Idris Elba unbound at the helm in Prometheus
IT’S good to be Idris Elba these days. The B r i t i s h actor is on television and in films, in the United Kingdom and in the United States.
After years of chasing work, finally work is chasing him. Even better, he’s producing projects of his own, including the internationally acclaimed series Luther – and, beyond his work on screen, he’s a popular vocalist and DJ known as Driis.
“It feels great, but it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life,” Elba says. “I’m exhausted. Hard work always pays off, though, and I’m sitting in a situation where I do have almost an international career. It’s been like 10 years in the making of doing that. It feels great, but really I am exhausted.” The challenge, then, is for Elba to make it last, to extend this period of prosperity as long as possible, and to do so without killing himself. Speaking by telephone from a Manhattan hotel, the 39-year-old actor acknowledges that that’s more easily said than done.
“The number one thing for me, and it’s not a secret, is just enjoying yourself and enjoying what you’re doing,” he says.
“Oftentimes people do things they don’t enjoy and it ends up biting them in the (tail) later on. I tend to just do the things that I enjoy and, that way, I feel good about them when I’m in the midst of it.
“The other thing is to not do too much,” Elba adds.
“Although I’ve been working a long time, I don’t consider myself a household name, and that’s accidentally on purpose. I’ve been spreading it out, reinventing myself.
I’m lucky that I’ve had two or maybe three iconic characters in my career at the moment, but my philosophy is to spread stuff out and to not do too much.” To that end, Elba tries his best to collaborate with the best directors he can on the best projects available to him. In the United States, at least, it was The Wire (2002-2004) that put Elba on the map, and he’s since collaborated with Ridley Scott on American Gangster (2007), Guy Ritchie on RocknRolla (2008) and Kenneth Branagh on Thor (2011). His latest film, Prometheus, reunites him with Scott.
“I remember getting a phone call from Ridley, via my agent,” Elba says.
“Ridley was at the point where he was about to put his cast together. He’d spent quite a long time developing the script. He didn’t do many auditions for some of the key roles. He kind of asked people that he really liked, and I guess I was one of them.
“I felt so proud,” he says. “I felt like I was being asked to join the Olympic team of acting.” Prometheus that released on June 8 is a sci-fi adventure about a group of well-funded explorers who head out to the far reaches of space on a craft ominously dubbed Prometheus, hoping to discover the origins of mankind and to, in essence, meet our makers.
Chaos breaks loose, however, when the group encounters hostile, deadly aliens.
The cast includes Noomi Rapace as an archaeologist, Logan Marshall- Green as a scientist and Rafe Spall as a botanist. Michael Fassbender costars as an android, with Charlize Theron as a corporate suit keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings. Elba plays Janek, captain of the Prometheus.
“Originally he was described to me as a longshoreman, a seaman who’s used to isolation and can stay in the middle,” Elba says. “This ship has corporate people on it, scientists on it, but he’s just the guy that runs it. He’s just the guy that flies it, a very middleof- the-road, blue-collar-type guy. I liked the way that Ridley described his function in the film, so I was all the way in.
“Janek gets in on the action,” the actor hastens to add. “Although he tries to stay neutral to a lot of what’s going on, eventually, because he is the captain of the ship, he does get involved. You will see more of me in action, doing stuff, than you saw in the trailer.” Millions of people around the world were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Prometheus in theatres, not only because it’s a big would-be summer blockbuster, but also because it represents Scott’s return to science fiction after a 30-year absence and, specifically, his return to the fictional universe of Alien (1979). Scott directed that sci-fi classic, and it’s widely known that Prometheus, if not a direct prequel, at least shares some narrative elements with Alien.
“I’m a fan of Alien,’ Elba says. “It was obviously an amazing triumph. It was made in the ‘70s, and it still stands the test of time. I would say that, definitely, the DNA of Alien is in Prometheus, but it’s not a prequel. It stands on its own as an epic film, and it asks very different questions.
“When we sat down and watched Alien for the first time, we presumed it was about an alien,” he continues.
“It turned out to be not only about an alien, but about humanity and how we view ourselves and face ourselves.
If you consider what Prometheus is and who Prometheus was, and the mythology of Prometheus, there lie some really bigger questions and some bigger answers.” In addition to Prometheus, Elba has a number of other upcoming films and shows either wrapped or on the way.
Season 3 of Luther is in development and will be filmed in England at the end of the year.
Recently Elba ventured to Toronto to star, along with Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman, in writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi saga Pacific Rim, which will be released next summer. Right now he’s filming No Good Deed, a thriller with Taraji P Henson.
Further down the line he’ll reprise his role as Heimdall in Thor 2
“Pacific Rim is amazing,” Elba says. “It’s the Kaiju movies (Japanese monster films such as the Godzilla series) done by one of the most imaginative directors you can get. I’m very fortunate to be in that movie. I can’t wait to see it. It looks like a cartoon, but it’s live-action. I’m going in tonight to work on No Good Deed. It’s a good, old-school thriller, a cross between Panic Room (2002) and Misery (1990).” Further down the line is Long Walk to Freedom, the long-awaited Nelson Mandela biopic. Elba has been cast as the iconic South African leader.
“Long Walk to Freedom is happening, and I go to South Africa at the end of May to start shooting,” Elba says. “It’s a huge responsibility, and I expect that the merit of what I do as an actor will really, truly be questioned. People like me in the roles I’ve invented, but when you play someone so iconic, people really look at you and scrutinise you.
“But I’m fortunate to have the role and think we, as an audience, are fortunate to be able to watch this movie about this man’s life.”