Just like Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba is one of those great actors that while you might not know his name, you’ve definitely enjoyed his work. But after starring as Stringer Bell on HBO’s brilliant series The Wire, Heimdall in Thor, Mumbles in RocknRolla, Roque in The Losers, or John Luther on the great BBC series Luther, I think that’s going to change.
Anyway, last year I got to visit the set of Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance while the production was filming in Romania. While on set, I participated in a group interview with Elba who plays Moreau, a religious but alcoholic monk. During the interview, Elba talked about his character, what it’s like to work with Neveldine/Taylor and Nicolas Cage, how he prepares for his roles, and a lot more. Hit the jump to read or listen to the interview.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the new trailer, I’d watch that first. Here’s the synopsis:
Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance. In the successor to Ghost Rider, Johnny – still struggling with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter – is hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe when he is recruited by a secret sect of the church to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (Ciaran Hinds). At first, Johnny is reluctant to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider, but it is the only way to protect the boy – and possibly rid himself of his curse forever. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance opens February 17.
Idris Elba: (laughs)
What nationality is your character as Moreau?
Elba: Nationality. We haven’t really established that, but I’m thinking he’s raised in a Francophone country, perhaps. He’s traveled a lot. So I’m sort of placing his accent based on a French thing, and he’s a traveler. Been around the world.
We saw the bike earlier. Very cool bike.
Was the bike more of a reason to do the film? Or a reason to not do the film?
Elba: The bike was a reason. One of the reasons. I love bikes. I used to own one, but I fell off it when I was younger and that was the end of my bike riding days until now. So it’s good to get back on a bike, and there’s lots of sequences with the bike, so that’s pretty cool.
We were just hearing about your performance and how it’s more comic than some of the things you’ve done. So talk a little bit about the character.
Elba: Yeah, Moreau is supposed to be a very religious man. A monk, in fact. But he’s got his vices. He’s traveled the world. I’m not sure if his faith is as strong as it should be, but in any case he’s a righteous man. His journey in this film is to seek out Danny, and to protect Danny for the day of prophecy. And basically he goes about that by any means necessary. He meets up with Johnny Blaze and Johnny Blaze thinks, “Who is this guy? This crazy guy?” ‘Cuz you know I like a drink and I’m on the bikes and I’m prepared to go for it. It’s actually one of my favorite characters to play; I get to be a little bit more comical than usual and that’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.
Given your role in Thor, was there any concern taking this part—having two big roles in two different Marvel movies?
Elba: Not at all, really. Both characters are sort of incidental from the main characters, you know, sidelines. I mean, this is a big part, but it’s not the central character, so it’s not easily forgotten, but you know what I mean.
Could you talk a little bit about working with Neveldine/Taylor? They’re very unique filmmakers in the way they shoot, everything. Could you talk about that?
Elba: Yeah. This is actually my first experience working with two directors, you know, a duo, team. It’s quite an interesting one. What one director focuses on, the other one steps back a little bit and vice versa. They’re great guys, very courageous. First thing I noticed is that they operate the camera themselves, so that’s quite interesting. One of the first sequences I had to do, I had to get on this bike. And I’m nervous on this bike, but Mark gets behind me on rollerblades and is holding on with the camera. And I’m nervous driving this thing on my own, but there’s this guy, this director, and we’re doing like 30 miles an hour down some Romanian strip, and he’s (noise) “whirrrrr” filming me the whole time, which is pretty amazing. But they’re really good guys, good directors, fun to work with.
Nic mentions that he likes to have humor in everything that he does, and I heard that you guys were ad libbing a little bit, going off script at the beginning. Could you talk about that? Are you able to add a little bit more of your own humor or things like that in there?
Elba: Actually, no.
Elba: There’s not much ad libbing. Nic does a little bit, but his character is at liberty to do that. My character has a lot of stuff to say, a lot of stuff that’s pertinent to the story line, so I’m not ad libbing that much. But what’s comical about my character, he doesn’t care about much, he’s a little bit brash.
Obviously Ghost Rider, based on a comic. As you said earlier, Thor. How much research do you do by reading the comics? Or do you sort of push that away and say we’re making the movie?
Elba: I push that away. I was into Spider-Man when I was a kid and that was the only comic I’ve ever read. When I did this, this character, this character isn’t actually in the comic book, so I just, hey let’s just create him. I tend to stay away from the comics.
So this Moreau is completely original?
Producer Ari Arad: I think the name was inspirational more than anything else. To the writers.
Elba: Right. That’s right.
So what did you use for inspiration if it’s all new?
Elba: That’s a good question. The meeting that Brian and Mark and I had, they wanted a man that had a lot of experience. Have you seen those beer commercials—the most experienced man in the world? (laughs) We laughed about that, like, “Yeah, that’s him! Let’s do him!”
Drinking with the girls around, wrestling a bear, and all that stuff?
Elba: Except for I’m a religious man, you see.
Elba: The drinking is okay, yeah. But I really couldn’t draw too much. The script—Moreau is pretty well developed on paper, so I sort of dug into that. The directors were always finding stuff with Moreau. We even started to coin the phrase, “Let’s do a Moreau moment here,” which means, “Rock it. Let’s fire it away a little bit more.”
As well as the comedy, do you get some action sequences?
Elba: Yeah, yeah, brilliant.
Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Elba: Brilliant action sequences of course with the bike. My opening sequence in this film is pretty badass, you know what I mean? I got to do some of the stunts myself. One of the big stunts is jumping over some steps—k-pow!—and I wore the harness and did the whole thing myself. I won’t tell you too much, but the sequence that ends that whole chase thing is pretty freaking bad. We’re going to do that tomorrow.
Elba: Yeah. I get the uzi.
Elba: Yeah baby, my uzi weighs a ton. (laughs)
That’s what she said.
Elba: The Office! Yeah!
Are Moreau and Johnny kind of like a team in this? Kind of like Lethal Weapon?
Elba: At one point, at some stage they start to have a meeting of the minds, a common goal. At first Johnny’s not too into Moreau, but eventually they pull it together. Between Moreau and Nadya and my character, we have this sort of trio.
Is there some good banter between you and Nic?
Elba: Yeah, there is. Sorry man, we’ve been working for like four or five months. I can’t remember the script (laughs).
Is it liberating to be in a movie like this and you’re an original character, so you don’t have to worry about people’s expectations? People expect Superman to be one way, or Spider-Man to be a certain way. You have a clean slate.
Elba: Yeah. Free agent. Free agent character. And the actors that play those characters are allowed to carve something quite unique if they want to. So for me, yeah, it was just great. I’m sure if I was to play a character that everyone knows, the detail, the attention to what the comic readers want would be on the forefront of my mind. But here on the forefront of my mind is creating a dynamic character and having a little fun with it. I like to make him realistic, because obviously with the dialogue and the plots, it’s like, so I try and steep my character in some sort of realism. So even if it’s over the top, I like to keep ‘em grounded and real, so you believe every moment, you know? You believe it.
This being your third comic movie, you obviously have a lot of comic fans who are into your work, especially with The Losers and for this, I’m sure. Have you had any thoughts of going to Comic-Con? Or trying to interact more with those fans at all?
Elba: I’ve done Comic-Con. I’ve done Comic-Con for Thor… or?
Elba: I tell a lie. RocknRolla! I went to Comic-Con with RocknRolla.
That’s right. That’s right. Years ago.
Elba: (to Steve) I met you there, didn’t I?
You might have. I’m curious. I’m a really big fan of your work actually—
And I wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about how you prepare for all your roles? Maybe you do things differently for certain roles, or more time for others? If you could sort of talk about your process.
Elba: It really depends on the role, obviously. Some roles demand that I do the work, but to be honest my whole style is never to do too much work. Because the truth of the matter is if the script is good enough and the plot is good enough and it’s air tight, it allows the actor to actually live that moment right there off the page, so the preparation takes away. Now there are certain things you have to prepare—like dialect and special skills. But in the moment interaction between two characters on the page doesn’t need—for me, I don’t need to prepare that. For example, in Luther, my BBC thing, there isn’t that much preparation for it. It’s all on the page. I know my character; it’s written on the page. And then basically I show up on the day and the actors and I get on with it. But then in something like Sometimes in April, where I played a Rwandan soldier, I went to Rwanda for a month before that to soak in what that feels like. That was my preparation process, was a matter of just understanding the environment that my character lived in. It was a period piece, it was 10 years prior, so I needed to understand the time period and what was going on there. So that’s my process, it’s more cerebral than anything. I try not to overdo it with the method stuff. If it’s on the page, then I’ll live it, you know?
Are you going to say nice things about this interview on Twitter?
Elba: Yeah yeah yeah! I’ve got it right here, baby!
For more on Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance: