The bell tolls for humanity
BLOCKBUSTERS are invariably a goldmine of silly dialogue ( insert “Oh, my God”, and “Sir, they’re coming” to any number of bigbudget flicks), and Pacific Rim is no different.
“There really are only four actors in the world,” smiles director Guillermo Del Toro, “who could say, ‘ Today, we’re cancelling the apocalypse’, and no one would laugh. Idris Elba is one of those.”
Luckily, fans won’t be overly interested in the film’s dialogue ( it’s the robots and monsters that excite), but Del Toro is on the button with Elba.
There’s something about the man who grew up as the only child of African immigrants in East London that commands your utter attention on screen, and the 40- year- old Elba has it in spades.
Elba, of course, fronts Pacific Rim, Del Toro’s US$ 180 million blockbuster, where 80- storey human- controlled robots called Jaegers take on equally gigantic sea monsters known as Kaiju.
It’s fun, it’s ridiculous and it’s epic ( not surprisingly, the special effects are mindblowing), and Elba is perfect as the stoic and sensible Commanding Officer Stacker Pentecost, the man who may have a hand in saving the world from, er, the apocalypse.
Pacific Rim is Elba’s biggest Hollywood role to date. It’s a change for him, particularly after we’ve become used to seeing him in much grittier turns on television in acclaimed series’ such as The Wire and Luther.
Let’s be honest, the part of Stacker Pentecost isn’t necessarily a stretch compared to the nuanced, conflicted characters he’s played in the past, but Elba was swayed to do the project “because I hadn’t done a film with robots and monsters yet”.
More definitively, as a fan of Pans Labyrinth, he was keen to work with Del Toro on a film of gigantic proportions in more ways than one.
“If I was going to be in a sci- fi movie, I wanted to be in his,” Elba said.
“Because I know it’s going to be amazing to look at and there’s going to be a human story in it, there’s going to be real actors and there’s going to be action.”
Used to much smaller- scale fare, Elba also enjoyed the experience of working on a bigscale Hollywood production.
“It’s amazing just how big it can be and how influential your small performance can be in such a massive film,” he said.
“On television, I have to take things a lot quicker, get to the emotion, get to the centre of the scene very quickly, and in these films, you take your time. It takes three days to do a 10- minute scene. And that’s quite a luxury compared to television.”
It is TV, though, where Elba made his name. As the troubled London detective in Luther he is absolutely riveting, but it was as the thinking man’s gangster Stringer Bell in The Wire ( certainly one of TV’s greatest ever dramas), where he was a revelation ( not least for his spot- on inner- city Baltimore accent, which belied his East London origins), but because he seemed to come out of nowhere. ( Before being cast on The Wire, Elba had been unemployed for four years).
“I thought he was this fantastic American actor from The Wire who just happened to do a spot- on North London accent in Luther,” said Del Toro, who offered Elba the part in Pacific Rim after Tom Cruise couldn’t do it.
“But it was just the opposite. He’s just a phenomenal actor.”
And it looks as though Elba’s star is set to rise exponentially with the hotly anticipated biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.
Reflecting on his recent roles, Elba said he couldn’t always believe where his career has taken him.
“You know, I do look around and think, God, I’m playing Nelson Mandela, or I’m in this massive American film, and wonder how I got here. To be honest, I’m not sure myself.”