Cards On The Table: Idris Elba
For this, the second of our Cards On The Table interviews, we caught up with a man who’s played everyone from Norse gods to Nelson Mandela. Tall, charismatic, effortlessly affable – the man sat across from us today couldn’t be further removed from Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell, the Baltimore drugs baron that made Idris Elba a household name. A world-renowned DJ with a well-documented love of driving, ‘Big Driss’ can talk in depth about a wide-range of topics. However, we begin as we always do with a straightforward question…
Are you a gambler?
Yeah, I guess so. If you like speed as much as me [Idris broke the British ‘Flying Mile’ record on Pendine Sands in 2015], you’ve got to be a bit of a gambler. There’s always an element of chance when you’re driving fast. And I think most actors would agree that our chosen profession is shaped by luck to a certain degree. Being in the right place at the right time, bumping into someone you haven’t seen for ages when you’re just the person they’re looking for – luck plays a hand. That said, the harder I work, the luckier I get.
Speaking of acting, is ‘Stinger’ Bell still the role you’re most often asked about?
Less so now that Luther’s been so well received. And once you’ve become a part of the Marvel and Star Trek universes, you’re always being approached by fans. And then, because I worked on The Jungle Book and Zootopia, I get kids and their parents coming up for a chat. All ages, all shapes and sizes – the more the merrier!
Did you like ‘Stringer’?
‘Like’ isn’t the right word. I certainly understood him. I recognised the world he came from and why he’d made the decisions he had. And I think a lot of other people had the same reaction to him. When I DJ, I get people coming up to me all the time saying that they either knew a ‘Stringer’ or that they could have become one had the dice rolled differently.
Do you think it’s fair to say people over-romanticise the character?
Sure. I actually think that people misremember him. They recall the ‘Stringer’ of the second and third series who dressed really well. Go back to Season One and you’ll see I’m wearing some pretty challenging sweaters! And even in the later series, ‘Stringer’ is never as smart as he thinks he is. In a lot of ways, [Bell’s business partner] Avon Barksdale is a better businessman than ‘String’. He’s shrewder, he’s more intuitive – Avon would be on top if he could evolve. Avon wants to live on the corner when he could be living in a penthouse. ‘Stringer’ lives in a penthouse because he can no longer survive on the corner.
Is it true you’ve never watched the show?
I’ve seen certain episodes at premiere screening but, no, I haven’t sat down and watched it season-to-season. I just don’t like watching myself on screen. All I see are the mistakes. If I watch an episode, I come away frustrated that, while, I can see how I could have done things better, I’ll never get the chance to put it right.
You’ve a pretty lengthy CV. Are there projects of yours you’d like to see receive more attention?
It might sound odd but I don’t think Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom got its due. That was an extraordinary project and it represented quite a risk for me – get that wrong and you might never leave the house again let alone work again. It got some good notices and won some awards but it didn’t really find an audience which is odd when you consider how universally beloved Mr Mandela is. And regardless of what people thought of my work in the picture, Naomie Harris was extraordinary as Winnie. Now that’s an award-winning performance.
And finally – red or black?
[Laughs] Wesley Snipes had it right in Passenger 57 – always bet on black.
The Take – starring Idris Elba and Richard Madden – is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.