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John Boyega Says ‘Detroit’ Was a Bigger Career Break Than ‘Star Wars’

The star of Kathryn Bigelow's daring new film is hoping it will set the stage for more of the work he's eager to do. (But he still loves "Star Wars.")

“Detroit”

For most actors looking to break into Hollywood, landing the lead role in a massive franchise like “Star Wars” is the pinnacle, the big dream. But John Boyega has other dreams.

While the British actor first caught the industry’s attention with his feature debut in Joe Cornish’s 2011 indie sci-fi hit “Attack the Block,” he’s undoubtedly best known for his starring role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as wide-eyed former stormtrooper Finn. Along with Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, Boyega’s role in the expanding series is the kind of star-making gig that most actors his age would kill to get.

But as much as he loves “Star Wars,” Boyega is adamant about the importance of his newest film, Kathryn Bigelow’s fact-based “Detroit.” To him, this is the big one. “This particular movie has been the biggest movie of my career so far,” Boyega told IndieWire in a recent interview. “The biggest role of my career so far has been in ‘Detroit.'”

Yes, he’s counting “Star Wars.”

Of course, Boyega still has plenty of affection for the series — he’s particularly excited about this year’s “The Last Jedi,” and spoke in glowing terms about director Rian Johnson — but he’s passionate about how “Detroit” has opened him up to a new world of possibilities. “I really felt a shift and transition with this project, just in terms of the kind of roles now that I feel I’m ready for, through this,” Boyega said. “It’s now exposed to me to several different things in my mind. It’s just huge to me. Very, very big to me.”

Boyega appears to be a big believer in the power of timing, and he’s not eager to pit his films (or his directors) against each other, simply because they’ve all come down the pipe at the right time for him. But, as he put it, “At this time, it is pivotal to do other things and have variety.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Walt Disney Studios

“Craft is number one to me, the constant elevation of craft and perfection of craft is something that has been on my mind,” he said. “Just because you have a steady paycheck, doesn’t mean that your skills should kind of slack.”

Boyega credited Bigelow for putting that kind of work at the center of her production. “She’s a director that serves you in that purpose of getting your skillset right, doing a good, quality movie with great exposure,” Boyega said.

“Detroit” also offered Boyega the rare opportunity for “finding purpose” in both professional and personal arenas. “As a black man, you’ve got to think about so many things when approaching such a role,” he said, “and this in itself gave me purpose. I think that just makes it the biggest movie of my career so far.”

Boyega, however, is not immune to the controversy surrounding the film, and while he’s been outspoken in his defense of Bigelow, he’s also excited about the timely possibilities of the feature. He wants people to talk about it. “Another thing that makes this movie so huge for me is because it’s so controversial,” he said. “I’ve never done [a film] that handles an issue that is a hot topic right now.”

He laughed. “It kind of takes the edge off of ‘Star Wars’ a bit, because you’re like, ‘We’re shooting lasers and flying through space, I think they’re gonna be fine with that,'” he said. “You just hope that people get the message and they get the intention. With ‘Star Wars,’ I am sure that people are going to enjoy it.”

While Boyega has yet to announce any new post-“Detroit” gigs — “The Last Jedi” will arrive later this year, presumably to be followed by a role in “Star Wars: Episode IX,” should this latest journey to a galaxy far, far away pan out for fan favorite Finn — the actor is making moves into other sides of the industry, thanks to a producing credit on the upcoming “Pacific Rim 2,” in which he will also star. So he’s not done with big movies anytime soon.

“Detroit” is currently in limited release, it will expand nationally on Friday, August 4.

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