' So for me, it's just about doing roles that gives you the ability to have versatility to do so many different dynamic roles."
Boyega is doing some real acting, as he says, in three movies coming out this year that he stars in: "Breaking," "The Woman King" and "They Cloned Tyrone."
“Breaking” premieres Aug. 26 and is based on the true story of Brian Brown-Easley, a marine veteran suffering from PTSD whose disability checks from Veteran Affairs abruptly ended in 2017, so he robs a bank out of desperation. Boyega plays Brown-Easley in the movie and said it opened his eyes to the challenges veterans face when re-entering civilian life.
"I think the thing that stood out to me was integration back into the system after they've gone into war, and how much of a tiring process that is," he said. "It's a lot of paperwork to file, a lot of lining up — it's actually very stressful. You don't actually spend a lot of time resting, recouping and getting help to actually recover. It kind of feels almost like you're shoved back into a capitalist world and you have to work at the same capacity as civilians who have not seen bodies fly around and people being extremely injured. It's a very hard transition back into normal life and I learned a lot about the specifics of that," Boyega said.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the transition to civilian life is particularly difficult in becoming responsible for what the military automatically provided, such as clear structures for every protocol, basic necessities (food, clothing, housing) and finding healthcare providers. More challenges include re-establishing relationships, finding community and finding and retaining a regular job.
'The Woman King'
“The Woman King” is a historical fiction adaptation of true events in the Kingdom of Dahomey, arguably the most powerful group in Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thanks largely to its all-woman army. Boyega plays the king who gives Viola Davis’ character, the woman king, complete control of the territory she's in charge of.
The movie premieres Sept. 16, two months before the release of highly anticipated "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," the sequel to "Black Panther," a movie that primed audiences to see an army of only Black women.
Boyega said "Black Panther" may have opened the door for a stand-alone movie about Black women warriors, but that's all it has in common with "The Woman King."
"It's not Black Panther," he said. "It's a different kind of story, so it's just having that variety. Black Panther is more of a fantasy, more magical. Whereas 'The Woman King' is quite grounded and it deals with some tough conflicts. 'The Woman King' is adding to the buffet for us to eat that we have out there. And that's what I want people to enjoy: the fact that we're gonna have all these different films in industry that's been brewing that have a huge influence from African culture."
Boyega said working with Viola Davis and other Black women on the sets of the three movies reinforced for him a key concept: "If they handling it, they handling it."
"Some of the scenes, it's not for me to hold my own," he said. "It's for them, especially in 'The Woman King.' A lot of it was about the women. I play the king, but the king's approach to running his kingdom is to give them territory and to give them ownership over their power. So for me? Just chillin'. They handling it. If they handling it, they handling it."
Boyega said he uses this same hands-off approach with his mother and two sisters because "the best way you can help her is to just get out of her business and let her do it" and when they do need help, he's there, he said.
'They Cloned Tyrone'
“They Cloned Tyrone” is releasing later this year but a date has not been announced yet for the science fiction comedy in which Boyega plays a drug dealer named Fontaine alongside Jamie Foxx (pimp Slick Charles) and Teyonah Parris (prostitute Yo-Yo). Together they uncover a deeply rooted and harmful government malpractice in Black neighborhoods and band together to take it down.
Boyega said this film has similarities to his past works, but he still gets his versatility in playing a drug dealer for the first time. He said he agreed to the project because Foxx and Parris were on board.
"I did it because Jamie Foxx, because of Teyonah Parris," he added. "I saw this trio in my head and I went to myself, 'Yeah, this is the kind of film I want to do.' It reminds me of my 'Attack The Block,' the first film I ever done. So it kind of has that grounded world that we know. But then the backdrop, the sci-fi." And Boyega has experience in that genre from "Star Wars."
Boyega said he is not slowing down after these three movies release. He's already in development for new projects through next June.
Even though he works a lot, Boyega maximizes the free time he does get: "There are break times, for sure," he said slyly.