“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a week away from its opening, which means John Boyega, the film’s currently unknown star, is a week away from becoming life-alteringly famous. Boyega worries about this only because people keep asking him whether he’s worried. “It just makes me go, ‘I’m not freaked out,’ ” he says. “Should I be freaked out? Is there something I’m missing here?”
Boyega, 23, was raised in London, the child of Nigerian immigrants. He dabbled in stage work before landing a role in the 2011 sci-fi comedy “Attack the Block,” which led to a meeting at Bad Robot Productions, the film company run by “Star Wars” director J.J. Abrams. When he ran into Abrams, who was a fan of the “Attack the Block,” “he said, ‘We’re gonna get you in something,’ ” Boyega recalls.
Boyega didn’t believe him — everyone in Hollywood says that. “I had been here in L.A. doing a pilot season, doing auditions for different movies. That’s what they all say: ‘We’ll call you.’ ”
A few years later, Boyega found himself auditioning for the role of Finn, a benevolent stormtrooper who anchors Abrams’s newly re-booted “Star Wars” franchise. He spent seven months auditioning, working with Abrams to develop a character he hadn’t been offered yet. “It definitely felt like he was on my side,” Boyega recalls. “He talked to me in depth about the character. For me, at the time to be in that position, to be in limbo, was a lot to take in.”
Boyega is several weeks into a grueling press tour, but he’s still as exuberant and enthusiastic about “Star Wars” as anyone has ever been about anything. He can’t believe his good luck; after finally being offered the part, he worried for months about keeping it. “When we were finally on set and they got the first take, I was like, ‘Okay, there’s no going back,’ ” he remembers. “Once you get the first take, you can’t replace me now.”
Boyega, a “Star Wars” fanboy from his childhood, showed up early to set almost every day to revel in the sheer, unlikely joy of being there. He’s now probably chained to the franchise for the foreseeable future, but Boyega can’t talk about: He is probably involved in the soon-to-be-filmed sequels, though he has not signed on for any upcoming spinoffs.
He recently filmed “The Circle,” an adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel, with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. Once he landed “Star Wars,” the caliber of roles Boyega was offered grew rapidly. “Damn right,” he says cheerfully. “ ‘Hey, John, so we’ve got this opportunity for you.’ That’s how it works. To be involved in a ‘Star Wars’ movie means the studios, the execs who are high up in the industry, hold you responsible and trust you, so it does inspire other people to approach you with other projects.”
“Star Wars” has stalled as many careers as it has minted: For every Harrison Ford, there are several Hayden Christensens. Boyega chooses to look on the bright side. “It’s definitely inspiring to see Harrison’s career after ‘Star Wars,’ ” he says. “He did okay, didn’t he?”