Known worldwide for his role as Finn in the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy, Afro-British actor, John Boyega, has starred in films that include the cult sci-fi film “Attack the Block,” the racially charged drama “Detroit,” and his award-winning role in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology series.
Samantha Ofole-Prince caught up with the actor to talk about his latest film “Breaking” about a financially strapped Marine veteran who resorts to crime. Based on a true story, the film brings to the big screen the story of Brian Brown-Easley, a 33-year-old former lance corporal in the Marine Corps who walked into an Atlanta bank in 2017 and took several people hostage after missing his disability payment.
1. Hollywood loves war movies, but “Breaking” isn’t your typical war drama and although it is based on a true story, it is also an action-heist flick. What was it about the script that sparked your interest?
I was really moved by Brian’s story and the way that the script went deeper into what was behind the decisions that Brian made. Looking at all the things he faced, with the VA and with his own mental health, I was so emotionally moved to want to portray somebody like this.
2. When an actor is playing a fictional character, they usually have creative license to invent whatever mannerisms and traits they see fit. In “Breaking”, you are depicting a real person, was it tough to portray?
It is such a nuanced and a transformative role and for me, Abi [director] gave me a crash course into Brian’s life—such a high-quality influx of research, documentation, pictures, images and I felt very invigorated by the conversations I had with Abi and Kwame [writer], when they were telling me about their creative vision behind it. It was challenging and very emotional for me.
3. Your portrayal of Brian Brown-Easley onscreen is done with care and compassion, what was the preparation like, and do you look back and feel you could have done anything differently?
Brian’s emotional and mental state is shifting throughout the film and the cameras were catching things that I don’t even remember. Catching certain things that I do as Brian on screen. And that in itself, honestly, is what the magic of storytelling is about as I had a whole journey to take Brian through, in several different emotional stages, with just the hour or two of screen time that we have. I was just really excited that the first priority was to make a character study, rather than an action-heist movie.
4. “Breaking” also features the late Michael K. Williams (“The Wire,” “Lovecraft Country) in his final performance as a hostage negotiator that talks Brian through his ordeal. What was it like working with him?
Working with him was just brilliant. He was fantastic to work with. He was a phenomenal person and I’m so grateful for the experience. I have been a really big follower of his work and I actually made a personal request for Michael to be in this movie.
5. One of the many strengths of “Breaking” is its depiction of the VA experience. What are your hopes for this film and what do you want audiences to take away?
As an actor, I kind of give birth to the performance and then I let it go into the world. In this case, I really, really hope that the world outside of this film changes for the better. That would be the ultimate tribute to Brian’s story.
Marking the feature directorial debut of Abi Damaris Corbin who co-wrote the film with playwright/director Kwame Kwei-Armah “Breaking” releases in theaters nationwide August 26th.
by Samantha Ofole-Prince