Interview with Idris Elba

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Image © Idris Elba via Facebook

We talk to actor, designer and DJ Idris Elba ahead of the release of his new action thriller Bastille Day

With his dashing good looks and impeccable style it’s easy to understand why Idris Elba just can’t shake those Bond rumours, but in between designing streetwear, DJing and starring in blockbuster films surely there’s just no spare time for the odd bit of international espionage. London Calling conducts its own private investigations in catching up with the effortlessly cool star of new movie Bastille Day.

Idris Elba's career is like a pot that has been on a slow simmer for the last 15 years. Now the heat is turning up and it’s impossible to contain this powerhouse of a man and his many talents. The 43-year-old has played some exceptional roles of late, from his superb portrayal of South African president Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, to the terrifying yet charismatic African warlord in Beasts of No Nation. Elba has also indulged his love of fashion, collaborating with High Street brand Superdry to interpretcontemporary streetwear with a British twist. Somehow he even foundtime to put those dulcet tones to good use on the new Macklemore and Ryan Lewis track Dance Off. But the Londoner insists there was nothing overnight about his empire.

"People seem to think, 'you're now dipping your toes into music, into fashion, into producing’," he explains, "but these are all projects and passions I've been working on for years. Nothing has been done on a whim. There's no way I could pull that altogether in one go."

Music, in particular, has been a longstanding passion for Elba, who has been playing in London clubs since he was 19 under the pseudonym Big Driis The Londoner, and alongside his acting career he still headlines clubs all over the world. “Last year, I shot Beasts for six weeks while living in Ghana, then, as soon as we wrapped that film, I went to Ibiza for a night and DJ’d there. They're two opposing worlds and two completely different parts of my personality. But they're both very much a part of who I am.”

And that is the big question: who is Idris Elba? Born to a Ghanaian mother, his father hails from Sierra Leone, where his parents met and married before moving to East Ham. He’s a London boy through and through and yet he fooled the whole world with his impeccable Baltimore accent as Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell in The Wire. Since then he has won a Golden Globe award for playing British detective Luther in the long-running eponymous series while the rumours of him becoming the first black Bond won’t dissipate. And yet, despite being a household name, it still feels like his big break is yet to come.

All that is about to change though with an impressive slew of blockbusters in the cutting room; playing the villainous Krall in Star Trek Beyond, voicing a gangster sea lion in Finding Dory as well as Shere Khan in the upcoming Jungle Book, and his latest film Bastille Day, an action packed thriller in which Elba plays Sean Briar, a former CIA agent who teams up with a petty pickpocket [Game of Thrones' Richard Madden] who's wrongly accused of a terrorist attack in Central Paris. The film has some extraordinary action scenes which were filmed on location, foregoing the green screen. While this gives the scenes an authentic and exciting dynamic, it also added an element of danger to the filming.

“Our director, James Watkins [The Woman in Black] said, ‘oh we want to make a film that feels like the Seventies with the framing, the way he did the action, the tone, the face shots, whoop bangs, crashing cars into cars, the fact it’s a little bit old school, and with very little CGI in the film,” explain Elba. “And what I like is that it deviates from what you think it is, and that's a terrorist plot. That's not at all what it is; it's, you know, good guy vs bad guy in the end. Who doesn't love that?”

We know him best for playing the hard man - look no further than DCI John Luther on that front - but it isn’t difficult to see Idris’s impeccable comic potential at play either, and when Disney asked he and fellow The Wire co-star Dominic West to swap their Baltimore drawls for cockney ones to voice East End gangster sea lions in Zootropolis, he jumped at the chance, “When that is pitched to you, you sign up yesterday,” he says, laughing. “And Dominic is a great friend after all these years; it was the best opportunity to laugh and mess around.”

Bastille Day is in cinemas from today.