HE’S HOLLYWOOD’S HOT TEST TALENT, BUT IDRIS ELBA IS MORE THAN AN ACTOR . WE TAKE A LOOK AT WHY WI TH TH IS STAR YOU SHOULD EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED…
“Fear is a really boring waste of time. You can’t live a life thinking it could go bad.”
There are some people in life who are good at everything; no-matter what they turn their hand to, they seem to succeed. Idris Elba is one such person. His skills are multi-faceted. He’s the actor who captured our attention as the lead in Luther, who portrayed Nelson Mandela in an Oscar-winning biopic about his life, and whose voice is instantly recognisable – even in Disney movie.
But, he’s also a world-renowned DJ, a director, a thrill-seeker, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire…and the list seems never-ending. One thing’s for sure – there’s never a dull moment in the star’s life. Here, we take a look at the many pages of Idris Elba’s story…
“Sometimes it’s therapy, letting out stuff in my head. Sometimes it’s believability. Sometimes it’s just to do a character that I’ve never done before. I try to be really varied when I pick roles and I like to try and do characters that aren’t necessarily like me.”
Born in Hackney in 1972, Idris left school in 1998 and won a place in the National Youth Music Theatre thanks to a £1,500 Prince’s Trust grant. His first acting role was in Crimewatch, and during the 90s he had small parts in Absolutely Fabulous, The Bill and Family Affairs.
He moved to New York, and landed the part of Russell Bell in The Wire – a role that would make him a household name, especially in the USA.
Roles in films followed, and then in 2009 he was cast as the lead in the BBC’s crime thriller Luther, a part which has since seen him win an impressive number of accolades, including the Golden Globe award for best actor.
Now, Idris Elba is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents. He portrayed Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, appeared in Star Trek Beyond, is part of Marvel’s Thor franchise, and this year alone has starred in not one, but four major movies, including, The Dark Tower – an adaption of Steven King’s classic novel, and The Mountain Between Us alongside Kate Winslet, which hits screens this month.
“I don’t imagine that I’m going to be at the height of Calvin Harris. But I would like to be known as a good DJ that comes and kills it across festivals and smaller rooms.”
In 1986, Idris began helping an uncle with his wedding DJ business and within a year, he had started his own DJ company with some of his friends. He started DJing in clubs, under the moniker Big Driis, and even as his acting career took off, he kept his love for music alive, continuing to pursue his interest whenever possible.
His passion for music and DJing meant he was able to work on the soundtracks for projects like Mandela and Luther – the title track from the Luther album was even named ‘hottest record in the world’ by Radio 1’s Annie Mac – and he’s revealed he’ll be creating music for new project Yardie too.
In 2015 he performed a set at Glastonbury, and was also personally asked (via email, no less) by Madonna herself to be the opening act for her Berlin and London shows, and this year he performed at major festivals including Creamfields.
For 2018, Elba has revealed he’ll be putting out his Hiatus album and touring – while working on a TV project about DJing at the same time. What was once a part-time passion has become a second career for Elba, and within music circles he’s highly acclaimed for what he does.
“Some people go out and buy Ferraris or a motorbike; I was interested in testing if my body can withstand extreme training”.
Idris’ acting career has seen him playing the tough guy, but last year he decided to set himself a gruelling personal challenge – to become a professional kickboxer in just 12 months. Filming his journey for TV channel Discovery, Idris Elba: Fighter saw the star travel to nine different countries across the globe to be mentored by former world champions and the best trainers in the world. This all culminated in a professional fight in London’s York Hall, in which he was victorious. He even had some high-profile support in the form of Madonna, who shared videos and pictures of the star mid-fight.
“I am interested in making human stories with characters that are either full of grace or flawed. In Yardie the audience will see a film that hopefully means something to the people.”
Not content with a career in front of the camera, Elba made the decision to add another string to his bow with directing, and this year saw him make his feature film directorial debut. Yardie – an adaption of Victor Headley’s iconic 1992 novel of the same name, is about a young Jamaican’s rise from the streets of London to the top of the drug-dealing underworld.
Directed and co-produced by Idris, the film has been shot in both Jamaica and his native, Hackney in east London, and is set for a 2018 release. Idris himself will have a role in the film, and he was also heavily involved in the casting. In fact, there was such an overwhelming turn out for a casting call in London he publicised on his social media, that the police had to be called and the event was shut down early.
“The thing I’ve learnt most is that the harder I push, and the bigger the challenge is, the better I am.”
In 2014, Idris explored his love of driving in a BBC series called Idris Elba: King of Speed, a four-part programme where he took his need for speed around the world, examining the underground racing scene.
Ever the thrill-seeker, and not content with just one racing series, in a year Idris filmed Idris Elba: No Limits – a documentary for the Discovery Channel, where he entered the world of motorsports and learned how to master rally driving, drag racing, aerobatics and land speed.
The star certainly pushed the boundaries, succeeding in breaking an 88 year land speed record. In a Bentley Continental GT Speed he hit a top speed of 180.361 mph, breaking the ‘Flying Mile’ record previously set by Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1927.
“I love being a dad, it’s an important part of my life…more than anything you have to make time to be with your children.”
When he’s not travelling the world for work, Idris spends time with his two children – his daughter Isan, who was born in 2002 to his first wife Hanne Norgaard is often seen with him at events. In February 2015, Idris took her as his plus-one to the Oscars, introducing her to some of her favourite stars including Ansel Elgort, and since then, she’s on his arm at most major industry events.
Idris also has a three-year-old son, Winston, who is named after his father who sadly passed away in 2013. Last year he split from Naiyana Garth, the mother of his son, but is still regularly seen spending time with Winston.