IDRIS ELBA WEIGHS IN ON THE RACE DE­BATE IN HOLLYWOOD AND DISCUSSES FILM V TV.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE - WORDS RICHARD CLUNE

Nine in the morn­ing is too early for flu­o­res­cent light­ing. But here we are, level five of a sub­ur­ban Sydney shop­ping cen­tre, sur­rounded by ‘so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers’ (urgh), await­ing the slop­ing gait of Idris Elba. The Bri­tish ac­tor, who we’re not al­lowed to ask about Bond, is us­ing a pro­duc­tion break on Thor: Rag­narok to visit the Har­bour City, “eat some good food, chill” and spruik the lat­est line he’s de­vel­oped with high­street la­bel Su­perdry. It’s why he’s in store, be­fore open­ing. Elba smiles his way through the me­dia call and ‘in­flu­encer’ in­ter­views (“As I said man, I don’t want to talk about Bond”), be­fore we head to a cor­ner in a nearby food court to talk Brexit, hus­tling and his role along­side Matthew Mc­conaughey in Stephen King fan­tasy West­ern The Dark Tower. (At the time of writ­ing, it was a con­firmed Fe­bru­ary re­lease. At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, it had again been bumped, and is now set for a north­ern hemi­sphere sum­mer de­but.) De­spite his size – mus­cu­lar and 6ft 3in – the 44-year-old has avoided the at­ten­tion of the smat­ter­ing of morn­ing din­ers. That is, how­ever, be­yond 82-year-old Lynn. “Oh, it’s Idris Elba. I’m sorry to in­ter­rupt your meet­ing but I just wanted to say that you’re our favourite ac­tor – my girl­friends and I love Luther.” Elba nods his ap­pre­ci­a­tion and calls her “sweet­heart”. Lynn even­tu­ally shuf­fles off to dine out on the meet­ing – and a pos­si­ble lam­ing­ton. She’s now re­placed by thir­tysome­thing Danielle. “Sorry, just wanted to see if you could sign this for me?” It’s a copy of Bastille Day on DVD, not the ac­tor’s finest mo­ment. “Ha – yeah, OK! It’s nice to meet you, too.” We poke Elba about the fe­male at­ten­tion – he’s seem­ingly got all ages cov­ered. “Shut up, man. Cheeky bas­tard. To be com­pletely honest, I still fuckin’ can’t be­lieve peo­ple out here recog­nise me.” Lynn re­turns: “I’m sorry to in­ter­rupt again, but, Idris, I for­got to say that my girl­friends and I are very ex­cited about James Bond. Have they made you James Bond yet?”

GQ: Fuck it, let’s take our cue – James Bond. We’re not meant to men­tion it, but what about the per­sis­tent me­dia ref­er­enc­ing? When your name’s brought up in re­la­tion to the role, it’s about be­ing ‘the first black 007’. Is that frus­trat­ing?

Idris Elba: Look, that’s a solid at­tempt to get into it man, it re­ally is, but I just don’t want to say any­thing about it. I’ve hit a brick wall [with Bond] and every time I men­tion that char­ac­ter it just goes off, you know, ‘Idris Elba says…’ So I’m not go­ing to say any more. Sorry, man.

GQ: Don’t be, we had to try. Let’s get the plug out of the way then and dis­cuss some­thing you want to talk about – Su­perdry. Why go high street?

IE: Yeah, a lot of peo­ple are like, ‘Why Su­perdry, I don’t get it?’ Es­pe­cially the high-end fashion mags and that. And my an­swer’s al­ways the same – I speak to every­one and I speak to the ev­ery­man. My ev­ery­day wear isn’t a high-end suit. Su­perdry’s a great lit­tle Bri­tish com­pany, founded by these two lads. I sup­pose I could have pos­si­bly col­lab­o­rated with a ‘big’ de­signer and made a big deal out of it, but that would be a bit disin­gen­u­ous of me be­cause I’m not try­ing to be Kanye West. I love Kanye and I love what he’s do­ing, but he wants to be a de­signer and I like the idea of be­ing an in­flu­encer.

GQ: You ap­pre­ci­ate fashion, all said and done?

IE: I love fashion, and the op­por­tu­nity was not to be a de­signer, but an in­flu­encer on a pre­mium line that Su­perdry wanted to step into. It’s af­ford­able, good-qual­ity stuff, and it’s ‘me’. I’m about com­fort over style, but it has to look nice.

GQ: Talk us through the pow­er­ful ad­dress about di­ver­sity that you gave to the House of Com­mons last year.

IE: One of the scari­est mo­ments of my life, you mean? Man, for me to stand up in the House of Com­mons and give MY opin­ion, you know, ‘I’m an ac­tor but here’s what I think’… It’s crazy.

GQ: And nec­es­sary. And also very well re­ceived.

IE: Thanks. I hope so. It was about think­ing out­side the box a lit­tle be­cause our in­dus­try is the gate­keeper for imagination, and our imag­i­na­tions de­ter­mine how we see each other in the world. In Bri­tain, we’ve been a mul­ti­cul­tural melt­ing pot for so long, and it just needs to be rep­re­sented in the me­dia and in film and tele­vi­sion. I have a TV pro­duc­tion com­pany and my

“I WAS NEVER THE LIFE OF THE PARTY. I HAVE A BIG IMAGINATION THAT JUST SWELLS AND COMES OUT OF MY EYES AND EARS. I CAN’T SIT STILL.”

motto is that we don’t look at colour – if you’re right for the job, you’re right for the job. If I can en­cour­age more peo­ple to do that then more op­por­tu­nity will come – a lot more in­ter­est­ing work might come from it as well. You know, when you and I are gone, our chil­dren are not go­ing to have the same angst about the colour di­vide, the gen­der di­vide, dis­abil­ity ver­sus none – the hu­man race is go­ing to evolve, we’re not all go­ing to be sep­a­rated by colour.

GQ: We hope so. Still, there was re­cent back­lash about your role in The Dark Tower – peo­ple wail­ing that in the novel your char­ac­ter’s white. IE:

If I’m honest, I didn’t pay much at­ten­tion. But what I like about that re­ac­tion is that it opens fo­rums for de­bate about cast­ing and how much our own stereo­types in­flu­ence film. The truth of the mat­ter is that you write a story about a hu­man be­ing, not about a colour.

GQ: Which is pretty much what Stephen King said – that he didn’t write with race in mind, it was sim­ply, ‘How quick can this guy draw a gun?’ IE:

And the archetype for this char­ac­ter is Clint East­wood. I don’t care what colour you are, but you’re never go­ing to be Clint East­wood. It’s a shame that peo­ple get an­gry about a black man be­ing cast in what could be con­sid­ered a ‘white’ role, but ul­ti­mately it opens up dis­cus­sions and if I don’t break the mould, then maybe those dis­cus­sions end up dis­si­pat­ing and more peo­ple start think­ing like that.

GQ: Was lack of di­ver­sity in roles why you bailed Bri­tain for Amer­ica early in your ca­reer? IE:

The truth is that I wanted to be in the Amer­i­can mar­ket, be­cause it’s a big­ger scale. All the big­gest stars and the greats seem to come from there – ac­tu­ally many had sim­i­lar back­grounds to me, but they all ended up be­ing in this amaz­ing place, mak­ing in­cred­i­ble TV and film and play­ing amaz­ing characters. So I wanted to do the same. Look, di­ver­sity was part of it, too. Was there a short­age of imagination in Eng­land at the time when it came to the characters be­ing written? Yeah, ab­so­lutely. But I still worked all the time – I didn’t go be­cause I couldn’t get work. GQ: But there was a glass ceil­ing in the UK? IE:

Yeah, there’s only so far you can go in a cer­tain mar­ket when there’s only four TV chan­nels. I wanted to go to Amer­ica where there’s a big­ger, big­ger, BIG­GER play­ing field. I don’t re­gret it. I had a good time and Amer­ica af­forded me my ‘in­ter­na­tional’ ca­reer. I came back to Eng­land more well known. As I say, to be known in Aus­tralia to­day, of all places, just blows my fuckin’ mind. And Amer­ica opened that up for me.

GQ: Much of the at­ten­tion and praise heaped on The Wire was retrospective. Was work still a bit of a strug­gle even af­ter play­ing Stringer Bell? IE:

Well, it changed my ca­reer, and the ef­fects are on­go­ing now, but back then, less so. Af­ter The Wire I didn’t make a TV show or any­thing close to that for years – un­til Luther ac­tu­ally. Ev­ery­thing was pop­corn films, lit­tle bits of in­ter­est­ing work and small in­de­pen­dent films. Still, I got Man­dela: Long Walk to Free­dom be­cause of the The Wire, with­out doubt.

GQ: Man­dela must have been a role that came with tremen­dous pres­sure? IE:

It was mas­sive pres­sure, yeah. When I look back, I wish we hadn’t made that film then – it was amaz­ing, but it was too much of a pill to swal­low know­ing the great man wasn’t go­ing to be with us much longer. But play­ing the char­ac­ter was one of my proud­est mo­ments. At first I thought it was a joke. I was too young and not qual­i­fied to play Nel­son Man­dela, you know, ‘What are you talkin’ about – me? Surely they have me con­fused with Den­zel?’

GQ: And it’s true that Man­dela died the day you pre­miered the film?

IE: Yeah… That was hard. GQ: It’s been said that you were quite closed off as a kid, happy to stand at the back and avoid at­ten­tion. So why act­ing? IE: I was never the life of the party. But I have a mas­sive imagination, and one that just swells and comes out of my eyes and ears. And as an ac­tor, I can’t sit still, and there’s other things I want to do. Why? Well, not to be in the spot­light – that’s just residue. It’s about be­ing able to ex­pel my brain, be­cause it just does too much and my heart wants to do so much – it’s a re­lease. And maybe I se­cretly wanted to be the guy that made every­one laugh, and I couldn’t do it in real life but I could do it in a film.

GQ: That en­ergy’s why you still DJ and push life to the ex­treme – like what you’ve done for the Idris Elba: No Lim­its TV se­ries?

It’s that and be­cause I’m just not sat­is­fied to use the 12 per cent of my brain, or what­ever, that I’ve been al­lo­cated to use, I want to try and push it a bit more. When you’re an ac­tor and have some in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially over men, peo­ple tend to em­u­late you. I’d rather peo­ple em­u­late me do­ing things that are out­side my com­fort zone as it makes them push out­side their own bound­aries. I just feel like that’s my legacy, so when I leave, it’s like, mate, I did what I did but also, I in­flu­enced a few peo­ple to do other things. My mates ac­tu­ally call me the male Oprah… Mo­prah. That’s a good use of be­ing in the spot­light.

GQ: Righto, Mo­prah. As part of that se­ries you broke the land speed record in a car. Is go­ing that fast bet­ter then sex? IE:

NO! Man, great sex will al­ways top the list – it’s just that I prob­a­bly won’t be mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary about it any­time soon.

GQ: You drive fast cars and have a Thai kick­box­ing fight com­ing up. Then there’s the swag­ger and the charm. There’s a throw­back mas­culin­ity about you. Where do you think we’re at, as men? Is there this sense of fear that cloaks be­ing proud of be­ing a man? IE:

I feel ya, and I hear that a bit. With Luther, that char­ac­ter, mas­cu­line or not, de­fines him­self by good ver­sus evil. Good old fuckin’, ‘I’m get­ting him for do­ing that’ and it’s un­apolo­getic. I think you’re right – there’s a feel­ing that if you’re too mas­cu­line, you’re al­most chau­vin­is­tic. You know, a sexy woman is not any less smart be­cause she’s sexy, right? So, there­fore I’m not any less of a nice per­son if I’m mas­cu­line. At the same time, if you look back to the time in TV when mas­culin­ity was celebrated, it was cou­pled with big­otry and that’s not fuckin’ cool. Look, my son’s two-and-a-half [Elba also has a daugh­ter, aged 14] and I’m teach­ing him that be­ing a man means open­ing doors, apol­o­gis­ing when you’re wrong and hav­ing re­spect.

GQ: What was your up­bring­ing in East Lon­don like? Was it tough at times – did you hus­tle a bit to get by? IE:

I’m an only child, my par­ents didn’t have a lot of money and as I said, I’ve a big imagination and wanted what I wanted, so yeah. When I moved to Can­ning Town, be­fore East Ham, I was at a boys’ school and every­one had this like fuckin’ East Lon­don big bravado bull­shit go­ing on. I had to fit in, so I hus­tled and I worked. I worked hard from 14 on­wards, Satur­day jobs tyr­e­fit­ting and pa­per rounds. I wanted money to have the clothes to look good. And at 14, I had this Mini Cooper, which I’d bought for 50 quid and was driv­ing about and my mum and

dad didn’t know. I had a moustache and knew how to groom it and was go­ing out with girls who were 17. My hus­tle was not get­ting one over on the man, but more, ‘You’ve got what you’ve got, so go for it and don’t let any­one say you can’t have it.’

GQ: Again with the older ladies, hey? You’ve never seemed to strug­gle with fe­male at­ten­tion? IE:

Cheeky bas­tard. Mate, I was in a mall yes­ter­day and there was noth­ing. But once peo­ple realise or learn you’re an ac­tor, well then, yeah, that’s just part and par­cel of it. To be honest, my characters get the at­ten­tion – the girls love Luther and Stringer Bell.

GQ: Luther also em­bod­ies the strong place TV’S in right now. Is that be­cause de­cent film cre­atives have moved over?

It’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion – peo­ple who were work­ing in film 20 years ago at the pin­na­cle of great film have moved into an arena where the budgets are smaller but the ac­ces­si­bil­ity and the sto­ry­telling is just as pro­lific as any film back then. And there are so many more ways to di­gest TV – a lot more ways to get stuff out there and au­di­ences are more savvy. I’ve been part of two TV shows I feel not only broke the mould, but stepped it up. The Wire was slow-burn, nov­el­is­tic tele­vi­sion, no stereo­types and if you got into it you got into it and if you didn’t, well, see you later. And then, at the other end of the spec­trum, Luther was com­plete es­capism. But look how big a fuckin’ episode that is? It’s like a fuckin’ movie and a thriller. For me, if you’re go­ing to give me that then I want it big and I want it real and I want great actors to give me that shit. So every­one’s mak­ing great TV right now – it’s the best time, but I don’t think film is suf­fer­ing. I think it’s go­ing to get bet­ter as well.

GQ: So film’s look­ing back at TV and re­al­is­ing it needs to step up? IE:

Right – I mean look at The Dark Tower – it’s a TV off­shoot of a film. Ac­tu­ally, you’re the first per­son I’ve spo­ken to about this, but it’s part of my deal – there’s a film com­po­nent and then there’s a TV com­po­nent, and I’m part of that. But what I mean is the TV se­ries can’t be any worse than the film – it has to be dif­fer­ent and deeper and lay­ered to work.

GQ: Which now you men­tion it, is much like Idris Elba. IE: Man, I’ll take that. Cheers.

“AT 14, I WAS DRIV­ING ABOUT AND MY MUM AND DAD DIDN’T KNOW. I HAD A MOUSTACHE AND I WAS GO­ING OUT WITH GIRLS WHO WERE 17.”

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