JOHN BOYEGA, the Peckham-born star of the rebooted Star Wars franchise, takes to the stage for the first time in eight years this week. But if he’s intimidated about playing the role of Woyzeck in front of 1,000-plus people each night at London’s Old Vic, he’s not showing it.
‘I love it up there, it’s beautiful,’ he says, astonished. ‘I could live up there, I really could. When I get up there on stage I just fly, man.’
This is all light years from Star Wars, which saw billboard posters emblazoned with his face. Such is his fame he could fill his bedroom with plastic figurines of himself — if he wanted to. ‘I do not want to!’ he says firmly. ‘That would be weird. Nor does my mum.’
Boyega remains extremely close to his parents and two sisters, and talks wistfully about growing up on a Peckham estate surrounded by family and friends. ‘It was such a happy time. There were babies running all over the place. I felt so free.’
Woyzeck marks a homecoming of sorts for the 25-year-old south Londoner after years in Hollywood. Jack ‘Harry Potter’ Thorne’s version of the 1879 Georg Büchner drama about a soldier ravaged by a mental breakdown was conceived with Boyega in mind.
The actor describes the play as marking ‘the end of phase one’ — presumably of a carefully orchestrated campaign for world domination. Phase two no doubt begins with his forthcoming role in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, based on the police killing in 1967 of three black youths at the Algiers Motel.
And then, of course, there’s his second outing as Finn in Star Wars. Is he cool about the whole hoo-ha starting up again when The Last Jedi hits cinemas in December?
‘Actually, I think [new director] Rian Johnson faces the real challenge in having to follow up The Force Awakens,’ he says. ‘Me, I’m just going to continue to enjoy it.’
That enjoyment was there to see for anyone who saw his irreverent red-carpet antics around the release of The Force Awakens. He seems to have embraced celebrity with a planet-sized grin. ‘Sure, there have been a few challenges,’ he says, ‘but nothing I can’t handle.’
This natural exuberance seems at odds with what is clearly now a tightly managed career. Before our interview his ‘reps’ send me a list of what can be discussed (his work) and what can’t (everything else) although Boyega seems willing to ignore that.
He has also set up a production company, Upper Room, whose first project continues the Pacific Rim sci-fi franchise with a release in 2018.
‘Most of the projects I’m doing now are developed with me in mind,’ he says. So he’s pretty ambitious? ‘Yes,’ he says, suddenly serious. ‘Very.’
Woyzeck opens tomorrow, oldvictheatre.com