For Joe Cornish’s first film Attack the Block, he did something that could have been perilous: he cast first-timers for the gang of boys who end up becoming the film’s protagonists. The lead role is John Boyega, who plays Moses, a young tough who starts the film by robbing a young woman, and ends it as a leading man. It’s one of the best first roles in a long time, and Boyega absolutely nails it. He came to America (for the first time) for the start of the press tour, and we got a chance to talk to the young confident actor. Take a look…
This was your first film, I know you have another in the can, how did you come to this?
How did I come to acting in general or just this film?
A little bit of both.
It just started as loving it as a child and then getting into primary school and then keeping on practicing, and having interest in my local drama school and from there going into Identity Drama school, which was the big change for me. It put me in the forefront of the industry and trained me at the same time, so one thing led to another. And a little bit of determination and faith and then success.
How was the audition process on this as a relative outsider?
I don’t know about outsider.
Well, as a newcomer.
I auditioned for a couple of things before Attack the Block, this is just the first film role I got. The audition process was quite emotional at the beginning, and then it just got along.it was fun, we had time to create characters as we went along, and we created our gang and then working with Joe. The audition process was long but sweet.
A lot of times with films like this there’s a lot of mixing and matching when it comes to casting, did you have to go through that?
It was pretty straightforward. Joe knew what he wanted to do with it, so he handled that, all I did was back him up with my performance.
What’s great about this movie is that it’s like a lot of my favorite 1980’s movies, did Joe have any recommendations of things to watch?
Joe gave us a package of DVDs which I was already familiar with because of Channel 5 on Sunday night showing Assault on Precinct 13 and The Warriors. He gave us them in a package and told us to watch it, trying to get us to understand why he created Attack the Block, and what kind of energy it was supposed to have, as there’s no point in us going in and thinking it would be a big ass Michael Bay film, cause that’s a different type of energy, but just to see how Joe wanted to go with it. The puppetry and sort of old school filmmaking he wanted to go with. He really wanted us to understand that. And we did.
Your character is a lot like a Kurt Russell role in a John Carpenter movie.
That’s a first. That’s great.
But I also think of Swan in The Warriors because one of the great things about the role is you start out as cold and unlikeable, kinda baddass, and the movie lets you know him.
Yeah, Joe was very clear, but at the same time he gave us a lot of freedom with what we wanted to do with the role and working together it was a fifty-fifty thing. So I knew I had to go on a journey. And as an actor at the beginning we rob this woman, me knowing as an actor knowing that I have to – not necessarily explain – but justify why this character’s like this was a big challenge to me and I couldn’t go into not knowing this is what I had to do, and this is what I have to achieve so that meant having to concentrate on what I was saying and doing that was backed up by Joe.
Are John Carpenter and Walter Hill some of your favorite filmmakers?
I’m more of a Spielberg fan. Carpenter won me over with The Thing, I love The Thing so much. I think I’m an all-rounder, one day I’m a fan of Steven Spielberg, and the next I’m loving what Michael Bay’s doing. I take from every avenue.
Do have a dream role?
A film that has been made or hasn’t?
If Marvel wanted to do a Young Avengers film, I would happily play Patriot in that.
Are you a big comic book geek?
What are you reading now?
Avengers Civil War, emotional. And some Manga.
How was working with Joe?
Joe is crazy, he’s naff, he’s fun. He’s a big tall lanky man with a happy bag. He hasn’t told you about his happy bag?
If you see Joe Cornish one day and he’s got a backpack, inside will be blu-rays, action figures, you may see Disneyland. He’s a very happy fun man, a nerd as well.
Did you have a favorite scene to shoot?
The hero run- it was really fun to shoot. I got to run all day, which is good cardio.
It’s your Tom Cruise Moment. Was there an especially difficult scene for you?
A lot of stuff, in the hero run I had to slow down a bit because the aliens couldn’t keep up with me, and they needed to be right on my heels, but then I had to pick up the pace, and that technical stuff of being on your mark and that the shot is on you, yeah. Even the dialog scenes were hard.
It seems like the first alien was practical, but were the bigger aliens CGI, did you have a guy chasing you with a green puppet?
Yeah, we had Terry Notary, who played the monkeys in Planet of the Apes, he was in Avatar, a great movement stunt creature performer, and he came in and was in a suit an awful lot. Joe gave us that, and gave us a platform to give us a performance, because if an alien is on top you of, and you’ve aliens dropped on top of you, they were there all the time. But they were more pleasant than they were on screen (laughs).
As this was your first film, was there a moment where you thought “I got this. I can do this.”
I have to tell you, I’m an extremist when it comes to being determined, so I had to get this, this is no small business, I have to get this, because we were mostly newcomers, Joe included, and it was like a group effort, so to get the thing we have today was out of “we have to get it” and we have to try as hard as possible to get it right. So yeah, there’s little doubts here and there, but overall I couldn’t.
So now you’re stateside.
Yeah, but it’s work. I want to visit Chaplin, get a feel of his thing. I don’t know if you’ve watched Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood, I watched that, it’s about how Hollywood came together, and that got me really excited because the energy here is amazing.
Snake and Swan are obviously critical for this role, but did you incorporate any Chaplin into your performance?
No, but in the future I will. I’m about creating different roles, and I think Chaplin did that brilliantly.
Have you started the auditioning process in America?
It’s about setting up a team here, getting to know the lay of the land, because it’s different over here. Understand it first. I’m a young guy.
Attack the Block opens in limited release July 29. It’s a marvel, check it out.