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John Boyega and Juel Taylor talk new existential thriller 'They Cloned Tyrone'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

There's a lot going on in the new Netflix film "They Cloned Tyrone." Tyrone Fontaine, played by John Boyega, is a drug dealer who loves his mom and his little brother, and he has a lot of conflicting feelings about the way he makes his money except that, very early on in the movie, he realizes that absolutely none of that backstory is real because he is a clone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CLONED TYRONE")

JOHN BOYEGA: (As Tyrone Fontaine) I don't think you understand, man. There was an elevator underground and a lab and this white motherf***** with an afro.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, man. You think you might need some water? You know, sometimes when I'm stressed out, man, I drink me a bottle of water. I be good.

DETROW: So Fontaine links up with a pimp named Slick Charles and a sex worker named Yo-Yo to figure out what is going on. "They Cloned Tyrone" comes from the mind of director Juel Taylor along with his co-writer Tony Rettenmaier. It combines elements of sci-fi and horror with laugh-out-loud comedy. I talked to Taylor and Boyega about the movie earlier this week, and I started the conversation by asking Taylor just what he was thinking about when he first came up with this idea.

JUEL TAYLOR: I mean, it kind of came from two places, really - the surface plot side, and then there's kind of the nougaty (ph) center part of it that kind of came from a...

DETROW: Yeah.

TAYLOR: ...Different place. But, I mean, I think it really started coming together based on this kind of thematic question of, like, is there a difference between blame and responsibility, and really just thinking about friends back home who had some pretty, like, unfortunate circumstances hit them, you know, that was kind of outside the scope of their control and blending that with this just seed of an idea me and Tony used to joke about of just making a bootleg "Scooby-Doo" movie...

DETROW: (Laughter).

TAYLOR: ...You know, where the detectives were ill-equipped but somehow very particularly equipped for the task at hand. From there, we just thought, how weird can we make it?

DETROW: And you made it weird. Congratulations.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: John, I'm trying to think of what all I can say or not say about the plot in the world of spoilers. It's safe to say that there are clones in this movie, based on the title. But do you remember your first reaction when you read this script?

BOYEGA: I, you know, had been waiting to get the script for a while. And a thing about me - if I read a script and I don't stand up while I'm reading it, like, physically stand up and start kind of, like, pacing the room, pretty much doing that weird actor stuff when you kind of get into it and you try to...

TAYLOR: (Laughter).

BOYEGA: ...See yourself in a role, then I probably don't like it.

DETROW: (Laughter).

BOYEGA: If I'm just there sitting down throughout the whole read and my head is hurting and I get distracted and I go on the PS5, then it's probably dead. But with this one, I was just glued not only for what my part would be, but I was just so intrigued by the dynamic and the mesh of genres. And I was excited at the prospect of going down to the States, kind of, you know, learning the culture and specifically for this role, too, and then just getting to work.

DETROW: John, bringing it back to the acting side of this, as you're putting your character together, as you're reading the lines together, were you thinking about, how would this character act and talk if they weren't alive yesterday? Or were you not going down to that level with it as you thought about how to deliver the lines and respond and things like that?

BOYEGA: I think it was more about the default settings. What are the default settings, and then what are the stereotypes that a scientist or, you know, a government organization - what are the stereotypes they would put into a character first? What is the level of intensity - the way he walks, the way he moves, the way he looks around? What does that look like in their mind, and what would they create in order to perpetuate a character that kind of keeps his community down by representing this kind of violent and somewhat maybe quiet but dark figure?

And then from there, you just start to walk and talk in the shoes of this character, and it starts to become more familiar. And then we found him, you know, especially when you go on set and then you start speaking to Slick and you're speaking to Yo-Yo. You know, Slick says the line in which he's like, oh, Fontaine, I've never seen you laugh, you know? So in the script itself, you've got kind of pointers that make you, you know, know who you're supposed to create and who you're supposed to portray in that sense.

DETROW: Juel, let's listen to a key moment early on in the movie. It's - the three characters are all eating fried chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEY CLONED TYRONE")

JAMIE FOXX: (As Slick Charles) It's the chicken. It's the powder, the powder in the chicken. Look. When I was in the trap house, there was some white powder right there. I thought it was cocaine. I took some of it. It wasn't cocaine. I started laughing. You break something, I shoot a [expletive]. And now we here. We eating this chicken. We all laughing. It's in the chicken.

DETROW: I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: So they're starting to connect the dots. I mean, you know, it's a great scene. But, like, then you're starting to get into - they're connecting the dots. There's something going on with the cocaine, the chicken, the straightening cream at the beauty salon. And this feels like the part of the movie where the candy outside, as you say, starts to intersect with the nougaty center of the more pointed message that the plot of the movie is trying to get to. What were you going for here?

TAYLOR: I mean, in that particular scene - I mean, that's a great question 'cause I don't think I've ever heard, like, a snippet of the movie played back. I mean, honestly, you know, I think that's the beginning of the detective work, right? It's a little bit absurd, obviously. It's mildly offensive (laughter). You need something a bit off-the-wall to get these three people to kind of make an instantaneous career change, so to speak, 'cause, like, in the movie, they're not, you know, a pimp, a drug dealer, a prostitute. They're really sleuths.

DETROW: Yeah. I guess it's a good sign - you spend years writing and filming and producing and editing a movie. It's a good sign if scenes are still making you laugh after all of that.

TAYLOR: Oh, I mean, I was also just laughing 'cause I didn't expect it, so (laughter)...

DETROW: Oh.

TAYLOR: I've long since stopped laughing. I've, like, seen it so many time and desensitized, you know? But I was like, oh, like, he just pulled out the clip on me.

DETROW: It's the full NPR experience here. Play the clip. Talk about it. You know?

TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah. I love it. I love it.

BOYEGA: I love that.

DETROW: Well, that leads to one of the challenges I wanted to ask you about because there are a lot of really funny moments in this, and a lot of them come from your co-stars, Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris. They are so funny together, and you are in the middle of them the whole time. What was it like to stand in between them and keep that serious demeanor where you hardly ever spoke as the character?

BOYEGA: I think it was fun. I was busting up laughing half of the time. I'm definitely much more of a lighter guy, in terms of my personality, in comparison to Fontaine. But, you know, knowing the goal - the goal is to just, you know, feel the character so that people actually get the joke. So it was dope. I mean, I learned so much being in between both of them, you know? I was - most of the time, I was like, damn, I would love to get involved in the banter. But it was hilarious, you know? The dynamics worked.

TAYLOR: (Laughter).

BOYEGA: And, you know, that's what we made, you know?

DETROW: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I want to ask you both of this to end things. Everybody at NPR who worked on this interview - we all watched it on our own 'cause, you know, that's usually what you do with Netflix. But when we were talking about it, we all kept thinking, wow, this feels like a movie you need to watch with a crowd of people to laugh at it, to gasp at it. I mean, it's such an experience. I understand there's a limited theatrical release, but I'm wondering. Do you think people should be, you know, planning...

TAYLOR: (Laughter).

DETROW: ..."They Cloned Tyrone" parties to watch on Netflix?

BOYEGA: Oh, definitely, definitely. I think this is definitely one to have with a group for sure. The movie is fun. It's funny. Like, it's - it just reminds me of the old-school blaxploitation movies. You know, bring a crowd together. Get the snacks. Do whatever you do. And, you know, get lit a little bit, and then, you know, watch the film. It's one of them ones.

TAYLOR: I definitely think the ideal way to watch it is in a group setting even if it is just, like, have a cookout or something. You know what I'm saying? Like, somebody have, like, a family shindig or, you know, they-come-back-around-on-Thanksgiving-type movie - everybody at the house cooking and eating and sit down and watch it and make it a communal experience.

DETROW: John Boyega and Juel Taylor, thank you so much for joining us.

TAYLOR: Oh, man.

BOYEGA: Wow, thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

DETROW: "They Cloned Tyrone" is in theaters now and on Netflix July 21.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERYKAH BADU SONG, "TYRONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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