Entertainment & Arts

Idris Elba: Mandela film 'hard' act to follow

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Media captionIdris Elba speaks to BBC arts editor Will Gompertz ahead of his film's Royal premiere

Playing Nelson Mandela in an adaptation of his autobiography has made Idris Elba more selective about his future roles, the actor has revealed.

"After playing Mandela, it's very hard to read a script that doesn't have any of the qualities that man has," he told the BBC's arts editor Will Gompertz.

"It's quite interesting what it's doing to my taste in characters," he added.

The 41-year-old was speaking ahead of the UK premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom in London on Thursday.

The film, which tells of the former South African president's upbringing and the 27 years he spent in prison, has been chosen as this year's Royal Film Performance.

Image caption Elba was seen earlier this year in sci-fi fantasy Pacific Rim

The biopic, which runs almost two-and-a-half hours, sees Elba gradually transform from the young idealistic lawyer Mandela was to the elderly patriarch and statesman he became.

"Mapping that journey out, with all the nuances of change, was definitely something that was hard to achieve," the London-born actor said.

"We didn't shoot it entirely in chronological order, so there were times I was going from old Mandela to young Mandela. It was a juggling act."

Playing Nelson as an older man proved easier, however, as the actor was able to use his late father Winston "as a reference point".

Image caption Much of Justin Chadwick's film involves Mandela's many years of incarceration

Elba said there was "no comparison" between his formative years in Hackney and Mandela's life in South Africa under the apartheid regime.

Yet the actor conceded that, like Mandela, he was "born into a country where it was 'us and them'".

"There was racism and I grew up amongst it," he said.

The prejudice he experienced, however, was "only going to fuel me to go further".


Elba, 41, first came to attention playing the gangster Stringer Bell on US TV crime drama The Wire.

His success on that show, he suggested, "has made other writers and directors say 'We can write characters that aren't all white'.

Image caption Elba said he was "interested" in playing Thelonious Monk on screen

"Playing the outsider is more and more interesting to me," the actor continued. "Roles where people go 'Is that Idris?' is what I'm interested in doing."

A proposed biopic of the legendary US jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is one such project, though Elba said he "wouldn't want to fake" the necessary ivory-tinkling.

The actor revealed he has been working on an album inspired by the experience of filming Mandela, but denied rumours he had been cast in Jurassic Park 4.

"I'm already a dinosaur," he joked. "I don't need to be in a dinosaur movie."

Nor would Elba cast light on suggestions he will appear as a villain in the next James Bond film. He did, however, admit he had "had a chat" with producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson.

"They were great but we're not sure what's going to happen," said the actor, previously tipped to be the first 'black Bond' in some newspapers.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - which co-stars Skyfall's Naomie Harris as Mandela's former wife Winnie - is released in the UK and Ireland on 3 January, 2014.

Seen as a key contender for next year's Oscars, it broke box office records in South Africa last week, earning 4.4 million rand (£256,000, $427,000) in its opening weekend.

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