Playing The Gunslinger in The Dark Tower, Idris Elba takes up the challenge of reinventing himself as an actor
WHEN Idris Elba was first offered the iconic role of Roland Deschain, a.k.a. The Gunslinger, in the eagerlyawaited action adventure blockbuster he was a little taken aback.
With typical modesty, he points out that there are a lot of other actors who could also have been considered for the part. “If I’m honest I didn’t know books when I was first approached,” he says.
“I had made a few films with Sony Screen Gems and when Sony came to me, I was like wow because many, many talented, good actors could have gotten this role. Obviously I was very pleased that I landed it,” he laughs.
And while it’s true that Hollywood is blessed with many fine performers who could have stepped into The Gunslinger’s shoes, for director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair), there really was only one choice when it came to deciding who should play him.
“I’ve been a fan of his since says the director. “He’s a magnificent performer. I wondered ‘would Idris have the same vision?’ And when we discussed Roland’s character, his journey and his psychology, it turned out that he did. It just clicked and he was formidable.”
Based on the novels by master storyteller Stephen King, is an epic tale of good versus evil.
Roland Deschain is the last Knight
The Gunslinger (Deschain) faces off with The Man In Black (MaConaughey).
Warrior who has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey), to try and prevent him from destroying The Dark Tower, which holds the universe together.
If the tower crashes, millions of lives will be lost but for Roland, it’s personal too. The Man In Black has killed his family.
When we first meet him, he’s weary, disillusioned and losing his will to fight until he meets 14-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who crosses over from contemporary New York City into MidWorld, a parallel earth.
“To say that Roland is haunted is a bit of a cliché but he is,” says Elba. “He has a past that he can’t shake off, he can’t let go, until he meets Tom’s character Jake and then he finds a way to confront his past — really confront it. Everything has been taken away from him and he is on a quest for vengeance — it’s become part of him
and his consciousness.”
Playing Roland/The Gunslinger was, he says, unlike anything he’s tackled before. “I felt that the part had a lot of depth,” Elba says.
“I feel that as an actor you get some roles that are challenging in a way that means you have to reinvent yourself. With Roland I worked on him from the inside out. I tried to compare who I was and who he was, and started building him.”
Elba admits the challenge of making an epic set in connecting worlds was huge — the production filmed the MidWorld section on vast, surreal, beautiful landscapes in South Africa. And that’s just the way he likes it.
“It was a lot of hard work, especially when we were in South Africa, our Mid World. It was long hours and quite physical. Playing a super-hero is like nothing I’ve ever done before. The character has a lot of depth but he also gets to do a lot of action sequences, which was fun to do. I learnt new skills like gun handling.
“And the challenge was to do something pretty cool and to make it look good. It was also great working with Tom. He’s fantastic.”
Elba has starred in blockbusters before, of course — he’s played Helmdall in the Marvel films and
for example — but was different.
“I’ve been in big productions before but not as a lead and not like this,” he says. “It’s a big blockbuster film and it’s a different energy when you are at the front of that train. It’s full on and it’s very interesting.”
He was, though, in safe hands. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who co-wrote the screenplay, has loved King’s books since he was a kid growing up in Denmark. “So he’s a fan of the books and he has interpreted them in a way that makes perfect sense as a movie,