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John Boyega is in a galaxy of his own making.
The Star Wars star, 30, has been working nonstop since his role in the global franchise catapulted him to superstardom. In a new interview with Men’s Health, the British-born son of Nigerian immigrants opened up about how that work ethic eventually took a toll on his mental health.
Growing up in Peckham, a working-class community in London, Boyega said his ambition was the "battery power" that led him to become a "millionaire by probably 22 or 23," following his role as Finn in the sequel trilogy films Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
However, the pressure to keep that upward momentum turned toxic. "[I] had to say yes to everything," he said of the pressure he placed upon himself. "It's tiring and it's stress, and then dealing with the fact that you eventually have to perform," adding, "There are many different ways careers can exhaust you, but the artistic way is unique."
His work schedule left him feeling "exhausted, frantic, and paranoid," he said. "You're tired by your own dream, what you love."
Being able to talk openly about stress is vital, which is why he says he surrounds himself with trusted friends and family who will listen without judgment.
"You choose your circle in which you can accept how you express yourself. Once you feel that acceptance, they can help you, help motivate you," he said. "That's your safe place as a celebrity. So you can actually complain [about the downsides of fame]."
"I still want to say that s***," he continued. "Like, this is petty, but I want to tell my sisters, 'Oh, this is just how I feel.' And they're going to be like, 'This is petty, but yeah, I hear you.' Whereas in the world it's going to be like, 'You're a f***ing millionaire, you idiot. You know what I had to do this morning, and you're complaining about that?' Let me just chill and complain to the people that understand that I'm not trying to be evil. It's just today, I'm sad. I'm experiencing [this phase of my career] as a more balanced person who is willing to improve. I know it's a weird, random thing to say, but I'm willing to say sorry."
Still, the Breaking star knows how fortunate he is — and the responsibility he has to be a role model. Tapping into that has helped him find the gratitude he needs to push through the hard days.
"You have two options as an artist," he said. "Fixate on your fatigue or acknowledge that you've arrived and express your extreme gratitude. When I was broke and no casting director wanted to see me, if someone said, 'We're going to fly you out tomorrow, take care of your hotel, shoot a Men's Health cover, then fly you back,' I would've cried with joy. Yeah, I just got off a flight, but that's what the rappers sing about. I'm living it."
Using his platform to speak on important causes — like in 2020, when his speech at a Black Lives Matter protest went viral — has welcomed its fair share of "backlash," he says, but for the proud Nigerian actor, it's par for the course.
"Our empowerment is not your demise," he said of Black empowerment. "This is who I am. I’m going to speak about what I believe in and make sure that whatever I do is aimed at supporting the people."
Boyega is no stranger to speaking out about the mistreatment of Black actors in film. Last year, he made headlines after complaining about how actors and characters of color were portrayed in the latest Star Wars movies, telling British GQ that he felt marginalized throughout the filming process.
“What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side," he said at the time. "It's not good. I'll say it straight up."
When reflecting on his past comments, Boyega acknowledged to Men's Health that he hopes his stance can create accountability for leader in the field.
"I'm the one that brought this to the freaking forefront," he explained. “At least the people going into it now, after my time, [they're] cool," pointing out that now, Lucasfilm is "going to make sure you're well supported and at least you [now] go through this franchise knowing that everybody is going to have [your] back. I'm glad I talked out everything at that time."
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