Ahead of the return of the BBC’s hit detective series Luther to our TV screens next week, Gayle Edmunds heads off to London to watch the opening special, to chat to its star – and to get a selfie
II got lucky. I was off to London to interview one of the hottest actors on the planet. Yet the only thing my mildly miffed colleagues demanded I get was a picture of me with him. A selfie for the office wall. How hard can it be? Having prepared vigorously, with lots of pithy and interesting questions, for the interview, I discover at the hotel (so fancy the guys at the door are wearing top hats and tails) that I will be sharing Idris Elba with journalists from around the world. We’ll also be running a couple of hours late. No problem. I drink tea and a guy from The Hollywood Reporter tells me at length how fabulous the film studios are in Cape Town.
Two hours later, we’ve been shuffled into two groups and are awaiting the actor. I ask if I can get a quick iPhone photo, please. “No, sorry, no photos,” is the answer. Ah, I think, damn. Elba, in a tightfitting black Benetton T-shirt and a pair of dark jeans, is as tall and gorgeous as his on-screen characters promise. Shame I can’t take a photo, but there’s always the premiere later on.
The interview goes off. He’s charming and thoughtful, even playfully dodges the James Bond questions we weren’t supposed to ask. We all decamp for a brisk 30minute walk to the cinema, where we will watch the first half of the Luther special we are here to talk about.
As I am slurping the glass of wine I earned fair and square, I gaze across the room. There he is! I buck up my courage, whizz over and say: “Excuse me, I can’t possibly go all the way back to Joburg without a photo of you, could I?”
Nice smile. “Yes, yes, just a minute,” he says. And he completely disappears. He moves fast for such a big man. No matter, think I, I will catch him at the after-screening party.
A man leaves his office, gets into his car and sends a text message to his wife that he’ll be home in 20 minutes. She sends back lots of kisses. He stops at the supermarket to get ready-made curry for dinner, while she waits for him, painting their house, which is being renovated and looks like a construction site. All very normal – except it’s not. This is the opening sequence of the latest instalment of BBC’s Luther, so you know something is about to go fatally wrong for somebody – or a whole lot of somebodies. And in this special two-parter, Luther’s adversary is even more vicious – and ravenous – than those who came before. And that’s saying something, because the trademark of Luther is how far one man can go into the darkness before he can no longer see any light.
Elba first inhabited the dark world of Luther back in 2010, when this British detective series put a new slant on a genre the English do so well. This fourth season picks up where 2013’s ended, with Luther having left the force to recover. When two detectives from the force find him in a windswept cottage on the edge of some chalk cliffs, it is to tell him Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), the killer he loved, is dead. Worse, murdered. This drives him back to the force to get justice and into the middle of a new madman’s deadly fantasy.
In our interview ahead of the London premiere of the first episode of this new two-part special, Elba explains that, for him, there is a constant “evolution of John Luther. When I started, I imagined him a lot. Now I am Luther a lot.”
Elba, who might have started as a British actor, is now a Hollywood superstar and was always a DJ. Music is very much part of who he is and, when we interview him, he is fresh off the plane from Berlin, where he opened for the grande dame of pop, Madonna. She asked him to open her Rebel Heart Tour on November 9.
Elba has married his love of music with Luther in a collection of songs, titled Murder Loves John, that inhabit Luther’s London.
He says the music he’s chosen to complement Luther is best described as “industrial fog”.
“It’s a take-home for my audience, a box set of all the characters. If you turned the sound down on the show and played the album, you’d get the sense of John.”
This habit of finding the music that tells the story is part of Elba’s process and, this year, he also made the documentary Mandela, My Dad and Me, which chronicles Elba’s first album created out of the music he found while researching his role as Nelson Mandela.
Around the time he was promoting Long Walk to Freedom, he lost his father, and so the documentary and the album it is about are a tribute to both his father and the father of our democracy.
Creating music around Luther, which he also co-produces, isn’t all Elba hopes for when it comes to this maverick character. He says he’d like to see a “cerebral, slow burn play around Luther”, and he’d like to see the character on the big screen too. “I’d like to put a different lens on it. I think audiences wouldn’t mind seeing other incarnations.”
This must be true. The Russians have already made a version, titled Klim, and Fox in the US is making an American version. Strangely enough, though Elba is a Hollywood star, he won’t be reprising his role in the US version, though who will be is still up for debate.
Elba says the unexpected way the series is produced is part of the show’s DNA. It doesn’t arrive on our screens in predictable episodes, but, rather like this one, unexpectedly with more than a year’s gap to rip through our TV viewing. Elba says that, counterintuitively, bringing out the darkness of Luther “is easier – the character is a release”.
The screening ends. It was great, but I have a photo to get. I patiently position myself near the door of the bar for the after-drinks shindig. I wait; I watch. There he is! He’s deep in conversation, so I watch and wait for a suitable gap. Just then, a guy next to me asks me something. I answer.
I look back at the door. He’s gone. Poof, vanished as fast and silently as he did the first time. Is he a ninja? I am fed up. Mostly though, I am hungry and the disappointment of my far-off colleagues suddenly isn’t as important as a sandwich.
I give up in favour of food. I buy a giant roast beef and mustard sandwich in the cinema café. I sit down to eat it, and take a bite so big that I get a mustard smile. As I sink my teeth into it, Elba walks down the steps, within two feet of my table, whooshes out of the door – and, once more, he’s gone. This unexpected arrival hits our screens on BBC First
(DStv channel 119) on New Year’s Eve at 9.49pm
Each time a new generation of Astra, Focus or Mégane arrives, the motoring media say: Will it be good enough to beat the Golf? Well, usually they’re not. The luxury versions in South Africa should come with technology like IntelliLux LED Matrix headlights that adjust automatically to mostly shine on either side of other vehicles, so you can drive with headlights set to high; front seats with massage and ventilation functions; an IntelliLink infotainment system that mimics your Apple or Android phone’s screen; and rear seats with two USB sockets each for charging devices. Apart from the gimmicks, it should be a great drive, with its power coming from a 1.0-litre or 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine and the possibility of a refined and quiet 1.6-litre turbo diesel. How much? An estimated R250 000 to R370 000.
Hilux is more than an institution in South Africa; it’s a religion. Its reputation for durability is well deserved. It struggled in the sales charts, where the Ford Ranger often outsold the largely outdated Toyota. But now the boss is back.
The proven but ancient 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine is dead. In its place is a 2.8-litre and a 2.4-litre (turbo-diesels) with more shove and less thirst than the old warhorse. Inside, the cabin goes from economy class on SAA to business class on Etihad. The steering wheel now adjusts for height and reach, the rear passengers have more room, and noise insulation has been improved. A new Hilux means a new Fortuner and that will also reach us next year. How much? An estimated R220 000 to R570 000.
CAMERA-SHY Luther star Idris Elba poses for the camera
– but not the author’s