July 2024

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John Boyega is a British actor, born to Nigerian parents, who recently starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His role as the stormtrooper Finn has launched him into international fame, but there are many things you probably do not know about the young star.

1. He started acting at age nine

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Boyega’s first role was a leopard in a school play. Even though he was only nine years old, he took his part seriously.  

“I gave him character breakdown, and I was doing the work and doing the research and creating a character,” he said.  “That is the greatest feeling ever. When you’re young and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is quite cool, and I really, really want to do this.’”  

The artistic director of performing arts school Theatre Peckham saw him and thought he had something special. Boyega was invited to attend the theater school.

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2. His father wanted him to be a preacher

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Teresa Early, who was Boyega’s drama teacher at the school, said that at first his parents were skeptical of an acting career.

 “His father was a preacher and he wanted him to be a preacher too,” she said. “I had a chat with John’s father when he was about 12 or 13.  As long as John stayed out of trouble they were quite happy. And as John made his way, his father began to think there was some wisdom in it.”

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3. He hid his talent from his friends

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Boyega attended his acting classes nearly every day after school, but not many of his friends knew about it. A friend of his explained:

“everyone else does football when they’re young. John didn’t play football, he was more interested in acting, so he didn’t want to make a big fuss about it.”

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4. He lost two friends in his neighborhood

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Boyega grew up on a council estate in South London. A friend of his, Damilola Taylor, was close in age to him and also had Nigerian parents. Just before his eleventh birthday, she was found bleeding to death in a stairwell. And another one of his friends, Samuel Ogunro, was killed in 2010 when he was 17. His murder was related to a South London gang.

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5. Acting may have kept him out of trouble

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The area he grew up in was rough. Boyega’s friends said gangs, guns and knives were common. Daniel Ross, a friend of his, said that their neighborhood had been very violent when they were young.

“You would never see John on the street or hanging around gangs though,” he said. “I only saw him in church or in acting school.” Another one of his friends, Demi Rump,said “A lot of boys in his year are now in prison or dead.  Everyone was going down one route towards the end of school – taking drugs, selling drugs, gangs, that sort of thing – but John went down another. I am so thankful he got out of it.”

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6. He starred in the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book

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Boyega starred in Half of a Yellow Sun, a 2013 Nigerian film based on the book by prominent Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The story is set during the Nigerian Civil War; Boyega played a houseboy named Ugwu.

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7. He loves Marvel Comics

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Boyega revealed that he loves Marvel Comics. He expressed interest in playing the role of Black Panther, one of the first black superheroes in mainstream comic books; the role ended up going to Chadwick Boseman. But since Star Wars and Marvel are both owned by Disney, it is possible that he could be involved one day.

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8. His friends thought he was just an extra in Star Wars

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He was bound by a confidentiality agreement when he was cast. It was so secretive that his friend did not even realize he was a main role.

“I took them to the London premiere and after the premiere they were just like, ‘Yo, John, I never knew you were in the movie for so long – I thought you were an extra!’”  Boyega said.  “I’m like, all this time I was leaving from Monday to Friday, what did you think I was doing, man, for two years?”

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9. He is attracting new Nigerian fans to the Star Wars franchise

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“Nerd” culture has been growing in Nigeria, and Boyega has helped it grow even more. Kemi Williams, 50, was interviewed in Abuja, Nigeria and loved that there were more relatable characters in the new movie. When she was younger, it was not as diverse.  But her children are having a different experience.  

“It’s significant to me because my son was sitting next to me, and it was a big deal for him to see a character who looks like him.  When I was little I never had that,” she said.  “What’s important is that he’s out and proud about being a black man.  The fact that he’s Yoruba has a resonance within Nigeria. He’s one of us, and it’s something we can relate to.”

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10. He is proud of his heritage

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When Boyega’s casting was revealed, some were critical of a black man playing the role. There were people who even threatened to boycott the movie because of it. But he was not bothered.  

“I’m grounded in who I am, and I am a confident black man. A confident, Nigerian, black, chocolate man. I’m proud of my heritage, and no man can take that away from me,” he sad.  “I wasn’t raised to fear people with a difference of opinion. They are merely victims of a disease in their mind. To get into a serious dialogue with people who judge a person based on the melanin in their skin? They’re stupid, and I’m not going to lose sleep over people. The presale tickets have gone through the roof — their agenda has failed. Miserably.”

SEE ALSO: The 10 Richest Movie Stars. Discover The Golden Screen.

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