John Boyega is aware of the comparisons. He had to be – the actor is active on social media, and as his Smash Director Abi Damaris Corbin points out, it was even trending on Twitter at one point: “John is Denzel.”
Just like the 30 year old Star Wars alum’s fervent performance in real-life dramatic thriller Smash is reminding people of Oscar-winning living legend Denzel Washington (particularly Washington’s performance in the similarly-themed 2002 film John Q). Boyega stars as Brian Brown Easley, a former Marine who has taken bank tellers hostage and threatened to blow up the building over frustrations over withheld disability payments to veterans.
“I’m not involved in that conversation, man,” Boyega told Yahoo Entertainment when asked how he feels about having his job called Denzellian. “If that’s what they see, then it’s a blessing. Denzel is one of the best actors in the industry. And I’ve just started. So for me, I don’t have the time or inclination to be able to engage in such a conversation.
“I will definitely thank God for this opportunity.”
His co-star Nicole Beharie (Miss Juneteenth) was blown away by what she saw on set: “On the first day, I was blown away by the work John did and all the energy,” she says. “He made my job easier.”
Boyega was an easy choice for Corbin and his co-writer/executive producer Kwame Kwei-Armah. “It’s very easy to pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Yes, yes, we knew it was John and John would be brilliant,’ but I didn’t know he was going to be this good,” says Kwei-Armah.
Corbin first discovered Easley’s story in Aaron Gell’s 2018 Task and Purpose article “They didn’t have to kill him.”
“I was overcome by it, it pierced my soul,” she says. “My father is a veteran, so I could understand what he went through with the [Department of] Veterans Affairs much better through Brian’s eyes.”
Smash comes just weeks after President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, designed to improve access to health care for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances and burned wells during their military service. But not before the act became a hot topic, with Republicans accused of playing politics with the act after initially voting against it. Dozens of veterans camped outside the Capitol until it was finally approved, with former daily program host Jon Stewart becoming its most vocal proponent.
“The timing is incredible,” says Beharie. “And I really hope it has an effect.”
“It should have an effect and definitely a conversation,” adds Boyega.
It’s deeply personal for Corbin.
“My dad has been waiting in these same lines for a long time, the same lines the veterans were in front of the White House,” she says. “Sitting there with your candles, just praying that there is a breakthrough, that there is an opening, that the bureaucracy gets out of the way and that the heart of the matter and the words correspond to the actions. I am hopeful that watching our film will allow people to hear these pleas.”
-Video produced by Kyle Moss and edited by Jimmie Rhee
Smash opens in cinemas this Friday.
Watch the trailer: