Men's Health (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

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.

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