Idris Elba: ‘I’ll al­ways be an east Lon­don boy!’

Idris Elba talks hum­ble be­gin­nings, last week’s Luther, and why he’s a softie when it comes to his kids

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Hands up! Who thinks the lat­est se­ries of Luther was the most grip­ping to date? It’s no won­der the hunky 46-year-old has both Bri­tain and Hol­ly­wood en­chanted. Not bad for an East Lon­don boy who was so skint when he first ar­rived in Amer­ica look­ing for an act­ing job that he ended up sleep­ing in his car.

But Idris got lucky, bag­ging a role in gritty US drama The Wire, which would ce­ment his act­ing ca­reer. Now, the fa­ther-of-two, who’s en­gaged to Amer­i­can model Sab­rina Dhowre, 29, has re­turned with a third se­ries of Bri­tish po­lice drama, Luther, in which he plays the rulebend­ing, brood­ing ti­tle role. Marc Baker caught up with the ac­tor about the lat­est se­ries and those Bond ru­mours...

On Luther…

I’m sur­prised how funny this show is, given it can be so dark and scary. When we hung out with real de­tec­tives for re­search pur­poses, we re­alised they have this mas­sive sense of hu­mour. They have to, oth­er­wise they’d go mad! There’s a con­scious ef­fort to in­tro­duce some light mo­ments – we didn’t push that en­ve­lope in the first two se­ries. And Luther’s got a new hair­cut! He never changes his clothes though, does he? And no­body re­ally men­tions that. I guess he’s like Columbo, who never changed his mac. It’s been great to film in Hack­ney again. This sea­son we shot around where I grew up. I love Lon­don in Luther – the city has a char­ac­ter of its own.

On Luther be­ing a cor­rupt cop…

Well, this sea­son was wait­ing to hap­pen, wasn’t it! Af­ter two se­ries ter­ror­is­ing peo­ple and break­ing the law, he’s now be­ing held ac­count­able. In this se­ries, he’s held by the col­lar. But like ev­ery good su­per­hero, you still want him to get away with it!

On his am­bi­tions...

When I turned 40, I wanted to achieve all my am­bi­tions and now, at 46, I feel I’ve got a real hand on my mu­sic and act­ing. I’m go­ing for all of it, prop­erly! I’m even in a Mum­ford & Sons video! I was so sur­prised when Mar­cus [Mum­ford] rang me up. We ended up sat in a pub in Shep­herd’s Bush, and he asked me to be in the video!

On those James Bond ru­mours...

I’m nei­ther shaken nor stirred by it. It’s just a ru­mour. It’s such a mas­sive legacy to be even con­sid­ered as the first

black guy to play 007, though. It’s a priv­i­lege.

On be­ing a Hol­ly­wood star...

I still pinch my­self. At the last Golden Globes, I was so ex­cited. When I won, I went up and heard this voice – it was Brad Pitt say­ing, ‘ Well done, Idris.’ I was flab­ber­gasted. He’s a movie icon! I had a mas­sive grin on my face. How­ever, you can take the boy out of the East End, but you can’t take the East End out of the boy!

On his hard­est role…

Man­dela [in Man­dela – Long Walk To Free­dom in 2014]. I prepped for a year. Man­dela’s so iconic, peo­ple know who he is and what he sounds like. I look noth­ing nor sound any­thing like him. We shot it in Soweto, Johannesburg, and they had me speak­ing to real crowds. The di­rec­tor had me walk into a theatre with 600 peo­ple in, where they were show­ing an old film. I had to walk down the mid­dle, stop the film and do a speech as Man­dela! I was ter­ri­fied. The hairs on the back of my neck lifted up, but they em­braced me.

On his love of DJ-ing...

My un­cle was a DJ. He played Nige­rian records at lots of African wed­dings. He had three sons and me, and we’d go out and DJ with him. I then out­grew what my un­cle was do­ing, and started DJ-ing by my­self.

On hum­ble be­gin­nings…

I got a grant from the Prince’s Trust to help me start my act­ing. I had a love af­fair with New York, as I al­ways liked Robert De Niro – he came from the city. I went out there when I was 21. I went ev­ery year for three or four months, and the Prince’s Trust got me through the early days. I lived in a car in the be­gin­ning. When I got to New York, the mar­ket­place was so sat­u­rated, I couldn’t get an act­ing job! So, I shipped over my 4,000 records, and my daugh­ter, Isan, who is 17 now, was lit­er­ally raised on that money I made DJ-ing in lit­tle bars in the East Vil­lage! The day be­fore my daugh­ter was born, I went for my last au­di­tion for The Wire. The day she was born, I got the part of Stringer Bell. My life changed on that one day.

Watch the new se­ries of Luther on BBC iPlayer now

Luther was back – and we LOVED it!

Idris pri­ori­tises time with his kids and fi­ancée Sab­rina

His DJ-ing helped him in New York Man­dela was Idris’s most chal­leng­ing role

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