Win­ning per­for­mance

Idris elba drew strength from his fa­ther to por­tray an icon.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By Su­San King

Bri­tish ac­tor idris Elba is hav­ing what he de­scribes as a “beau­ti­ful mo­ment” in his ca­reer. his off-screen life, though, is another story. this sum­mer, Elba starred in Guillermo del toro’s spe­cial-ef­fects ac­tion thriller Pa­cific Rim, in which he trans­formed the rather moldy line, “We are can­celling the apoc­a­lypse,” into some­thing akin to shakespeare.

the third sea­son of his ac­claimed Bri­tish de­tec­tive se­ries, Luther, for which he won a Golden Globe in 2012, re­cently aired on BBC Amer­ica, and reprised his role of heim­dall, the buff, As­gar­dian war­rior-god gate­keeper, in Thor: The Dark World. And he’s gar­ner­ing rave re­views – not to men­tion awards buzz – for his com­plex per­for­mance as the late Nel­son Man­dela, the leg­endary south African leader who helped end apartheid, in the new bi­o­graph­i­cal drama Man­dela: Long Walk To Free­dom.

But dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view, the 41-yearold Elba ad­mit­ted he’s “numb” to the at­ten­tion and praise. “it’s weird at the mo­ment,” the strik­ingly hand­some ac­tor said re­cently over lunch at the Mon­drian ho­tel on sun­set Boule­vard, Cal­i­for­nia in the United states. “My dad died eight, nine weeks ago,” he said, qui­etly. “he was 76. he died of lung can­cer. i am hav­ing to deal with grief and it has taken a pro­found ef­fect on me.”

Elba doesn’t want to sound un­grate­ful for his pro­fes­sional good for­tune. “i put on a smile, put on the suits and i go on the red car­pet. i do the work, and i’m do­ing it be­cause that is what my old man would want me to do. he was very proud of me.”

the ac­tor, who is an only child, used his fa­ther, Win­ston, as the ba­sis for his per­for­mance. his fa­ther im­mi­grated to Lon­don from sierra Leone; his mother, Eva, is from Ghana.

though from dif­fer­ent African coun­tries, Elba said, his fa­ther and Man­dela had the same ca­dence in their speech. there were other sim­i­lar­i­ties in their be­hav­iours, from the way they crossed their legs to hold­ing their fin­gers while talk­ing, which helped him im­mea­sur­ably in bring­ing Man­dela to life. “My dad had a big sil­ver ball of hair and Man­dela had that, so that was my frame­work,” he said.

At first, idris, who plays Man­dela from his 20s through his late 70s, was re­luc­tant to take on the role of the lawyer and anti-apartheid ac­tivist, who spent 27 years in prison be­fore be­com­ing the coun­try’s first demo­crat­i­cal­ly­elected pres­i­dent. Not only did he feel he was too young to play the role, “i am ac­tu­ally four shades too dark,” said Elba.

But di­rec­tor Justin Chad­wick had an in­stinct about Elba. “he’s a sub­tle ac­tor that to­tally in­hab­its a role,” said Chad­wick in an email. “the producers had imag­ined i’d cast a hol­ly­wood star, but i loved that idris car­ried no bag­gage into what­ever role he plays. We weren’t go­ing for a looka­like ver­sion, but wanted to catch the spirit of the man.”

Elba, Chad­wick added, “is a true gen­tle man, very warm and gen­er­ous. he is also fear­less. And that’s how peo­ple de­scribed Man­dela the young man to me.”

though he never got to meet the 95-yearold Man­dela, who died on Dec 5, Elba has be­come close to his fam­ily. At the pre­miere last month in south Africa, Man­dela’s daugh­ter Zinzdi even said to him, “Come here, Dad,” so they could pose to­gether for pho­tos.

Elba in­sisted that he spend a night in one of the de­hu­man­is­ing small cells on robben is­land, where Man­dela spent 18 years in prison. it is now a mu­seum.

the of­fi­cials turned him down sev­eral times. Frus­trated, Elba even con­tem­plated get­ting into a brawl in a bar so he could spend the night in jail. But fi­nally, the robben is­land of­fi­cials al­lowed him to stay in a “pun­ish­ment” cell.

“When you are locked up in the room, you are pow­er­less,” said Elba. “i was lucky i only had 24 hours. But it just put things into con­text what his frame of mind must have en­dured for that en­tire length of time.”

Chad­wick said he al­ways knew that Elba would be “bril­liant” as the young Man­dela. “it was the older, more recog­nis­able Man­dela that was the chal­lenge we had to catch.”

Be­cause the indie film didn’t have deep fi­nan­cial pock­ets, “we had to be canny with our re­sources ... we had to shoot to­tally out of se­quence,” said Chad­wick.

in fact, in one day, Elba had to do a quick trans­for­ma­tion from a 40-year-old Man­dela to the el­derly man in his 70s.

“his walk and his body lan­guage was breath­tak­ing,” said Chad­wick. “he be­came Man­dela.” — Los An­ge­les times/McClatchytri­bune in­for­ma­tion ser­vices

Man­dela: Long Walk To Free­dom opens in cine­mas na­tion­wide on Jan 9.

Beau­ti­ful mo­ment: Naomie har­ris plays Win­nie man­dela op­po­site bri­tish ac­tor Idris elba’s man­dela in man­dela:LongWalk­ToFree­dom. (Inset) elba has been busy in hol­ly­wood with three star­ring roles in 2013 – Paci­ficrim,Thor:ThedarkWorld and man­dela:LongWalk­ToFree­dom.

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