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892 tells the real-life story of Brian Easley, a Marine veteran who threatened to bomb a Wells Fargo in an Atlanta suburb in 2017. The 33-year-old father suffered from PTSD and was frustrated that his disability checks — totaling $892 — were being withheld by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The movie had its Sundance Film Festival premiere on Jan. 21, with The Hollywood Reporter review praising lead actor John Boyega’s “ability to reflect, with poise and command, the competing, often incongruent layers of a man most of us will never know.”
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Boyega joined the project after Jonathan Majors, who was originally cast to play Easley, had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. “I was pretty much relaxing after spending time with family, and then I got a call from my agent about this project,” remembers the actor. (Prior to this, Boyega had abruptly exited the filming of Netflix feature Rebel Ridge.) 892 was co-written by Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, who cast Boyega in his first acting job in the 2009 play Seize the Day, years before he landed the role that would make him a household name in the Star Wars galaxy. “He put this story in front of me years ago, but scheduling didn’t allow us to do it. So, it came full circle,” explains Boyega.
Abi Damaris Corbin, a Boston native whose own father was a U.S. military veteran having fought in Vietnam with the Navy, was making her feature debut on the project. Boyega and Corbin begin rehearsals almost immediately over Zoom, with only a handful of weeks prior to 892’s Los Angeles production start date. “It was definitely a 180,” remembers Boyega. “Especially at the time, I didn’t have the intention of working so soon.”
An abandoned bank in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley stood in for the Wells Fargo, where much of the film takes place. “It was like a stage play,” says Corbin of the production. “It was nonstop.” Much of 892, which also stars Connie Britton, Selenis Leyva and Nicole Beharie, sees Boyega acting opposite a phone as Easley makes calls to his ex-wife, his daughter, a local television news producer and a hostage negotiator.
The negotiator is played posthumously by late actor Michael K. Williams. (Williams passed away in September at 54.) Corbin highlights Williams’ dedication to the story, remembering the filming of a scene that was proving particularly difficult to land. “We were at like take 18. And I’m like, ‘Mike, we got the pieces. We’re good.’ He’s like, ‘Abi, let me go one more,'” says the director. “We knew, between the two of us, that this was something that we couldn’t punt.”
That commitment to telling Easley’s story was a driving force for those working on the indie production, says Corbin. Boyega would come to set on his days off to do line readings for the actors who were meant to be talking to Easley on the phone. “He was in the car in 106-degree weather, on the phone for every actor, or hiding in a corner because there was no place else to fit,” she says.
“I like to say there are some roles where you can use elements of yourself to help prompt your knowledge of the role, and then there are some roles that you just did not go through, and you have gotta act,” says Boyega. Playing Easley was the latter for the star, who did have to take a forced break from the character after he tested positive for COVID-19 during the shoot. “I had like a few weeks off to recover and then came back and finished it off,” he recalls. “That really worried me because we’re in a streak, like getting into the meat of it. And then it happened, and I was like, ‘Damn, I’m gonna lose the flow.'”
Before scripting, Corbin and Kwei-Armah reached out to Easley’s wife, Jessica, and daughter for their blessing in making the movie but also to learn more about the man who would be at its center. Boyega met with the family over Zoom after they had watched the film, where he says they voiced their support of his performance. The actor notes, “When you go and do the work, and you circle back, it’s always in hopes that they appreciate and support what you are doing.”
While 892 is based on a 2018 Longreads article, little is available about Easley outside of contemporaneous news reports. The team behind 892 hopes that this will change with their movie, which is a part of the fest’s U.S. Dramatic Competition lineup and is seeking distribution. Says Boyega, “This is Bryan’s legacy, here and now. This is part of the same spark that made him go is that back; this movie is created from that same spark.”