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Attack The Block – John Boyega interview

Attack The Block, John Boyega

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOHN Boyega talks about playing Moses, the tough, silent leader of a gang of youths in Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block and why he feels his character evolves over the course of the film.

He also talks about performing some of his own stunts, including hanging from the block, and his future career hopes.

Q. What was the initial appeal of Moses?
John Boyega: I think what appealed to me about playing the role was the element of silence and the fact I was stretching myself to be able to play along mentally. In other words, showing the audience what was going on in my head without dialogue.

Q. Joe Cornish has mentioned a Slake Plissken element to your character and I saw a bit of a young Denzel Washington in you. Are those people you looked towards? And how difficult was that silent element to find for you?
John Boyega: Well, thank you for saying that for one. I wanted to get into the essence of being a silent actor and for that to play you have to have the thought process going on in your head. So, I did a lot of research. Initially, I went back to watch Season 4 of The Wire and watched Michael’s character in that. From there, I started to ask questions around the estate where I live. I spoke to specific people who were closer to Moses than I was and asked them about why they make the decision that they do and whether specific things happen to inform those choices.

I mean, I’ve lived in south London all my life but I think there’s a difference between living there and being part of some of what goes on there… things I’m not involved in. So, that enlightened me and opened my eyes so that I could understand him. Moses is an anti-hero and he is doing something bad at the start of the film, but as an actor you still have to be able to embody another person even if you don’t agree with the morality of what they might be doing. You still have to give reasons why they’re doing it and why it’s justified in their head. But I really enjoyed that part of the process.

Q. How do you think Moses evolves throughout the course of the film?
John Boyega: Well, there is this thing with Moses. I tried to keep him away from Sam (Jodie Whittaker] as much as possible and I wanted to ensure that Moses is always five steps ahead of everyone. I decided that when it comes to dealing with the aliens, Moses would already have an idea of how to get out of that situation. But in terms of his emotional journey, I thought that maybe he’s closed off at the beginning… and initially he doesn’t want to warm towards Sam. It’s not because he doesn’t like her, but because of a sense of guilt. He didn’t expect to see her again and he didn’t know she lived in the block. He thought she was a random woman. So, this guilt is eating him up, and he is reacting in silence towards her and anger. But he does have a heart and he can’t bear to see this woman die. So, it’s his journey towards redemption and taking responsibility for his actions because he [unwittingly] is to blame for what happens [with the aliens].

Q. How did you enjoy the physical element? Did you perform your own stunts? I mean, I take it that it wasn’t you hanging from the block at the end?
John Boyega: It was me [laughs]. But doing the stunts where possible was amazing. Joe made it very comfortable and we also got some training. But saying that, I was sh**ing my pants. I didn’t know I’d be hanging from the block. It felt like God was giving me a big wedgy in mid-air and the Union Jack was keeping me level! They had a crane that was holding me in the air and I had to put my hand on the Union Jack. But you know those films where you can see a person isn’t really hanging from something? Joe didn’t want that. He said: “Let John use his own strength as much as possible!” So, it was scary but cool.

Attack The Block, John Boyega

Q. Is that something you’re keen to do more of?
John Boyega: Definitely! I’ve already booked some lessons for training for horse-riding and sword-fighting. The stunt co-ordinator on this advised me that I could do more of my own stunt-work, so it’s something I’m keen to do.

Q. Isn’t it the same guy playing all the aliens? And isn’t he an expert in parkour?
John Boyega: Do you mean Terry Notary? He’s an animal movement specialist. He does a lot of motion capture work. He was in Avatar as one of the creatures and he’s in the current Planet of the Apes [Rise of the Apes]. He can run on all fours at silly speeds and he is amazing. He brought a Hollywood energy to the set. He was the Hulk, the Silver Surfer… he’s a big specialist. I got to ask him briefly about working on some of those films and he was sharing us his experiences of those films and how the industry works. He was everyone’s sunshine uncle. It was like there was a ray of light whenever he came on set.

Q. And how was working with Nick Frost? Were you a fan of his movies?
John Boyega: It was great to have him on set. I’ve watched Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so having him there was a bit weird. I mean, I was watching his films before he knew I existed and suddenly I’m sharing a scene with him. But he was funny and he’d do crazy stuff… like he’d shout something out before we started a scene. And we’d be like: “Nick, don’t say those kind of things, man!” He has a boyish energy.

Q. Is it hard to keep a straight face anyway, especially when Luke Treadaway’s Brewis is trying to emulate your street talk?
John Boyega: Oh yeah, we had loads of laughs on set with Luke. Most of his stuff, he grew his character as he went along. He’d do it as per the script the first time, but then he’d add a line on the second take. He caught us off-guard most of the time. But I remember the funniest was when we were in the lift with Jodie and we had to say ‘Ron’s weed room’. That’s very, very hard to say and we literally spent 10 minutes trying to say it properly because it’s the tongue twister from hell.

Q. So, how are you coping with the newfound celebrity the film is bringing you? How is seeing your face on a movie poster and attending your first premiere?
John Boyega: It’s crazy! But at the end of the day I’ve always wanted to do this and since a year and a half ago, when I decided I was going to come into this industry and try it out and succeed, it’s what I’ve been aspiring to. I’m a Malcolm Gladwell reader, so agree with the view that the mind does give a certain energy to what you want in life. So, seeing all these posters around is amazing and very humbling. But at the same time, I’ve got to get used to it because it’s my job and I want to stay grounded and keep my family and friends close.

Q. Talking of energy, how did you cope with the night-time shoot? Jodie has mentioned feeling it at 4am, but that you and the boys had so much energy…
John Boyega: We were just excited to see each other. It felt like after school club. Sometimes, I’d spend the whole of the day at college and then afterwards I’d go to the set and do some filming. But as soon as the car came to pick me up the excitement sort of started to kick in. And we had a lot of things to keep us energised. We had an action figure day, we had Mario Kart championships, in which Leeon Jones battered all of us. We had a room we could with a Goonies poster up, a Warriors poster… we had an Xbox with loads of games and we drank lots of Red Bull. Luke and Jodie would come in with their herbal tea and we’d be on cans of Coke [laughs].

Attack The Block, John Boyega

Q. You mentioned deciding to go for it as an actor about a year and a half ago, but how long have you had this career in mind?
John Boyega: It came when I was five-years-old. My first role was in a lesson at school, while we were doing part of the Anansi the spider stories. There was a scene with a leopard in it and my teacher wanted us to re-enact those scenes. So, I got up and gave that leopard a background and emotions. I remember being on all fours and thinking I really wanted to do this And then one thing led to another and about a year and a half ago I reached that tipping point where I decided that I wanted to do it as a job and went all out for it. And then things just magically started to appear.

Q. You started in theatre…
John Boyega: I love theatre. I think it’s the home of most actors…most actors start with it. It’s so enjoyable to do and to be able to see your audience. And the process of theatre is great. I did a few things with the Tricycle Theatre for a couple of months before I did Attack The Block. But it’s crazy to have been able to do some theatre and now a film.

Q. Are you going to stick with films for now?
John Boyega: I love film so much. I think theatre will definitely be there for me as well, but for now I’d like to do more films.

Q. Which filmmakers and actors inspire you?
John Boyega: I’m a big fan of Steven Spielberg and I love Michael Bay and his popcorn action flicks. I’m a corny watcher, I don’t mind saying. I love Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Shia LaBeouf because they’re all the actors that are not just being themselves but creating characters. I also like some French actors… and the lead guy in A Prophet [Tahar Rahim]. And then you back to classics like the actors in The Goonies, people like Whoopi Goldberg. So many people inspire me.

Attack The Block

Q. Have you noticed since Attack The Block has started screening that you’re getting more offers and more people are aware of you? Do you have things lined up next?
John Boyega: Definitely. I’ve got a very supportive team here in London and they’re trying as much as possible to get right things for me. I’m not looking to do the same thing all the time so they’re being very strict with my career because I have so much more to offer in terms of what I can do. So, after I completed Attack The Block I did another film, called Junkhearts, in which I have a small part. And I’ve done an episode of Law & Order UK. I’ll be doing something very bad in that, so that will be a good one. But in terms of possibly going to America, it’s all about seeing what’s out there and seeing how I’m accepted there [once the film opens].I can put on an American accent… I have the training for that, so we’ll see.

Q. Would you consider a move to America, or would you look to stay in the UK as much as possible and travel with the work as needed?
John Boyega: I think for the first couple of years I’d definitely like to try and stay based in the UK, don’t want it to go too fast and I don’t want to be one of those actors who forget I’m a Londoner. I would love most of my projects to be in an English accent. And hopefully, Attack The Block will inspire other filmmakers to invest in British blockbuster films so we can start our own Hollywood. That would be great.

Read our review of Attack The Block

Luke Treadaway and Jodie Whittaker interview