Whether you realize it or not, Idris Elba has built quite the acting career for himself. In addition to starring in acclaimed series like “The Wire” and “Luther,” he also appeared on a season of “The Office” and is carving out a path in the movie world, with roles in “Pacific Rim” and “Thor: The Dark World,” among others. Before all that though, Elba had to earn his money in other ways, like selling marijuana.
In an interview with GQ, Idris talks about that time in his life, admitting he did what was needed to make ends meet. “I mean, I was DJ’ing, but I was also pushing bags of weed,” he says. “I was doing my work. I had to. I know that sounds corny, but this is the truth.”
Once his acting career took off, he was able to leave that life behind. He began popping up in TV shows in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until “The Wire” debuted in 2002 that Elba shot to stardom. His character, Stringer Bell, is always remembered as the standout of the show, but Elba doesn’t think his portrayal is what does it. “That really is more about the writing of ‘The Wire’ than it is the performance,” Idris explains. “You know, Stringer Bell is a great character that was written. I happened to play him, but it could’ve been anybody playing that role.”
While fans of the series might disagree with that sentiment, Elba adds, “Listen, I think I brought Stringer to life my way, but ‘The Wire’ isn’t a classic because of Stringer Bell. ‘The Sopranos’ was a classic because of Tony Soprano.”
His next big role, as the title character in “Luther,” definitely makes the show a classic. It called for Elba to be very emotional at times, something he recalls was especially powerful while filming the pilot. At the time, Idris was coming out of a personal crisis after discovering a child he called a son wasn’t actually his.
Elba was led to believe the woman he was living with gave birth to his second child, a boy. However, it was later revealed that he wasn’t the father. “To be given that and then have it taken away so harshly was like taking a full-on punch in the face: POW,” he says.
When the time came to shoot the “Luther” pilot shortly after that, he was able to focus all of that emotion into the role. Idris notes a scene in which Luther slams a door after learning his estranged wife was seeing someone new. “I did that take, and I remember the room … Indira Varma, the beautiful Indian actress — beautiful girl … The crew were at this end of the room, all packed in. Indira was over there. And I f***ing let go. Like, all kinds of s*** happened in my head,” he says. “F***ed up this door, I mean f***ed this f***ing door up.” Elba remembers everyone was silent after the take, with both himself and Indira in tears, before someone finally called for a cut.
It looks like “Luther” ended after completing it’s third series in July on BBC One, but the actor continues to rise. In addition to joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Thor: The Dark World,” Elba will also star as Nelson Mandela in a biopic about the former South African president.