Idris Elba

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

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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.

Toy­ota Hilux

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

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