What happens when you mix wild conspiracy theories, slick-talking characters, and the retro feel of the Blaxploitation era into one sweeping film? Well, you get the time-defying, genre-bending adventure “They Cloned Tyrone” — which stars John Boyega, Jamie Foxx, and Teyonah Parris as an oddball trio in Juel Taylor’s risky directorial debut. The sci-fi comedy’s freaky plot works to its advantage, though, as it takes viewers on a journey unlike anything you’d ever expect.
“They Cloned Tyrone” follows the stoic Fontaine (Boyega), a local hustler too stuck in his daily routine to notice strange things happening in his around-the-way neighborhood, The Glen. That is until a fatal encounter exposes a cloning experiment that Fontaine, his fast-talking pimp associate Slick Charles (Foxx), and sassy working girl Yo-Yo (Parris) must get to the bottom of. What they uncover, though, is a nefarious scheme employing Black stereotypes — including the local fried chicken spot, scratch-offs, and malt liquor — to fuel a destructive cycle in their community.
“John and Jamie are very open artists, and so that makes it easier to take risks and try different things.”
The mysterious film — which premieres on Netflix on July 21 following a theatrical release — feels familiar yet totally bizarre as it explores the depths of the unknown and the fear that clones exist. Boyega and Parris admit to POPSUGAR that they don’t think too much about conspiracy theories these days, though the latter notes, “I feel like every conspiracy theory, there’s some kind of truth in it.”
One theory proved true in “They Cloned Tyrone” is Boyega, Parris, and Foxx being the perfect combination of wit, humor, and masterful acting. “Ensemble, baby. It’s where it’s at,” Boyega laughs. As Parris reveals, the trio had natural chemistry on set, and thankfully so, because they “didn’t get to rehearse, all three of us together, before the cameras started rolling.”
“You kind of hope it works out, and it did,” she explains. “It was just so fun and everybody was so open. John and Jamie are very open artists, and so that makes it easier to take risks and try different things, because you don’t feel judged.”
The ensemble cast definitely channeled new personas in the film. Parris calls Yo-Yo “a firecracker with deep ambitions and integrity, and a huge heart and love for those around her in her community.” Boyega, meanwhile, has a different description for his protagonist, Fontaine: “He’s kind of a baby experiencing life for the first time and then defining it for himself,” he says.
Back in June, when “They Cloned Tyrone” debuted at the opening night of Miami’s 2023 American Black Film Festival (ABFF), the audience couldn’t contain their laughter or wonderment during the two-hour feature film. POPSUGAR was on hand to witness reactions, which ranged from full-belly laughs to confused looks as viewers watched Foxx, Boyega, and Parris navigate the mind-blowing central conspiracy. The latter says seeing the movie with viewers was ultimately a gratifying experience, noting, “There were things that the audience found funny that I had no clue was.”
“You get to play with the sci-fi, comedy, all of that in one piece centered around Black characters.”
Parris and Boyega found themselves drawn to the comical aspects of “They Cloned Tyrone,” as well as the subtle (and not-so-subtle) social messages they were “very much aware of” in the script. “This is something people definitely debate about, [that] we speak about with our friends,” Boyega says of the movie’s plot. “But for me, I just wanted that message to be in an intelligent, entertaining way. And I’ve done a film like this before, where it kind of gives you a stereotype and flips it on its head . . . I just love the way it was all ironed out. That message is definitely in there.”
Parris confirms the movie’s appealing social commentary was clearly evident in the script. She adds: “I think the biggest challenge was keeping the integrity of what [Taylor and screenwriter Tony Rettenmaier] wanted and not letting it spiral from different voices. I do think that watching it, particularly with an audience for the first time, I did actually see more commentary. It just deepened when you see it all put together.”
More than anything, though, the costars appreciate that they were “melding so many genres” in “They Cloned Tyrone.” Parris notes, “You get to play with the sci-fi, comedy, all of that in one piece centered around Black characters. That was just really fun for me, and I personally hadn’t read anything like that before.”
Boyega echoes his costar and points out the exciting “world build” of “They Cloned Tyrone,” explaining that it’s “unheard of” for a movie of this size. From the familiar above-ground setting to the massive underground cloning laboratory, the movie literally built its own fictional world for viewers to get lost in — which wasn’t an easy feat while filming during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. During another ABFF event, Taylor jokes that the movie’s cast and crew “had our own NBA bubble.”
Parris hopes viewers walk away feeling “entertained” by “They Cloned Tyrone,” but that they also have “questions and conversations about the state of our culture, world, and socioeconomic issues.” As the movie’s theoretical nature suggests, audiences are encouraged to interrogate even the most ludicrous ideas — because you just might find some truth weaved in them.
Boyega says, “I definitely think [the movie] is open to interpretation, but I do think the through line is flipping those stereotypes on its head and going into more intricate thinking. It still makes you laugh, but in moments where you’re like, ‘Damn.’ It makes you think more deeply on social issues, specifically how we relate to each other, what we consume, all those kind of things.”
So viewers, keep an open mind while you watch the film, because, according to Boyega, you’re in for a “smart, intelligent, and sometimes slapstick” experience that’ll surely make your belly roll.
“They Cloned Tyrone” starts streaming on Netflix on July 21.
This interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began on July 14.