The bell tolls for hu­man­ity

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - TIFFANY BAKKER PA­CIFIC RIM Now show­ing Vil­lage Cinemas

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.”

SAV­ING THE WORLD: Idris Elba as Stacker Pen­te­cost in Pa­cific Rim.

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