British actor Idris Elba is firmly at the top of my list of actors whose performances both fascinate and intrigue me. Whether it’s as the infamous Stringer Bell in HBO’s The Wire, the complex detective John Luther in the often chilling BBC crime drama series Luther, the guardian of Asgard in the big-budget blockbuster Thor, smaller character pieces like Legacy or Sometimes in April, or guest starring roles on The Office and The Big C, he is always memorable.
All of that considered, it is no surprise that I jumped at the chance to chat with Idris Elba for Collider, to promote his role as the captain of the spaceship that is headed on a mission to the darkest corners of the universe, in Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated sci-fi drama Prometheus, opening in theaters on June 8th. During the interview, he talked about getting the call from Ridley Scott about the role, having a script delivered for him to read under guard, the huge responsibility of being a part of the filmmaker’s return to the sci-fi genre, and what the director is like on set. He also talked about how proud he is of his work on Luther and confirmed that there will be a Season 3 (they just have to figure out the timing of when they can shoot), what he’s excited about with the Thor sequel, working with Guillermo Del Toro on Pacific Rim, his preparation to play Nelson Mandela, which he considers the role of a lifetime, and what fans want to talk to him about most often. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
IDRIS ELBA: Yeah, there will be, for sure. I’m in the midst of trying to figure that out now, timing wise. Hopefully, at the end of this year, I’ll start filming on that.
What do you think it is about that character, with as rough as he is around the edges, that’s become so appealing to people?
ELBA: I think it’s a combination of the writing and the characterizations. Even though it’s very British, it’s larger than life and larger than the usual for British TV. I think that weird conundrum of elements is what makes Luther a bit special. It’s like watching a comic book version of Columbo. It’s slightly cooler, and just as weird and troubled. I love Luther. I can’t wait to go back and play him, even though it’s probably the toughest job I’ve ever done because of how much we try to cram in. We make mini-movies, in these episodes. I really appreciate you saying that because, after winning that Golden Globe, that was when I realized that, “Wow, there’s an audience outside of East London.”
ELBA: Yeah, it was almost exactly like that. I got a phone call from my agent saying, “You’ll never guess who’s on the phone.” I was like, “Who?,” and they were like, “It’s Ridley Scott.” And then, he got on the phone and said, “Idris, hello mate. How are you? I’m sending you a script.”
How secretive was the script? Did you have to read it under guard?
ELBA: I was in London and they sent a security guard, policeman type person on a plane with the script to my house in London. They gave me the script and sat outside while I read it, and then they took it back.
What was your first reaction to it? Was there a specific aspect of it that most appealed to you?
ELBA: Mainly, working with Ridley again was the main draw. Secondly, Ridley’s films are amazing, and him stepping back into the world of sci-fi was just exciting for everyone. He practically delivered the blueprint for making a film about extraterrestrials, and here we are, about to embark on something that is probably one of his finest pieces of work in that genre. How do you say no to that?
Is it intimidating and is there an added sense of responsibility, in being a part of a film by a director who essentially reinvented the genre and who is now returning after so many years away from it?
ELBA: Yeah, of course there is. There’s a huge responsibility. My daughter hasn’t seen Alien and doesn’t even know what that is, but will definitely see Prometheus. So, the responsibility is not only to those that are fans, but also to say, “Hey, check this out. This is new and this is Ridley Scott.” There’s both sides to it. As much as we feel pressure, we also know that we’re going to gain the audience. This movie is an adult movie. When you’re talking about superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man and The Avengers, you’re asking for the suspension of your belief and some people are like, “No, not really. I don’t want to see a bunch of guys running around in suits. However, Prometheus is a bit more of a question of who we are as humans and our journey. The ever-ongoing question of, “Are we alone?,” is something that fascinates us. When you’ve got a master magician or master filmmaker, like Ridley Scott, attempting to put a new spin on the story, you feel like that is a bit more appealing, generally, than superheroes are.
ELBA: Being able to work with Ridley Scott on this film is like being able to play on the Olympic team for actors. He brings in the people that do their job. He doesn’t come in and say, “Will you do it like this?,” or “Will you do it like that?” By virtue or the fact that you’re in the movie, he expects it when you come onto the set. What he does do is put you into context. Actors tend to not know how their performances are going to actually be used. Even though the script says one thing, in the edit, it can be something else. Ridley says, “This is what I want to get from this scene. I need this part to feel like this. This is what I need you to do.” And he’ll tell you, “If this thing doesn’t work, I’m going to cut it.” He’s very collaborative, in that sense. He’ll say, “I want you to bring this to life. I know it’s on paper and we’ve been looking at the words forever, but now I need to see it brought to life in the flesh.” And he would give us all sorts of information that we might need, or not need, to make that happen.
Will you be returning for Thor 2?
What are you most excited about getting to do in the sequel?
ELBA: I’d just like to get to know him a bit more. Who is Heimdall? He guards the gate. Okay. Is there anything else? I don’t know what is in the script because I haven’t read it yet. But, the audience has responded to Asgard and wants to know more about who lives there and what it’s about. I’m sure, if they do that, Heimdall will be featured more.
With everything that you have lined up, how will that fit into your schedule?
ELBA: My schedule is so packed this year, to the point where I really don’t have an address anymore. I’m going to be living on film sets for the next year. I literally moved out of a place and was not going to get a new one. My schedule is really packed, but I’m going to do Thor after I play [Nelson] Mandela.
ELBA: Well, to be honest, I’m still in the middle of all of that research and that’s stuff that I’m doing that I can’t even speak about to the press, right now. I’m very, very proud to have the role. I want to be prepared for it. I’ve been acting for 20 years, and this is the role of a lifetime.
What was it like to get to be a part of Pacific Rim and get to work with someone as extraordinarily visual as Guillermo Del Toro?
ELBA: He loves actors. You realize, when you see the playbacks, that we are part of this huge comic book that’s in his head, and he’s molding us, as actors, bit by bit and frame by frame and line by line. He’s very, very pedantic and he shoots in small sequences, which is great, but it’s a very different discipline to learn.
Do you enjoy getting to be a part of these big spectacle movies, or do you prefer the smaller character pieces, or do you feel like you need a balance of the two, in order to fulfill yourself creatively?
ELBA: Yeah, definitely. Luther means so much to me. It means more than doing these big spectacle movies. It’s a real exercise for me, as an actor. Same with some of the smaller films I’ve done, like Legacy and Sometimes in April. They don’t get seen much, by many people, but as an exercise, as an actor, they’re my favorite type of thing to do. But, you do need a balance I’m not a famous actor. I’m not a popular actor. I don’t necessarily want to be famous. I want to be known for great work. I want to be known to surprise audiences. That, to me, is what is really fulfilling.
Now that you’ve been a part of so many projects that people love, in both film and TV, is there something that you find fans approaching you about most often, these days?
ELBA: I keep getting asked about James Bond, and that surprises me. At first, I was like, “Oh, that’s cool, but it’s just a rumor.” But, I’ve had really long discussions with fans about why they think I would be perfect, why it would be revolutionary and why I should do it. It’s quite deep. If the fans have any power, I’ll probably be the next James Bond, but I don’t think that’s how they do it.