“He walks as though the earth were honored by its burden.” When John Boyega (Star Wars franchise) read that line for Columbia Pictures’ epic action adventure The Woman King, he knew he would accept the role of King Ghezo.
“It is one of the first lines that [director] Gina Prince-Bythewood quoted to me in her letter about taking the part,” he says. “It thoroughly describes him. And it gives me the opportunity to show a versatility in acting that would be quite exciting for the role.”
The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for…
Having recently staged a successful coup – with the help of the Agojie warriors – which deposed his brother from his reign, Ghezo is new to the throne. “He is a conflicted young king who is dealing with the variance of decisions,” says Boyega. “This is a very complicated time in his history. After a controversial rise to the throne, he's at a point where leadership and decision-making is going to mean everything for the future of the Dahomey people.”
The judgments he will have to make could not be more important or far-reaching. “He is confronted with a decision Nanisca has put in the forefront of his mind about the impact of a human atrocity in their society: whether or not to have such substantial involvement in the slave trade as much as other kings,” notes Boyega. “The slave trade is going through a transition in that time. I’d call Ghezo as conflicted as anything else, and a young man dealing with the struggles of power on his neck.”
“When I finished reading the script, the first person that came to my mind for Ghezo was John Boyega. I was like, ‘It’s gotta be John!’,” recalls Prince-Bythewood. “When John walks on set, people stop – you feel his power and his presence. What he's bringing to this character is even more than we could have imagined. He literally is our king.”
King Ghezo was a real historical figure, and much of his story in The Woman King is drawn from true events. “It makes it an interesting process to explore a character who actually existed,” says Boyega. “I had historical texts as well as several books that Gina recommended. He did some things I agree with, and some I disagree with, but in the end, you have to separate yourself from the research. I’m here to show the lived experience and create a character around the research that we did.”
In cinemas across the Philippines October 5, The Woman King is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Connect with the hashtag #TheWomanKing