The Attack of John Boyega

Start with aliens, teenagers, and one doomed housing project in South London, add a bit of Nick Frost’s signature absurd humor, and you’ve got Attack the Block, a new film by first-time director Joe Cornish. Although the film may be his first, Cornish, a longtime radio DJ, has been working for years behind the scenes with Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. In Attack the Block, Cornish takes a few cues from Wright—most notably, flipping the alien-invasion genre on its head. In this film, there are no armies or battleships to stop the furry fanged creatures; instead, there’s a group of hilarious if disaffected teens, lead by John Boyega as Moses. Boyega, in his first feature role, manages to pull off the steely reserve of a leading man with some underlying teenage angst.

Prior to booking Attack the Block, Boyega was a working actor, juggling performances in three plays to get by. Although he was just starting out, when Boyega first heard about the story of Attack the Block, he was skeptical. “I got the call from agent about the film, which was an alien attack in London,” says Boyega. “I thought that was incredible crap.”

However, after reading the script, Boyega fell in love with the story and after getting the part he “did this big dance in Leicester Square.”

For Boyega, taking on a role that included stunts, pyrotechnics, and acting opposite imaginary creatures was an ideal way to start a film career. “[It] was incredibly fun… I just always compare it to being a kid and running around and imagining things that aren’t there,” says Boyega. “It’s the same thing, just in a professional, controlled environment.”

While this is his first feature role, Boyega has wanted to act ever since he was assigned to play a leopard in elementary school. “I went on all fours and I was playing this leopard, and I gave him character breakdown, and I was doing the work and doing the research and creating a character,” says Boyega. “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.'”

Though Boyega didn’t go to quite the same lengths to play Moses, he did manage to pull off playing an intriguing mix of hero and villain. When the film starts, Moses and his band of friends attempt to mug a nurse. For Boyega, the moment was a key in understanding Moses and his background. “I felt comfortable doing the mugging scene, because Attack the Block justifies their actions,” says Boyega. “He does this bad thing, and you want him to be killed basically—you want the alien to eat him up. But then as the film goes on, you see they’re just kids.”

With Attack the Block as his first film, Boyega still feels as much like a fan as an artist. We talked to him before he attended the Comic-Con screening of Attack the Block last weekend, and he said he hoped he could slip into the crowd and check out the Captain America panel. “I’m a comic reader and a manga fan,” says Boyega. “I think I’m going to do the panels, and then just run away and disappear.” Boyega disappear? It doesn’t seem likely to us.


Slideshow credits
Studio images by Mitchell McCormack; shot at Siren Studios, Los Angeles
Location images by Yann Bean
Styled by Ashley Phan-Weston