His story is another success story of Nigerians doing great things in the diaspora. Boyega was born in Peckham, south London, to Nigerian parents, Abigail and Samson. His first role was a leopard in a play at his primary school. At the age of eight, Boyega and his sister were with 10-year-old schoolboy Damilola Taylor immediately prior to his killing in Peckham.
Boyega was a pupil at Oliver Goldsmith Primary School. While acting in a play there at the age of nine, he was noticed by Teresa Early, the artistic director of Theatre Peckham, a learning theatre for young people who live in south London. After obtaining financial assistance from a hardship fund, he joined the theatre, spending his time there outside school hours between the ages of nine and 14. Boyega's father, a preacher, had wanted Boyega to become a preacher too, but was supportive of his son's theatrical interests.
In 2003, Boyega started his secondary education at Westminster City School, where he took part in various school productions. Between 2008 and 2010, he attended South Thames College at the college's Wandsworth campus to study for a National Diploma in Performing Arts. His activities at the college included playing the title role in the college's production of Othello. He then enrolled at the University of Greenwich to study BA Film Studies & Media Writing, though he later dropped out of the course to focus on his acting career.
He’s the latest star of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. The film, a chronological sequel to 1983’s Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, stars Boyega alongside both old generation and new generation franchise stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill—or Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker as they are known to millions—and Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Daisy Ridley, and Adam Driver. So how did a 23-year-old from South London land a role that every young actor in Hollywood would have killed for?
“There was already contact between me and J.J. [Abrams, the film’s director],” he explains. “He was a big fan of Attack the Block and we were waiting for a project where we could collaborate.” The casting took seven months. “Disney is a four-billion-pound company,” Boyega says. “They wanted to make sure they got the right person for the job. I learned that I got the part over a nice breakfast in Mayfair. J.J. said, ‘John, you’re the new star of Star Wars,’ and everything froze for a moment.”
Boyega plays the character of Finn, who he describes as being “in conflict, mostly with himself and also with the powers” but is tight-lipped about why this conflict exists, or which powers he means for that matter—the Force? Asked what would happen if he was to say, he jokes that Abrams would fly a robotic helicopter overhead and he’d disappear from Hollywood forever.
Attack the Block was Boyega’s 2011 film debut, transporting the tropes of a horror classic onto a council estate in South London. Boyega played the leader of a gang who mugs a woman before helping her to safety as monsters chase them through the high-rise tower blocks of Brixton. He also appeared alongside Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in the 1960s Nigeria-set Half of a Yellow Sun and will soon be seen in the British indie Imperial Dreams as a reformed gangster fresh out of prison who has his resolve tested as he attempts to start a new life. He’s adamant that his career to date has seen him sidestep stereotypical characters black actors are forced to take.