It's hard to define the brilliant British alien-chase movie Attack The Block in one line, but we've been calling it The Wire with aliens for some time now. And it turns out the film's star agrees with us.
In our exclusive interview with star John Boyega (who wonderfully captures the threatening corner kid, Moses), the actor delves into how he mined the beloved and bleak series The Wire for inspiration. Plus he shares his ideas for Attack the Block 2. Minor spoilers ahead.
What's it like playing a character that the audience basically hates from the start?
John Boyega: I play the character Moses. Moses was introduced to me as a strong and silent character, who rides a BMX dirt bike, not much character detail at all. But through reading the script, because it was so well done, I knew that even though Moses didn't speak much [and he didn't express himself through dialogue] I knew this whole performance would have to carry Moses, and make him more understandable [rather than] speaking out. Because that's not him.
That led me to watch season four of The Wire. I looked at characters from season four: Michael, Marlo, Omar, Stringer Bell. And I knew that these character were based on subtlety, they're based on silence. Even in their line of work, being drug dealers, they don't speak much, they're very wise even in their line of work. I knew that Moses had the same kind of brain, just without the big-ass drug deals. It was amazing to see Moses start off as a thug, and then change into a normal human being. I decided to strategically pick what scenes I would show different side of Moses. Sometimes, when a character cries in a film, it's no biggie, right?
But I wanted the audience to really be impacted when Moses started to show emotion. I wanted them to feel that. So I started off with a [different] energy and kept building up and building up, until you get him as a boy, as a human being, as a good guy. It was a long process, but it was really fun.
Was there one character from The Wire that you really thought Moses had a lot in common with?
Michael. Michael, played by Tristan Wilds. Oh man, I remember watching Tristan Wilds' performance in The Wire and thinking, "Oh my gosh, that's kind of like Moses." There's a scene between Michael and Marlo, and Marlo's giving out money to the kids on the corners. And Michael says, "I don't want it, I'm okay, thank you." So silent, so stern, an internal performance. He had it locked, boom. I thought that was a lot like Moses, and I based it on that. Obviously he doesn't say much, but when he has those close-ups he only has to look at you, and you can tell what he's saying. He doesn't need any dialog whatsoever. He could go through the whole season saying nothing, and you would know what's going on. I love that.
Did you have to work with a tennis ball on a stick when you were fighting the aliens?
No, the aliens were there. It was practical FX. Joe Cornish is a big 80s movies fan, I'm a big 80s movies fan. Although I wasn't born in that era, we get the 80s movies Sunday night after church on channel 5. I always loved watching The Goonies, The Warriors, Assault on Precinct 13 and all those films. If you had any aliens on set in any films during those days they would always be practical puppetry. We had a wonderful guy called Terry Notary who was in a suit. Who you will see in action in Rise of the Planet of the Apes — if you see the monkeys running around, that's him. He was a fighter in Avatar, he was in The Incredible Hulk and The Silver Surfer. So he was on set in costume with animatronics controlling the alien's mouth. He had the full costume on, running around on stilts on all fours, he was amazing. It was scary, but it added a human element to it, it made genuine fear.
Do you think the director Joe Cornish showed that neighborhood pretty accurately?
Hmmm... Well to a certain extent, and the borderline being in that there were aliens in the film and it is a scifi film. 85 percent of it for me. Actually, 95% of it for me is an alien film. It's slightly heightened because it's a fictional film. It's not real. It's not a documentary. So, yeah, to a certain extent.
Do you have plans for Attack the Block 2 in your head, what do you think happens to Moses next?
Yea, I had one scene in my head for it, for Joe, and I told Joe. You've got Moses on his peddle bike and then you go to the back and you see 800 kids behind him peddling across Westminster Bridge, and that area is where the Millennium Wheel is, where Big Ben is, and you crane up, and see big meteors and they're red and they're big. They're bigger, they're badder and just a black out.
And now you guys have to teach everybody else how to fight them?
Yea, yea. Except it's a worldwide thing, it's a London-wide thing. But we'd have to find reason as to why the soldiers don't get involved. That's the only tricky part. I'm sure if there were big red meteors flying through Big Ben…
Well just let that be a thing in the movie. They haven't figured it out yet.
Yeah, yeah, a Hollywood twist. [Laughter]
What's next for you? More scifi?
Well I've been getting scripts at least on scifi, but I'm not reading the same exact thing. I don't like to do the same thing. I think the magic of actors is when you see them in another role and you see them in the other, but one of them played completely different. I love that, so I'm very much connected with that and chose that path, but people want me to lead bigger armies, wherever that be on Earth or somewhere else, that's a clue. Whatever's next, it should be good.
Thank you, you really scared the crap out of me in the beginning of this film.
Aw, thank you! Have a cookie [hands me a cookie].
If you haven't seen Attack The Block already, GO SEE IT THIS WEEKEND. There's a limited release this weekend. It's a pearl in a sea of re-hashed alien dreck.