THE DAY I WAS NEARLY IDRIS ELBA’S BOND GIRL
Idris Elba would be a great Bond, says Celia Walden
“My name’s Elba, Idris Elba.” Twenty-seven characters were all it took to send the Twittersphere into meltdown. That and a 007-tastic selfie of the Hackney-born Luther star — cropped to the point of inscrutability. After four years’ conjecture that Elba was to be the first black Bond, was this confirmation? Or was it — the time on the tweet reads 1.02am, after all — just a titillating “dweet” (drunk tweet, natch)?
Either way, the retweets came in their thousands: jubilant, virulent and often plain moronic thoughts on race, new dawns, cultural appropriation, artistic integrity, Martin Luther King, the importance of British identity, bigoted extremists (from both the left and right), the British Empire and Hollywood misogyny (how could Scarlett Johansson be overlooked for the role again?).
Debates raged over whether or not Ian Fleming wrote some of his books in Jamaica — and, if so, did that really matter given Elba’s father is from Sierra Leone and his mother from Ghana? Should Tom Cruise now be cast in the
Black Panther sequel, people demanded to know?
And the logical sequitur: “Will Abu Hamza now play the Queen?”
As entertaining as the enduring hysteria has been, it does seem to have detracted from the only issue at hand: would Elba make a good Bond?
Yes. Making Elba the world’s eighth Bond may be a politically correct choice, but it would also be the correct choice. He’s an extraordinary actor — with just the right menace-to-vulnerability ratio and who can rock a Tom Ford suit better than any catwalk model. Women and men crush on him (a crucial 007 requirement that’s absent from most actors’ CVs) and I, for one, want to hear that silky voice stipulating “shaken, not stirred”. And that’s not a racial thing, but a smoothness thing. He even managed to make a sea lion in Finding
Dory sound sexy. So if his tweet does turn out to be a teaser to his formal anointment, then I wouldn’t just say Barbara Broccoli had made the right choice but that Elba could end up being the best Bond in more than 30 years.
I shouldn’t like the guy as much as I do. When I sat down with him in a New York hotel years ago, he made me wait 90 minutes (something on-the-up actors tend to do when they’re still at the pistol fingers in the bathroom mirror stage) before sauntering in with a bottle of Bud in his hand. The great acting I knew about, from his portrayal of Stringer Bell in The
Wire, but, within minutes, Elba had won me over with the voice, the smile and the flirtiness. And if I hadn’t been going out with my husband at the time, I would’ve agreed to have dinner with him when he asked me. That’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a Bond girl.
Perhaps the most charming thing about him was his lack of pomposity about everything from his first role in Crimewatch (“playing a guy who chopped his girlfriend up and put her in the freezer ... shot at the actual crime scene”) to what he called “the elephant in the room”.
“There are only so many roles for black actors in England. People get all excited,” he went on, adopting a hysterical voice. “‘That’s racist,’ they say. It’s not racist. If you go to Africa and you’re white, you’re probably not going to get that much work either.”
With Daniel Craig back next year in the 25th Bond film (his last) — believed to be based on Raymond Benson’s Never Dream of
Dying, Elba’s spy stint may still be a way off. But, to swing back to the haters for a moment: he’s not too old at 45, it wouldn’t be “PC gone f***en mad”, and the movie wouldn’t have to involve Bond being subjected to a series of microaggresions that would include “being pulled over in his Aston Martin” and ID’d by racist cops.
We’ve gone from 6ft2 Scots and dimplechinned Welsh and Irishmen to diminutive blond thespians without anyone, aside from their on-screen female conquests, batting an eyelid.
It’s fiction, folks, and as long as Bond doesn’t start wearing “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts and identifying as anything other than an amoral macho dinosaur with a dual specialty in wince-inducing puns and ghastly double-entendres, I for one will keep watching.
He’s an extraordinary actor — with just the right menaceto-vulnerability ratio and who can rock a Tom Ford suit better than any catwalk model.