In the last decade, John Boyega has established himself as one of the brightest acting talents in the country, appearing in everything from the mega-budget Star Wars sequels to Small Axe, Steve McQueen's groundbreaking series of films for the BBC. For his latest project, he produces and stars in Breaking, which tells the story of Marine Corps veteran Brian Brown-Easley – a real-life figure who was involved in a tragic incident after trying to rob an Atlanta bank in 2017.


Brown-Easley had been left in financial disarray after having his monthly disability check of $892 withheld by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and one of the things that instantly attracted Boyega to the role was that he didn't seem to fit the mold of someone you'd necessarily expect to commit a bank heist.

"I was intrigued by someone who's doing [something] so violent like robbing a bank but saying please and thank you," he explains to ahead of the film's digital release. "I was like, wait, what is this? I thought in moments like this I'd be playing stereotypical emotional beats to help suit a bank heist or whatever it is, and it was none of that. And I think that's quite challenging and something that's interesting to me."

He adds that while it was challenging to get into the mindset of a character in such a dire situation, the work done by first-time director Abi Damaris Corbin was vital in giving him a helping hand, as was the involvement of Brown-Easley's ex-wife Jessica.

"When you approach the role, you're like 'Bloody hell how do I understand the character?'" he says."But thank god that we were working with Brian Brown-Easley's ex-wife, and we also worked with other members of the family. Abi had a lot of documentation, a lot of research documents that a normal civilian doesn't get access to – she really went deep diving into who this man truly was. And the combination of that is what really, really helped me to get a true idea into how I was going to portray this man."

More like this

The film has a real element of intensity to it, largely brought about by the fact that much of the action – including more or less all of Boyega's scenes – unfolds within the four walls of the bank, where Brian is holding several employees hostage and is later involved in a tense police stand-off. Boyega says that the experience was much like doing theatre, and credits Corbin with giving him "incredible freedom to be able to move through the space". And there was one scene in particular that he says will stay with him for a long time.

"The scene where Brian is in the bathroom, praying with his daughter was just... Abi really, really helped me out by making it a closed set," he explains. "I'm very thankful to our crew and every member on set that was there, because I felt like everybody was on my side, and was looking out for me. Like, we can't be discussing TV and sports while this guy's getting into character and stuff. And there was just an immense amount of respect and love on that set, specifically for that scene as it was very emotional and intimate. So I will never forget that."

Something else that will live long in the memory for Boyega was the chance to work with Michael K Williams, the star of The Wire who has a key role as negotiator Eli Bernard in the film and tragically passed away less than a month after shooting wrapped.

"It was incredible for me, especially being a fan of his previous work," he says. "This was a personal request, you know – when you transition from an actor you have to put the producer's hat on and you have to kind of bow down to your colleagues and say give us the opportunity. You really hope that actors of his caliber will trust you enough and say, 'Cool, let me come down and collaborate with you.' And Michael did just that and I'll always be appreciative."

Boyega is also full of praise for his director Corbin. In the film's press notes, producer Ashley Levinson likens her approach to that of a young Kathryn Bigelow, and Boyega – who worked with the Oscar-winning director on her 2017 film Detroit – believes that comparison to be apt.

"[They have] the same dedication to art and dedication to the immersion of actors into the story," he says. "I remember Kathryn wanted the experience for actors to be as immersive as possible, for you to feel like you are in the world, not to come and act like the characters, but to be the character and go through that journey. [I] definitely, definitely see those traits in Abi."

As well as Bigelow, Boyega has worked with a number of the biggest-name directors in the industry – from Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams on the Star Wars sequels to filmmakers such as Steve McQueen and Gina Prince Bythewood on other projects. And this ability to mix it up by working with established directors and fresh new voices like Corbin is one he relishes.

"You've got to remember, everything is an investment – the guys at the top are not gonna live forever," he says with a smile. "So it's great to be a part of the transition of new filmmakers and new directors as well as going for people who are more established. And that is exciting, you get original ideas that are fresh and dynamic and get exposed to new fresh voices. I love it."

This might have been Boyega's first time collaborating with Corbin, but he has rather more history with the film's screenwriter Kwame Kwei-Armah – an acclaimed playwright from London who is making his first foray into film writing (he's also attached to collaborate with Spike Lee on an upcoming musical about the origins of Viagra). Boyega's very first professional acting job came in Kwei-Armah's play Seize the Day all the way back in 2009, and the actor loved the experience of reuniting with the man who helped set him on the path to stardom.

"It was beautiful," he says. "It felt like coming full circle reuniting with Kwame – especially being that we worked together at the very beginning, literally that was my first job. So it is nice to get to that point and to build that trust. Kwame and Abi wrote the hell out of the script, it was seriously enjoyable reading it while going through the process and digesting it. So I'm excited at the idea of working with him again because it is something special when you can find that. But then it's cool to just even think back to how that [collaboration] started from the beginning of my career and now we're reaping the benefits now."

Attack the Block, John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker

Speaking of the beginning of his career, Boyega also has imminent plans to return to one of the roles that first established him as a film star. A sequel to Joe Cornish's 2011 south London sci-fi Attack the Block was first confirmed back in 2021, and the actor is taking a hands-on role when it comes to developing the project alongside Cornish. Although there's still a way to go until they'll be ready to begin production, the pair have been working on the story and script and Boyega is clearly excited about the prospect of reprising his role as Moses.

"The idea of coming back to London, shooting this movie, and revisiting this character –it just fills me with joy," he says. "After years and years of experience, I know myself and Joe have been through so much change and growth since the first movie. So tackling the story now is just so interesting and exciting."

He adds: "It just feels like a treat, a nice treat for myself. Like honestly, sometimes I like to see actors where they've revisited a story because it's something that they hold dear in their heart. And it's good to know that we have an audience out there that is waiting for this as well, and a new audience that is going to be exposed to all the madness. And I just can't wait to be a Brit in something again!"

As for what's next, Boyega will be appearing alongside Teyonah Parris, Kiefer Sutherland and Jamie Foxx in the Netflix sci-fi comedy They Cloned Tyrone, and he teases that "there will be a few more announcements" in the not-so-distant future. For now, though, his hope is that audiences will watch Breaking and take something valuable away from it.

"I'm no preacher, I don't expect you to come and see my movies and change your whole life," he says. "But I do think it is important that art remains a mirror to life, a mirror to prospective imagination and entertainment – and I think definitely Breaking falls into that."

Breaking is available on digitial download from Monday 27th March 2023. Check out more of our Film coverage, or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.