John Boyega on Auditioning for the Newest ‘Star Wars’ Hero

November 13, 2015

The Star Wars franchise has enthralled sci-fi fans for almost 40 years with lead actors like Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. So when Disney chose to cast a black man wearing the iconic Star Wars‘ Stormtrooper armor in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens last year, it stirred up some degree of controversy over the internet. But that didn’t slow down John Boyega who will portray Finn, a redeemed First Order Stormtrooper, in the upcoming film. “Who wouldn’t want to be in ‘Star Wars?’ It’d be great,” remarked the 23-year-old actor. “When you’re a working actor, and they tell you you’ve got an audition for a movie, diversity isn’t the first thing you think about,” he told CNET. It is Finn who is set to carry the narrative that’s been established from the original movies in the franchise, and keep it going in two subsequent films. Episode VII is the first in a new trilogy (part seven of nine–at least that we know of so far) and the story takes place about 30 years after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

The relatively unknown British actor spoke about auditioning for this role of a lifetime, explaining, “…I had to acquire a dramatic approach because of the content on the page. But then after a while I thought to myself, ‘Wait, this is ‘Star Wars.’ ‘Star Wars’ is differenet from any other project. ‘Star Wars’ has its own culture. It has its own energy. I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go to YouTube, and I’m going to watch Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford’s audition for the original ‘Star Wars’ movie.'”

While watching Hamill and Ford audition, Boyega noticed a “casual approach to danger and to being a hero” that inspired him. As he explains, “If you see Harrison in his audition and Mark, there’s this, ‘The ship’s about to blow up, but, woo hoo! Switch to light speed!’ I love that. No other movie does that. In another movie they’d be crying and calling their parents, but in ‘Star Wars’ it’s like, ‘woo!'”

Director, co-producer, and co-writer J.J. Abrams spoke about the concerns of the casting process with Wired Magazine. “The key in casting…was finding people who were able to do everything. When you think about all that these characters go through, not just in this movie but knowing their work would continue, these individuals needed to be worthy bearers of this burden and opportunity to continue to tell the story.” Additionally, the new cast members would not only need to have chemistry with one another, but must feel right with the returning original stars. As Abrams described it, “Daisy [Ridley] and John [Boyega] could work together, but what happens when Harrison’s in the mix? That will that feel like? If it doesn’t spark, it’s a f—ing disaster.”

Clearly, John Boyega was the man for the role. Boyega explains, “Charisma is a big thing about Finn that I had to tap into. Finn has an inner confidence that is really, really mine.” After landing the role, he endured seven months of training, and read from scripts that he was not allowed to take home. The film has an estimated budget of $200 million, and is expected to break box office records.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens will be released in theaters on December 18.

You’re More Than an Actor

November 27, 2013


Almost Human cast: Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook, Michael Irby, and Lili Taylor

As an actor, you study your lines, you show up on set, you deliver your lines, and then you exit stage left or right. That’s pretty much the extent of it, right? Horse poop! As an actor you are an artist, a collaborator, and an inventive force in any given production. J.J. Abrams and fellow executive producer, Joel Wyman talked recently about their upcoming sci-fi cop show, Almost Human. The Fox drama centers on officers in the not-too-distant future that are partnered with robots who have human traits and characteristics. (Incidentally, we hope those robots don’t decide to become actors en mass–but that’s another blog.) When asked if the Almost Human actors had influenced the show’s content, Joel Wyman replied:

“You always start with something and then when, based on your casting, at least for me and my experiences, it always transcends it and makes it better.  You can learn what you were trying that wasn’t working, or all of a sudden, you’re surprised by something that works incredibly well that you didn’t anticipate. In the casting process, it was so interesting, because when we were finding these guys, each one of them had something that was just so perfect for the character. We knew that fundamentally they were right for the roles, but just who they are, and what they bring to it, and what they’ve examined now having these roles as actors, and what they dug into, has just made the show that much more rich, and provided us with a lot of opportunities and avenues that we didn’t even dream of.  Yes, we’re always influenced by the people that are bringing the work and the characters to the program.”

Even the best, most prestigious of writers and producers have their limitations. Actors are not just clay for them to sculpt; but rather, actors–by their sheer presence and personalities–enhance the raw material and give writers and producers story, character, and scene ideas and an elemental energy off which to feed. This is not to say you enter the set with a mind to change the tenor of the story or to determine the net result of the film, but instead, just by bringing your authentic self to the creative process (strengths, weaknesses, disposition, psyche) you can inspire a variance of approach or style. And you can influence the project in a powerful, and indeed, fundamental way.

You, young Thespian, should never underestimate the power of your own particular persona; it is the very marrow of the film, television, and theatrical world.

Don’t Underestimate Your Imagination

March 10, 2012

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” –Albert Einstein

Your imagination is an extremely valuable commodity. It’s imagination that gives birth to freedom of mind, questioning, experimenting creativity, and discovery. When you consider the technology sector over the last decade, the creation of softwares, hardwares, and websites are clear evidence of people’s active imaginations. More than the technology, the imagination is the real champion here, creating unprecedented breakthroughs in countless areas of life. Without imagination, we stagnate, and the result is unoriginality as well as lack of innovation.

We are all born with a blueprint to be creative. But our challenge is to maintain this innate playfulness as we grow older because the adult world calls for us to become more practical and rational. Fortunately, as actors, you’ve entered into a field that encourages play. Your career requires you to put on costumes, make-up, masks, wigs–and pretend! Like a muscle, your work as an actor exercises your imagination, and keeps you daring to express yourself as boldly and undeterred as children do.

Creativity is squashed around harsh criticism, as well as our personal insecurities. In either instance, don’t underestimate your creative potential. Actors, artists, writers, and musicians have an edge on the future marketplace, which is calling for new ideas. Only imagination can remove the limits of conventional thought. You may be a regular sort of person, but when you use your imagination to the fullest, you create endless possibilities for your character, your art, your career, and your life.

Famous for his films Mission: Impossible films, Star Trek, and Cloverfield, producer, screenwriter, director, actor, and composer J. J. Abrams insists, “In whatever it is that I do, I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential.” Click here to hear J.J. Abrams talk about sources of inspiration in his own career. We hope it will inspire you to unleash your own imagination and let your creativity soar.