John Boyega is aware of the comparisons. He had to be – the actor is active on social media, and as his Breaking director Abi Damaris Corbin points out, it was even trending on Twitter at one point: "John is Denzel."
As in the 30-year-old Star Wars alum's simmering performance in the dramatic true-life thriller Breaking is reminding people of Oscar-winning living legend Denzel Washington (particularly Washington's performance in the similarly themed 2002 movie John Q). Boyega stars as Brian Brown Easley, a former Marine who took bank tellers hostage and threatened to blow up the building due to frustrations over withheld veterans disability payments.
"I'm not involved in that conversation, man," Boyega told Yahoo Entertainment when asked what he thinks of having his work called Denzellian. "If that's what they see then that's all a blessing. Denzel is one of the best actors in the industry. And I just started out. So for me, I haven't got the time or the stripes to be able to even involve myself in such a conversation.
"I will definitely thank God for such an opportunity."
His co-star Nicole Beharie (Miss Juneteenth) was impressed by what she saw on set: "On day one, I was blown away by the work that John did and all the energy," she says. "He made my job easier."
Boyega was an easy choice for Corbin and her co-writer/executive producer Kwame Kwei-Armah. "It's really easy to pat oneself on the back and say, 'Yeah, yeah, we knew it was John and John was gonna be brilliant,' but I didn't know he was gonna be this good," says Kwei-Armah.
Corbin first discovered the Easley’s story in Aaron Gell’s 2018 Task & Purpose article "They Didn’t Have to Kill Him."
"I was overtaken by it, it pierced my soul," she says. "My dad's a veteran, so I was able to understand what he went through with the [Department of] Veteran's Affairs so much better through Brian's eyes."
Breaking arrives just weeks after President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, designed to improve health care access for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances and burn pits during military service. But not before the act became a hot-button issue, 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 passed, with former Daily Show host Jon Stewart becoming their most vocal proponent.
"The timing is amazing," 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's been waiting in those same lines for a long time, the same lines that veterans were in in front of the White House," she says. "Sitting there with their candles, just praying that there'll be a breakthrough, that there'll be an opening, that the bureaucracy will get out of the way and that the hearts of the matter and the words will match the actions. I'm hopeful that watching our film will allow people to hear those pleas."
-Video produced by Kyle Moss and edited by Jimmie Rhee
Breaking opens in theaters Friday.
Watch the trailer: