Growing up in South London, “They Cloned Tyrone” star John Boyega would sit on his mattress watching Jamie Foxx act up on “The Jamie Foxx Show” or his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles in “Ray.” So, getting the opportunity to team up with Foxx for the conspiracy caper “They Cloned Tyrone,” was a dream come true.
“That’s someone that I’m very much inspired by,” Boyega told Variety on the red carpet at the American Black Film Festival, where the Netflix movie was the opening night selection. “He’s definitely been one of the major hands behind my career that helped me to get roles, get opportunities and I appreciate it.”
Of course, Boyega has come a long way from watching movies and TV in his bedroom. After breaking onto the scene in “Attack the Block” and then playing Finn in the latest “Star Wars” trilogy,” Boyega has starred as King Ghenzo in the critically acclaimed film “The Woman King,” portrayed a military veteran with PTSD in “Breaking,” and delivered a Golden Globe-winning performance in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology series. But watching Foxx’s process up close made a major impression.
“My lasting memory is him having the ability to read six pages of new dialogue and just say ‘Yeah, I’ve got it.’ I’m like, ‘What? How’d you do that?’ That’s movie star stuff,” Boyega recalled, noting that Foxx was also “incredibly generous to people, always high in energy, very positive.”
In “They Cloned Tyrone,” Boyega, Foxx and Teyonah Parris play “a hustler, a pimp and a pro [who] walk into a conspiracy” after discovering a nefarious government organization. Boyega is a dope boy named Fontaine, while Parris is a working woman called Yo-Yo and Foxx is her pimp Slick Charles.
Foxx was not present for the festival premiere after suffering a “medical complication” in April, which left the star hospitalized. The nature of Foxx’s medical emergency has not been disclosed, but his daughter Corrine Foxx offered an update in May stating that he’s on the road to recovery.
While the cast and crew kept discussion of Foxx’s health to a minimum, honoring Corrine Foxx’s request for “privacy” as her father recovered, producer and Macro founder-CEO Charles D. King told Variety that they were very encouraged to see the star post the film’s official trailer on social media. “We were all very excited, because we know he works his own handles,” King said, who described watching Foxx, Boyega and Parris on set as a “masterclass in acting.”
Producer Stephen “Dr.” Love also offered his thoughts about working with the legendary actor, praising Foxx for his humility and encouraging filmmaker Juel Taylor, a first-time director, not to be intimidated about directing him.
“He was like ‘Direct me. Really give it to me.’ I really respected that,” Love recalled. “He made the whole set of better place. Our thoughts and prayers are with him as he recovers because he’s a legend and we need him.”
Foxx’s absence added a bit of emotional weight to an otherwise joyous occasion as the “Tyrone” crew posed together on Miami Beach, with Boyega and two of his clones — more on that later — Parris, writer-director Juel Taylor, screenwriter Tony Rettenmaier and the producing team of King, Love, Datari Turner, Mark R. Wright, James Lopez and Poppy Hanks representing for the film.
“To be given the chance to screen this movie for the culture, from the culture for me is very, very important,” Boyega said of debuting the movie at ABFF. “But also to see filmmakers come together, other entertainers, industry professionals to basically help promote and amplify this platform that we have. To be a small part of the jigsaw puzzle has always been something that completely shocks me each time.”
When Taylor pitched Boyega on the pulpy premise — which puts a modern (and mysterious) spin on the Blaxploitation genre and its tropes — he described the plot as “a hood Scooby-Doo.” Boyega was in. “I was like, ‘Oh okay, cool. I get it.’ There’s mystery elements in there, lots of comedic elements, but then also there’s a serious message behind all of that, which I love,” he explained.
From the trailer, it’s clear that someone is conducting experiments on the people of the Glen (including some possible clonings) and the characters have reason to be worried about what’s in their fried chicken, hair products and grape drank.
And if you’re puzzled by the plot, Boyega likes it that way. “You stayed confused for Jordan Peele. I think we should keep this going,” he quipped. “Trust me, you will figure everything out.”
Boyega admits that when he sat down to watch the finished product, he was confused too, given it’d been two years since they’d filmed the twisty project. “I can’t lie, I was like, ‘I can’t remember what the film is about either,’” he laughed. “But Juel has done such an incredible job of bringing these characters together, creating cross-genres that other people wouldn’t really think of. I just think he’s a really, really brilliant first time director.”
Okay, now back to the clones. Boyega seemingly appeared on the Miami Beach carpet three times, wearing three different outfits as he posed for photographers and with the cast and crew.
“Apparently there’s some fake JB’s running around here. I just want to know if I’ve got the best outfit,” Boyega joked, referencing one of the “Boyegas” who wore an alligator leather suit. “I heard he came in double leather. I mean, who would do that? Doesn’t make any sense.”
Beyond being a fun gag, the quick change represented the acting challenge Boyega had to accept with this film role, which was something he initially questioned whether he had the ability to do.
“You’re playing four to five different characters, who differ in age ranges, and then you’re exploring a world that I’m not from,” Boyega told reporters about playing the role. “But I love the challenge. Because, as an actor, especially being taught in drama school, our job is to aim for roles that are not ourselves. You have to be selfless for the character. This just gave me that in abundance.”
“They Cloned Tyrone” begins streaming July 21 on Netflix.