JOIN IDRIS ELBA’S FIGHT CLUB
GET RIPPED WITH THE BRITISH ACTOR’S BODYWEIGHT CIRCUIT.
The Hollywood star shares why he stays fighting fit.
WWhoosh! Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh! Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Idris Elba fires off rapid jabs and a left-right combination, then pivots with elbows raised to unleash a barrage of knee kicks to the ribs of an imaginary foe.
It is powerful. It is violent. And it is graceful. The 1.87m, 88kg British actor has trained in kickboxing for a decade, and it shows. “Shadowboxing is one of the best workouts you can do,” he says after he catches his breath. “You don’t
If I step into the ring, could I go toe-to-toe for five rounds? That’s what I consider fit.
need any equipment, and it works every muscle. It’s what Nelson Mandela did many mornings in his jail cell.”
This is not casual trivia; it’s part of who Idris is. In his research to play the South Africa icon in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to
Freedom, he spent a night in the very jail cell on South Africa’s Robben Island. Throughout his 43 years, Idris has absorbed traits of characters he plays and people he works with.
His approach to fitness has a very personal nature too. He wants to be able to kick ass if necessary. “Some guys want to be toned or want to jog for miles,” he says, “but my ultimate fitness goal is to be fight-ready. If I step into the ring, could I go toe-to-toe for five rounds? That’s what I strive for. That’s what I consider fit.
“I want to know that if I’m being wrestled to the ground, I’ve got the strength to fight a man off. Kickboxing is rugged – it’s all core strength. But when you’re fight-ready, you feel like you can last forever.”
It’s a dreary morning in Lynnterm Port, Vancouver. Swollen clouds are punched around by gusting winds as longshoremen take rebar off a cargo ship from China. Idris is inside a huge warehouse for a photo shoot. Between set-ups, he shadowboxes, spits out lyrics from The Notorious B.I.G., and tests out the acceleration (and braking) of the brand-new Tesla S P90D, featuring “Ludicrous” speed mode.
It’s been a ludicrously busy 24 months for Idris, whose signature brand of sensitive machismo makes for compelling good guys and bad guys. After Mandela, he played Heimdall in Thor: The Dark World and
Avengers: Age of Ultron. Then he shot The Gunman with Sean
Penn and travelled to Ghana for Beasts of No Nation, about child soldiers, on Netflix now. After that, he worked on Star Trek Beyond.
Then there’s television, where Idris first made his mark on
The Wire. His final turn as Luther, the maverick London homicide detective, is on BBC America this month.
Earlier this year, he starred in a Discovery Channel series titled
Idris Elba: No Limits, in which he drove a Bentley at 290km/h on a beach in Wales, raced a Ford Fiesta for a road rally in Ireland, gunned a Super Comp dragster in Miami, and flew aerobatic loop-the-loops in an air show near Coventry, England.
Even that wasn’t enough. He designed a clothing line with Superdry. He regularly flies to Ibiza to DJ at top dance clubs. And this divorced dad of a teenage daughter recently became a father again, welcoming a son with his girlfriend Naiyana.
That isn’t a dad bod on these pages; yet Idris says he’s only about 70 percent fit by his own fight-ready standard. And that gnaws at him. Spend a day with him and you’d realise that this is a man who wants to do things right or not at all.
“When I’m fit, I’m more focused,” he says. “I have greater patience and my temper is more stable, so I’m better in almost all my relationships. I’m more vigilant about the crap I put up with. I see clearer. When I’m out of shape, I’m emotionally lazy.”
That fighting mentality goes back to his childhood in London. He was an African kid and an only child. His father, from Sierra Leone, worked at a Ford factory; his mum, from Ghana, did clerical work. As a tween, he transferred to the all-boys Trinity School in East London.
“Sports are organised by houses, like Harry Potter, and in the locker room afterwards, there would be lots of fights – proper fights. The new kid gets picked on, but I just wasn’t about it, man. I didn’t stand for it. On my first day, I had a fight with a kid who is still one of my best mates now.”
After school, he worked nights at the Ford factory while also DJ-ing and pursuing acting gigs. After two years of that, he sold his house, packed his record boxes and moved to New York City with his wife, hoping to score bigger roles.
It was a struggle. He worked as a doorman and continued to DJ. He hung out in Brooklyn barbershops to sharpen his American accent. “It took me four years to really learn the culture and nail the inflection,” he says. When he auditioned for The Wire in 2002, the show’s creator, David Simon, had no idea that Idris was English.
He’d read for the part of drug kingpin Avon Barksdale but was offered Stringer Bell, Avon’s cerebral yet brutal No. 2. The Wire ran for five seasons and led to his turn as a cop in Luther, which eventually earned him a Golden Globe in 2012 and big-screen roles.