Idris Elba’s new role on the Discovery Channel fits like a glove, writes HOLLY BYRNES
The gloves are on.
AS mid-life vanity projects go, having your moneymaker face used as a punching bag for the eight months it takes to prepare for your first professional fight isn’t exactly the easy option.
But then, Idris Elba – long tipped to be the next James Bond – isn’t the kind of man to settle back with a martini and put his life on cruise control.
“Some people go out and buy Ferraris and some people buy a motorbike. Well, I was sort of interested in testing whether my body could withstand extreme training,” Elba says.
After getting his fast and furious fix in Idris Elba: King
of Speed (Tuesday, 9.30pm), his latest Discovery Channel series Idris Elba: Fighter demanded more from The
Wire and Luther star. While his female fans would argue he’s fit as is, the 44-year-old wanted to push his physical limits – training as a K-1 fighter (a derivative of Muay Thai boxing) and, in the finale of the three-part documentary, shapes up in a professional bout.
On the other side of a year of intensive training, which he squeezed in around his blockbuster film schedules for
The Dark Tower and Thor: Ragnarok, Elba is in the best shape of his life.
“At the optimum of my training, I was more fit at 44 than I was when I was 18 – and that’s a fact – so that was an achievement for me,” he says.
“And the fear factor just disappeared after a while.”
But not everything ran to plan, with the actor suffering a “pretty severe back injury” which threatened to derail the production in its early stages.
Doctors advised Elba against continuing, making his 4am starts even more painful as he pushed ahead.
“When you’re training for a fight, you take more losses than you take wins,” Elba says.
“You have to do 60 rounds before you win two rounds … so a lot of the time, I was taking hits and being beaten and it didn’t feel good.”
Besides his strict fitness regime, Elba also completely overhauled his diet – he is now largely pescatarian after discovering he had allergies to wheat and corn.
“That was one of the hardest things I went through because I love pasta, I love rice, I love beer, and I had to cut all that out … as soon as I did, I lost huge amounts of weight but I also gained a lot of energy,” he says.
The father of two admits he turned to his acting skills to get him through his lowest moments.
“The truth is … when you get punched in the face, or you get kicked in your leg and it hurts, there’s no acting there,” he laughs. “But I can definitely apply what I do as an actor to make that feel real, to make it look real.”
His agent is fielding more interest in Elba as an action hero, but the British-born star is spending the year focusing on directing his first film,
Yardie; then he’d “like to go back and do more Luther, so I think that might happen”.
Next on his adventure list? A galaxy far away. “If Discovery will pay for it, then yeah, I’ll go to space,” he says.
IDRIS ELBA: FIGHTER TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 9.30PM, DISCOVERY CHANNEL