John Boyega On 'Pacific Rim Uprising,' 'Blade,' And More [Interview]

Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost cast a long shadow in 2013's Pacific Rim. He was a military man willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good. But Jake Pentecost is not like his father. In Pacific Rim Uprising, Jake is a scavenger who's happy to ignore his father's sacrifice – until he's thrust into battle himself.

For 25-year-old John Boyega, Jake is different from Finn (Star Wars), Moses (Attack the Block), or any character he's played yet. At the movie's press junket earlier this month, I sat down with Boyega at the Universal Studios lot to talk about Jake's swagger, the notion of legacy, the challenges of producing a sequel of this size, and his personal favorite ice cream toppings (it'll make sense when you see the movie).

John Boyega Interview

This movie deals with the concept of legacy. As an actor, does that idea of legacy factor in to the choices you make when picking projects to be a part of?

Definitely. Specifically, artistic legacy is something artists in general find important. That quantitative release, what it does to the audience, how they perceive your performance, all that kind of stuff. It matters to me, definitely. Being involved in sci-fi, and anything I've done, really, has been a blatant and purposeful decision.

Jake has a swagger to him that we haven't really seen from you before. Was that a particular aspect of the character that you connected with?

I loved, loved Jake's swagger and the freedom of Jake. I wanted to implement that, because it's so important in the writing that this came across as, 'This guy is a rebel.' My thing coming in was, 'How do we layer this? How do you make it specific? An individual who doesn't care what anybody thinks of him, and make him free?' Jake embodies a free human being. He just doesn't care.

You not only starred in this movie, but you produced it as well. What was that experience like for you?

It was a fantastic experience. I've always been the type to watch the special features of a Blu-ray disc or to jump into B-roll to see how it actually works on the set. I'm always intrigued by the various different departments that come together on a production like this, and the producing role, guarding and then guiding a project from its birth all the way up to its death on Blu-ray (laughs) was something I always wanted to be a part of.

How early did you come on? I know Guillermo del Toro wrote a few drafts very early in the process.

Yeah, I wasn't involved when Guillermo del Toro was involved as a director, but once he stepped down and was producing and they hired Steve DeKnight, Steve DeKnight had given a few drafts and I came on board. We were still going through refining the parts and the roles. All the way through to working with pre-vis for the CG element, and then going to costumes, all the way into marketing. We're still at it now!

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome from a producing standpoint?

The time. Time. (Sighs) It really felt like Han Solo was (laughs) establishing this whole thing. 'Don't tell me the odds!' Because Lord, the odds were up against us in terms of how much time we had. Of course, casting gets really complicated when actors are tied to a schedule to do other projects. So you're going around location scouting, trying to make all these things work out in a set time, and for me, it just got real crazy.

star wars the last jedi finn and rose

Star Wars: The Last Jedi sees Finn essentially go from somebody who's running away to being a Resistance leader. Han Solo became a general when he stopped running in Return of the Jedi. Have you talked to J.J.? Can you tease the next step for Finn?

I really don't know, but I'm going to try to meet him on my trip to L.A. before I head to China just for him to talk me through what his plans are, because I'm so intrigued to hear what he wants to do.

The Force Awakens didn't feature a romantic relationship between Finn and Rey, and I think a lot of people loved that. But it seems like those same fans now really want to see Finn in a romance, whether it's with Rey or Rose –

(Both at the same time): – or Poe.

Or Chewbacca, or anyone. You guys are going savage! (laughs)

(laughs) Why do you think that is, and who would you like to see Finn end up with?

Because Finn is the one character, for me, who has a distinct, unique relationship with everybody. He had this kind of banterous relationship with Han, then he has this loving relationship with Rey. Now with Rose, it feels like he has this great relationship. Personally? Rey. Yeah, Rey.

I think some people will be happy to hear you say that. I want to get back to Uprising for a second. A lot of this movie involves your character inside a jaeger piloting this thing, and I'm wondering how did you go about differentiating the intensity levels of the different scenes that you're in so it didn't all feel like a blur when you're in this enclosed set?

Pre-visual animation. That's what helped us schedule what we were filming on the interior scenes. What we would do is, Steve would plan out and we would roughly animate the CG world, bring in a copy on an iPad to show the actors before they do their parts. It's very specific. Like anime, the fight moves the story forward. You're not just there to fight. You're fighting specifically for a reason and in a certain style. So all of the actors had to be on top of the intel. So Steve would show us, say, 'This is what's going on, this is the right fist that you punch, jaeger's coming back to smash your face,' and all the actors would just respond.

When you signed on to this movie, did you sign on for a sequel? Will we see Jake Pentecost in Pacific Rim 3 if this does well enough?

Yeah, yeah, exactly. If it does well enough, I'll see to it.

You mentioned that the timing was the biggest challenge as a producer. What was the biggest challenge for you as an actor?

Nothing. (laughs)

Really? It was just easy for you? (laughs)

Yeah man, it was great. I love Jake. I love playing Jake. It was fun, always finding new, interesting ways of playing him. New ideas. Amping up his arrogance and cockiness was something that I really enjoyed doing. It was a good old time.

What kind of ice cream toppings do you prefer in your own life?

I mean, wish I had cookie dough. Cookie dough's enough for me. I'm not going to add no sprinkles, but Jake – he likes sprinkles.

Blade - John Boyega

Did you happen to see the fan art of you as Blade that was making the rounds this morning? I've got it right here. (Shows him the photo)

[laughs] Oh wait, is this Boss Logic?

It is.

Oh yeah, my guy. What the hell? That's a bit mad. A bit young, though. Young Blade.

If you could choose any character to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who would it be?

I really and truly don't know. Because when I think about Blade, I think, 'Whoa, eh, Wesley [Snipes] is coming back?' We would all love to see Wesley come back one more time before we move on to anybody else. I don't know. Good Lord. I think the Marvel universe is doing well right now.

A lot of times, actors start production companies to tell stories they aren't being offered elsewhere. From a producing standpoint, are there any passion projects you're excited about?

Yeah, definitely, and developing now, but I can't speak about it.

Fair enough. Maybe I'll catch up with you to talk about one of those when they get made.

Yeah! Definitely.


Pacific Rim Uprising arrives in theaters on March 23, 2018.