Breaking the good-guy mould
NE of the marketing campaigns for the film No Good Deed features a poster of Idris Elba, asking the viewer: “Would you open the door to this man?”
It rather defeated the object of the campaign, though, because many a woman (or man) would do so simply because it is Elba.
In the film, however, he plays a bad guy, though the viewer is a tad confused about how good or bad he is for the first half-an-hour because it could swing either way, and the British actor’s screen baggage has been mostly positive up to this point.
After all, this is the guy who plays Madiba in Long Walk to Freedom as well as the doorkeeper to Valhalla, Heimdall, in the Marvel movies and the charismatic Luther in the BBC TVseries.
He seems tickled when I explain that No Good Deed opens on the South African circuit this week.
“No way, is it? Fantastic. It’s coming here? Really?” he chuckles.
He’s laid-back, talkative and surprisingly happy for someone who has spent an entire day talking to journalists about being in South Africa for the Oude Meester Masters in the Making tour.
In No Good Deed Elba plays a character who is invited into Taraji P Henson’s home when his car breaks down, but he has an ulterior motive for wanting to use a phone.
“It was a different part for me, you never see me play such an antagonistic character.
“But I think that was part of the thrill of this particular film. I, of course, moulded that as much as I could as an actor and as an executive producer I was part of the artistic decisions that sculpted the film, but ultimately I was there to act.”
Elba and Henson did a lot of stunt training for a section at the
Oend when the two tussle physically: “It was important to the director and ourselves that we show the emotion at that moment. It’s a big emotional fight and stunt men can only do so much.” No Good Deed was shot in Atlanta, Georgia in 2012 before he moved on to the Long Walk to Freedom set in South Africa, which was followed by work in the UK on the Thor 2: The Dark World set.
The 42-year-old was born in Hackney, London, but refers to himself as a gypsy since he travels extensively.
South African television audiences associate Elba and London with the Luther character and talk of a film has been bandied about, but it is a slow process: “It’s a television show. People loved it on television and the idea of it stepping into a slightly bigger arena, and you have to pay to watch it, that’s a hard sell for any audience.
“I think what we’re doing is a very slow burn and hopefully I’m going to make another one.”
Though there have been three series since 2010, there have only been 14 episodes: “So, I still feel like there is some untouched ground there to look at with the Luther character and, also a sort of foundation towards a film.”
While he speaks with an East London accent, Elba affects a fairly neutral American accent for No Good Deed, and, of course, he tackled Nelson Mandela’s speech patterns for Long Walk to Freedom.
“I remember doing my research for Madiba and having to understand the way he spoke, why he spoke that way, how his English was affected by Xhosa. All of this was for me more informative than doing an impersonation. Trying to understand who he was and why he spoke the way he did, that’s the type of work I try to do with all the characters that I do.”
He is currently attached to two animation projects, providing the voice for Shere Khan for The Jungle Book and also something for Finding Dory. He is very cagey about the details though: “I can’t actually say, I’m sort of bound to… the techniques of animation are fascinating these days.”
He would definitely do other animation film voices: “I’m loving that, it’s a different discipline for me. Also because I have children and would love them to go to my films.”
While he was in South Africa he got the chance to play DJ, something he has been doing across east London (UK, not SA) for the Ibiza Rocks brand.
Elba is producing an album inspired by his experience working on the Mandela movie, but another music project he had great fun on was for BBC Radio 2, a radio show titled Journey Dot Com in which he introduced listeners to African music from the ’60s to today.
“That’s music that I grew up with and stuff that I really loved and stuff that I didn’t know that was researched for me.
“African music is amazing and I really wanted to take people on a little bit of a ‘oh really’ exploration.
“There’s such beautiful music coming from this continent, so that was a great opportunity. And it was like a boyhood dream for me, being on radio.
“The best part of that show was me saying: ‘Okay, this is Idris Elba and it’s time for the news.’”
MR MARVEL: Idris Elba, who played the role of Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, at Van Ryn’s Distillery, near Stellenbosch. He was in the country for the Oude Meester Masters in the Making tour.