John Boyega’s latest film, Netflix’s They Cloned Tyrone, feels like it was invented in a Mad Libs lab. An homage to Blaxploitation films that came before, it’s a pulpy crime caper. A mind-bending mashup of sci-fi hijinks and 70s-era funk with some Nancy Drew callbacks thrown in.
Following a trio of troublemakers trying to uncover a bigger conspiracy that threatens their neighborhood, the film sees Boyega playing a drug-dealing criminal forced to team up with a slick-talking pimp (Jamie Foxx, at his comedic best) and a street-smart sex worker (an equally wonderful Teyonah Parris) to take down a government agency intent on controlling Black folks in their community.
Forget the Kool-Aid, these villains are infiltrating the churches, the barber shops, and the chicken joints – weaponizing elements of Black culture for their own nefarious gains while replicating stereotypes that keep people stuck in the same destructive cycles. It’s a real mindf*ck, filled with absurdist comedy, needle drops, and plenty of soul. And it gives Boyega — a sci-fi star in his own right with a Star Wars franchise under his belt — a chance to clone himself, playing multiple versions of a stone-faced anti-hero that’s far removed from his own charming, charismatic persona.
We chatted with Boyega about finding something “fresh” in director Juel Taylor’s script, Attack the Block sequel updates, and why he’s ready for romance (on-screen).
I’m laughing. Just imagine the Scooby-Doo characters but they’re Black and have our culture and a whole different kind of worldview. But he also spoke about how interesting [it was]. He would go through these ploys that made it quite eccentric at times — funny and slapstick, but at the same time with some cool social commentary. So I was like, ‘Okay, this is going to be something I haven’t seen before.’ In an industry where, you know, you read scripts a lot of the times [that] just touch on things again and again. This just was fresh.
What about this film’s social commentary feels different?
Fontaine is born into a cycle that he can’t really control, which influences his choices. Whether you are stuck in an environment or have limited options — that can influence who you become. Exploring that was just intriguing. It just makes you think about what freedom truly is.
What’s the secret to vibing with Jamie Foxx? How do you make a good first impression?
I don’t even know if there’s a secret. I think that’s all him. If you’ve got a guy that likes people, who’s naturally intrigued by you and your talent, who’s a supporter too, I think that that helps. But then also it’s just the vibe of everybody. It wasn’t just us actors, it was the crew too. Everyone just was willing to work but at the same time didn’t mind busting a smile, having a conversation. I think it just created a nice vibe on set. I compare it to my experience on Attack the Block because I had genuine fun on that. This felt that way because everybody was just so in tune, they could relate to each other.
There’s a lot of dark humor in this movie. Were you worried about anything going too far?
I’m really into dark comedy, especially comedy that makes you reflect on yourself. I’m not really that sensitive. And I have strict rules about artistic expression. Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh for yourself. Juel Taylor just made it very digestible to me. And once I understood his vision, I can’t lie, the jokes could have gone anywhere. If Jamie Foxx is saying it, hell, I’m probably going to laugh.
The movie finds ways to experiment on this community through things they use and consume every day. If someone was going to do that to John Boyega, what would they use?
What’s this thing I’m on now for my skincare? It’s a coffee scrub – for exfoliation. I think if they put it in the coffee scrub, I’ll be pissed. I’m using that every day now, just to make me glow.
You’ve said you had strict rules on the jobs you would take when you were starting out. Have those changed with this added fame and opportunity?
No, not at all. Because I still wouldn’t be in EastEnders. I just like being involved in characters that are farfetched, far from who I am in real life. I just think that’s interesting. I think it makes me feel fulfilled as an actor because it does require a lot of work, a lot of commitment. And I don’t know, I feel more alive when I’m expressing my art in that way. So I would still go for projects much like They Cloned Tyrone that offer me the opportunity to just explore my range.
What’s your stance on where the industry is now, and where it’s headed in terms of diversity and opportunity?
I feel like this movie specifically is a breath of fresh air. I mean now we’re in a climate of strife where people are trying to go for what is fair. And obviously, best of luck on that. But I do think it definitely brings those conversations to the surface. It’s an ever-changing industry. We have far to go, but it’s great to see that projects like this can get made and it’s great to see that people like Juel Taylor can get an opportunity. A first-time director working with Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris, that’s a big deal and that definitely reflects on some of the changes coming and you just hope for more and that there’s a consistency in that. Not only to make money but to give birth and fresh air to new directors with fresh perspectives and interesting stories.
There’s a photo of you horseback riding that was taken for a men’s fragrance campaign a while ago and ever since, fans have been asking when John Boyega will get to be in a romance movie.
[laughs] Oh, I can do a Bridgerton! Why not? I would love to do a romance piece. That would be something that I’d really, really enjoy.
Has there been any movement with the Attack the Block sequel?
You know Joe Cornish is still in the lab about to hand off a cool little draft, so we’re going to wait to go through the process and do some writing. But we catch up whenever I’m in town in London and we’ve had a good few creative talks. I know they’re out there doing their research. So the same way they’ve done for Attack The Block, going out to talk to some kids … there’s been a lot of time and change, culturally. So it requires just a lot of research. And we’re giving this movie true development so that we can present the best sequel possible. But yeah, we are still in the lab.
‘They Cloned Tyrone’ is current streaming via Netflix.