The son of Nigerian parents, John Boyega, born on March 17, 1992, grew up in the southeast London district of Peckham with a great interest in theatre. He began acting in productions during primary school, and was later selected to attend Westminster City School as a teen to continue his theatrical training. Boyega also studied at the Identity School of Acting in Hackney, London, and participated in stage productions with the National Theatre before transitioning to the screen.
Boyega netted a supporting role on the web series Becoming Human before making his feature-film debut in Joe Cornish’s sci-fi action-comedy Attack the Block in early 2011. His performance as a London teen defending his neighborhood from an alien invasion earned the young actor praise in his home country: He was recognized by Screen International that year as one of their “U.K. Stars of Tomorrow.”
In 2013, Boyega acted alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in the historical drama Half of a Yellow Sun. Shortly thereafter, the role of a lifetime came calling: In 2014, at the age of just 22, he was chosen by director J.J. Abrams for a leading role in the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which hit theaters the following year.
John Adedayo Adegboyega Biography and Profile
John Adedayo Adegboyega was born March 17, 1992, in Peckham, London, to Nigerian parents Samson and Abigail. He grew up in Peckham, said he hopes the company will provide a platform for other actors like him. He said:
“Growing up the way I did, being discovered the way I was discovered and having to work the way I worked and going through the thing of flying over to LA as a British actor and all that kind of stuff, it’s very important to have a homegrown place where people can get opportunities.”
John Adedayo Adegboyega said he credits the part-time acting school he went to in London, Identity, for much of his success. It is also where he met Black Panther star Letitia Wright.
He said: “I really credit it… it was the best thing I could have ever hoped for because each week we were learning something new from various different incredible teachers who had great experience in theatre, film and TV.
“And then it was a place to meet other people who were going through the same exact dream, that is where I met Letitia, now I’m in Star Wars and she’s in Black Panther.
“It’s crazy, what a way to live and be introduced to the hustle of what you want in life and so that place was incredible for me. I had a good old time.”
His first role was that of a leopard in a play at his primary school at the age of five. He attended Westminster City School as a teenager. He later took part in various school productions and attended classes at Theatre Peckham. He was a performing arts student at South Thames College in Wandsworth and was active in theatre productions there, including the lead inOthello in 2010.
He speaks warmly of his father, a Pentecostal minister who has long worked in and about Peckham, but denies the story, now common in many profiles, that dad wanted him to follow in his footsteps.
“No. There were reports that my dad wanted me to be a minister. I think that was a journalist trying to write his own version of Star Wars,” he says.
Before picking up the lead roles in the new Star Wars franchise, John Boyega’s acting career began with a Performing Arts course at South Thames College. “College helped me a lot to get to this stage,” he says. “I remember doing all kinds of drama games and ballet, which helped me to get physically fit. I was very lucky our tutor entered us for the Connections competition, which we performed at the National Theatre. That was the breakthrough for me.”
John played the title role in the College’s production of Othello while he was studying with us, before making his film debut in Joe Cornish’s sci-fi horror-comedy Attack the Block in 2011.
John is calmly dismissive of the myth that he fought his way out of the ghetto to become a movie star. That part of London is endlessly diverse and resistant to easy caricature. There are middle-class parts of Peckham. There are deprived areas. It is true that Boyega’s sister was a contemporary and friend of Damilola Taylor, the young black boy murdered in the locale 17 years ago, but John is exhausted by the efforts to reduce his old manor to a clutch of sensationalist headlines.
John Adedayo Adegboyega studied dance. He pondered more sober options. But the interest in film and theatre stuck with him. As with so many budding actors, he felt swept in one direction by an uncontrollable force outside himself.
“I considered a few things,” he says. “But nothing ever became a passion enough for me to invest all my time. Nothing else was that appealing.”
In 2011, Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block changed everything. Following a group of south London geezers as they protect their area from invading aliens – good training for future Dr Who Jodie Whittaker – the film was not a smash at the box office, but, after developing a genuine cult following, it found its way towards the casting directors that mattered. Most of the reviews singled out John. Those plans for university were put on hold.
“That was my first feature film,” he says. “I had just done a few plays. I had done a few short films. Attack the Block was so much fun. Seventeen going on 18. On a film set. That was such good fun.”
Still, the doors didn’t swing open immediately. And he didn’t lose the run of himself.
“I didn’t really understand it,” he says. “When Attack the Block got American distribution I was already in LA. I was looking for opportunities. I was just staying in a motel and all of a sudden I got word that Attack the Block had US distribution. I was moved from this motel into a nice hotel. ‘John is in LA. He can do publicity for us.’ I thought: why do they want me? They probably want Nick Frost. Or at least me with the other guys.”
That’s interesting. So, when Attack the Block became a “real movie”, he suddenly found himself kicked a few rungs up the ladder?
“Yeah. ‘Come over to the Ritz Carlton. ’ I was staying at the Coral Sands Motel. Now, that’s a strange place. Book a night. Ha ha! I was suddenly in the Ritz Carlton. I thought: this is what it’s like being in a real film.”
John got some decent work before Star Wars came calling. You can see him opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor in the film version of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. He turned up in 24: Live Another Day. But there were challenges in these years. Aside from anything else, he had, as a young guy to get to grips with the hustle and intrigue of Los Angeles. It’s a long way from south London.
“I like the culture in LA, but I like London so much. I like the fact that it’s a multicultural city.
“I miss the food, man.”
There is a sense of cultures being jammed together in London. That city’s citizens are less likely to circle the wagons. At the same time, many black British actors have said that there are many more opportunities in America. Just look at how the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Carmen Ejogo have prospered in recent years.
“There are more opportunities for black actors in the States,” he agrees. “I wouldn’t advise any black actor to seek a healthy career in the UK. But, to be honest, I don’t think there’s a stigma here. I think it’s really just because America is a bigger place. The bigger the place, the more the opportunity. The TV and film industries are significantly busier. We are a small little island.”
Remember when the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens “dropped”? There was a worldwide inhalation as the footage crashed onto a billion screens. And John Boyega was the first thing we saw. The promo, released a year before the film’s arrival, began with a shot of the desert. We hear some classic Star Wars blather. Then the English man’s head pops up from the bottom of the screen. That’s how you arrive in the mainstream these days. Did J J Abrams ever explain what won him the part?
“He never did, you know,” Boyega says. “He just gave me the part and that was good enough for me. ‘Okay, bye!’ Ha ha! We fine-tuned the part and I was just always concerned about doing it to the best of my abilities.”
John Adedayo Adegboyega Quick Facts
- Made his acting debut as a leopard at his primary school in Peckham, London, at age 5.
- Studied at the Identity School in London.
- Appeared in the National Theatre’s production of Six Parties in 2009 and played in two productions at the Tricycle Theatre, Category B and Seize of the Day.
- Was cast in a boxing drama, Da Brick, which was based on Mike Tyson’s early life but the show was later passed upon by HBO in 2001.
- Nominated for the Most Promising Newcomer category in The Evening Standard Film Awards and the British Independent Film Awards.
- Named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2016.
John Boyega: Star Wars and me
John Boyega auditioned for seven months to land a role in the biggest film franchise of them all. John Boyega is the centre of attention. No wonder. He both produces and stars in Pacific Rim: Uprising. The folk behind the sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s Robots v Giant Lizards epic have brought us to a grand hotel at the Whitehall end of Westminster. People with earpieces talk to other people with earpieces in adjacent corridors. Everyone’s got a list they need to consult.
The Star Wars actor tells Ben Hoyle about growing up in south London, sofa surfing in Los Angeles to save money – and making it as a world-famous star and producer by the age of 25.
The numbers tell their own story. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in late 2015 it quickly became the highest grossing film ever in the US and the third highest grossing ever worldwide. Boyega finds himself on all the usual merchandise. Few sane actors would turn that opportunity down, but he must have been aware that he would be stuck with the Star Wars shadow for the rest of his career.
“For me I never worried,” he says. “I have this opportunity. How do I expand on this? How do I make the best of these moments?”
The current tranche of Star Wars films have helped a few young actors to build on success and dragged a few more from obscurity. Here are five of the coming generation who matter.
John Boyega (Finn)
John was certainly on the fringes of fame before the call came to play the charismatic, smart Finn. He has gone on to excel in a stage production of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck and to star in and produce the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising.
John Boyega Missing ‘Rise of Skywalker’ Script
There’s one major rule when you become a part of the Star Wars franchise: keep spoilers under lock and key at all costs. John Boyega, who plays Finn in the latest movie trilogy, had the scare of his career when he lost the script to Rise of Skywalker and it ended up on eBay. While appearing on Jimmy Fallon‘s The Tonight Show this week, the actor broke down how it all happened.
“I left the full script under my bed and then I was moving apartments the next morning and so I forgot the script under my bed,” Boyega told Fallon. “We weren’t shooting, by the way. We had wrapped up. It was all in the past and I just forgot about the script and then, yeah, someone sold it on eBay.”
The script, indeed, appeared on the consumer-to-consumer website with Boyega’s name watermarked on every page, according to the actor. While other Star Wars fans probably would’ve sold the script for thousands, if not millions of dollars, this person sold it for just over $80.
“I think they were basing the price on my name being on the pages, not on it being a Star Wars script, and I don’t think the person ever read the pages,” Boyega said. “They just thought that it was something cool, tried to sell it online to make a few bucks.”
He also remembered getting that bone-chilling call from his agent: “Mate, I’ve just received a call from Disney and all the big gods of the movie industry that you work for, that your livelihood comes from, saying that you lost the most powerful script in Hollywood right now.”
“Let’s just say they will never work with me again,” Boyega added with a laugh.
John Boyega joined the Theatre Peckham at a young age after getting noticed by the artistic director. He then attended South Thames College where he received a National Diploma in Performing Arts, where he played in a number of college productions such, including the title role in Othello. Boyega later trained in Hackney at the Identity School of Acting, appearing in Category B at the Tricycle Theatre, and in Six Parties at the National Theatre.
John Boyega says, “College helped me a lot to get to this stage,” he says. “I remember doing all kinds of drama games and ballet, which helped me to get physically fit. I was very lucky our tutor entered us for the Connections competition, which we performed at the National Theatre. That was the breakthrough for me.”
- 2016, BAFTA Film Awards — Rising Star Award: Winner
- Association of Colleges Gold Award
- Samson Boyega — Father
- Abigail Boyega — Mother