John Boyega likely doesn’t get many days off from playing Finn in the Star Wars series, since Episode VIII is currently filming, but when he found out he was being awarded the prestigious Trophée Chopard at Cannes, he knew he wanted to go to the south of France to accept it himself. Boyega gave a brief speech Thursday night in a gorgeous ballroom on the roof of Cannes’s Hotel Martinez, and made sure to tell the room to shake his agent’s hand, “because he’s the reason for this,” Boyega said, gesturing up and down his body to indicate himself. He also provided some comic relief, reluctantly giving his award back to Chopard personnel — “I get to have it, right? Just checking” — and supporting his co-honoree, Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley, by mouthing “You’re doing great!” every time she glanced his way during her speech. I caught up with Boyega afterward to ask him about Episode VIII director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who’s rumored to have a substantial part opposite Boyega in the new installment.
How has your life changed since Episode VII? Can you walk around London?
Yeah! I was in Duty Free a few hours ago.
Really? What did you get?
I got some socks because I forgot my socks, and some moisturizer. [Laughs.] So it’s been fine. I get stopped sometimes; sometimes I don’t. But, you know, with that being said, there are still two more Star Wars movies!
But you must be having the time of your life.
It’s a collaboration of all those things. It’s fun, it’s hard work, it makes you happy, it challenges you, it’s all of those things mixed into one, but fundamentally because of the great group that we have that I’m working with, it’s a great experience.
There’s a woman in Episode VIII, Kelly Marie Tran, who’s going to be breaking barriers like you did in The Force Awakens.
[Boyega beams and nods vigorously.]
She’ll be the first Asian person to play a major Star Wars character, but no one knows anything about her. What can you tell us? What’s she like?
I love her. I love her. I think she’s fantastic. But she’ll tell her own story. I feel it’s always weird or wrong for someone the world hasn’t met, for me to come and start talking about her.
Not even to say what it’s like working with her?
She’s great. She’s freaking great, and I love her. I freaking love her. She’s fantastic. Seriously. She’s changed a lot in terms of perspective on just chemistry and industry. She’s a real cool girl.
She’s changed you?
Yeah, yeah! Her outlook. It’s a friendship thing in the sense of you meet someone and you’re just like, “I vibe with you. I feel like I’ve known you for years.” And that’s a very, very good thing.
And you’ll be working opposite each other most of the movie, right?
Girl, you know I can’t tell you that! [Laughs.] I don’t know what I can and can’t say. [It depends on] what beeps in my head whenever I … [He indicates that he has an explosive device implanted in his temple]. But she’s fully in the movie, she’s a great character, and I can’t wait for you guys to be introduced to her.
And just to be the first Asian in a major role. You were kind of in a similar position in the last episode.
Oh yeah! And that’s why I’m just here to enjoy the show. [He leans back in his chair.] Oh yes, diversity!
It also reminds me of when you worked with Daisy Ridley. She was totally unknown, whereas you had some credits under your belt.
Only slightly. I’d done Attack the Block. People knew of me.
I’ve heard a rumor, which you can refute, that Tom Hardy may have come on set to do a day as a Stormtrooper who slaps your ass.
Who slaps my ass? Wow! Did Tom say that?
You know, just like how Daniel Craig came on as a Stormtrooper last time …
Okay. Okay. Next time I go on set I’m going to release a helmet and see if Tom Hardy’s in there!
How is working with Rian Johnson different than J.J. Abrams?
Rian is his own man. You can’t compare the two. They’re of the same ilk, creatively, both talented. But two different guys, man. I really, really dig Rian, to step in like that. I hope we get to work together on something in the future, because he’s got a great artistic eye. He’s not Hollywood at all. This is a big Hollywood blockbuster film, but you know what I’m saying, with him behind the energy, you don’t feel like you’re on a Hollywood set. You feel like you’re in the midst of friends and people who want to work on something creatively great.
We’re obsessed with Adam Driver, because it’s so funny that little kids who love Kylo Ren are going to watch him on Girls someday.
It’s just a convergence of the same story. He’s fantastic. He’s great.
Will you see movies in Cannes before you leave?
I wish I could. I’m leaving tomorrow.
What about at home — do you have any time to do anything other than play Finn?
Oh, I go home and go to sleep. I. Go. To. Sleep!