The role that led to a transformational year for John Boyega

John Boyega looks to the side in a scene from Steve McQueen's "Red, White and Blue"
John Boyega portrays Leroy Logan in “Red, White and Blue,” part of the “Small Axe” series directed by Steve McQueen.
(Paul Calver/Amazon Prime Video)

Though he is still best known to wider audiences for his role as the Stormtrooper-turned-resistance fighter in the recent trilogy of “Star Wars” films starting with 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” actor John Boyega has gotten some of the best notices of his career for his role in “Red, White and Blue,” part of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology.

Boyega, who won a Golden Globe award for his performance, sat for a recent conversation on “The Envelope” podcast. In “Red, White and Blue” he plays Leroy Logan, a real-life London police officer who was one of the few people of color on the Metropolitan Police when he joined in the early 1980s. As Logan tried to improve relations between the community and police, he found conflict on both sides.


But 2020 was also a transformational year for Boyega off-screen. He spoke out about what he saw as the mistreatment of his character in the “Star Wars” films and gave a powerful speech at a protest in London last summer as “Red, White and Blue” was wrapping production.

So for Boyega, the role of someone trying to change an institution from the inside came as the actor has been increasingly speaking out and trying to change an institution from the inside.

“I just think that it’s strange the way sometimes reality and art can spark these kind of conversations,” said Boyega. ”But what was funny, Leroy as a character was already established before that. So the relationship between those two things, I just think that’s what naturally happens with life sometimes. It just added up and lined up in a way that we could have never tracked.

“So for me, it’s still strange that kind of happened around the same time,” he said. “Definitely it wasn’t me. I didn’t control that s—. But that’s just how it went down.”

Boyega had not planned on speaking at the Justice for Black Lives protest in London’s Hyde Park last summer. When asked to speak he initially thought he would only say a few words to keep the energy in the crowd going as people waited for the main speakers, but the moment swept him away in a torrent of passion and emotion.


“I was just going to say ‘Hi,’” said Boyega, “‘I hope you guys are good. We’re all here for the same cause. Let’s just keep our target of protest for the next few hours and then hopefully our voices are heard’ kind of thing. But then when I stood up and I saw those faces and the energy, it was just different. I was just like, you know what? Let me just say what’s really on my mind.”

John Boyega sits inside a car in a scene from "Red, White and Blue"
John Boyega as Leroy Logan in “Red, White and Blue,” part of the “Small Axe” series directed by Steve McQueen.
(Paul Calver/Amazon Prime Video)

Boyega has also been learning how to use his platform as an actor and producer to speak out and attempt to open doors for those previously left out by the entertainment industry, both in the U.S. and the U.K.

It doesn’t always come from the strategic thought of a platform and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes just because you’re pissed off, sick and tired of being in certain scenarios and situations,” Boyega said. “It’s scary to express on it because then it’s easy for people to see you as a liar, to see you as somebody who wants energy to be focused on themselves. But then you think about a lot of these big social issues. If that one person doesn’t express about their own individual situation, how do we then have a conversation that is guided by real nuance, so we can have the conversation the right way?

“But as an actor, because of the evident privilege, it’s hard for you to talk about things that rub you the wrong way and has negatively affected you” he said. “You got people saying, ‘Shut up man, you’re an actor, enjoy your money and have fun.’ So I guess in maneuvering that kind of comprehension, I just needed to figure that out. But I can’t lie. It worked. You know, a lot more people in the industry are now talking about it, openly too, and I love it. I think it’s good when it’s not an elephant in the room.”

The interview with Boyega happened just ahead of the recent announcement that the actor would be reuniting with writer-director Joe Cornish for a sequel to “Attack the Block,” which was Boyega’s screen debut.

On 2021 marking the film’s 10th anniversary and 10 years for him as a screen actor, Boyega said, “When I think back with ‘Attack the Block,’ I was so determined on what I wanted to do and I had all sorts of plans and a lot of those plans worked out. But it just reminds me of the journey, the importance of being humble. For me, humility is an extra spice. Humility is about knowing how far you still have to go.

“So I’m still around,” said Boyega. “I can’t wait for the next 10 years to see what that growth is like, but it’s really, really cool to just see that. Wow, you know, 10 years. I’ve done a whole decade.”

Coming up to end this season on “The Envelope” podcast is a conversation with filmmaker Janicza Bravo about her new film “Zola.” Other recent interviews on the show include Kate Winslet on “Mare of Easttown,” Elizabeth Olsen on “Wandavision” and Barry Jenkins on “The Underground Railroad.”

Subscribe via Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes post every Wednesday.

‘The Underground Railroad’

Where: Amazon Prime

When: Any time

Rated: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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