Idris Elba is an actor equally prolific on screens big and small. Last year, he won a Golden Globe for his work on TV’s Luther, following acclaimed work on The Wire, The Office, and numerous other shows. His big screen work includes roles in films as varied as American Gangster, The Losers, and Pacific Rim. After spending much of his feature film career in character roles, he gives a career-defining performance as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom from director Justin Chadwick (The First Grader). The film follows the relationship between Mandela and his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) as it chronically suffers at the hands of an ideal for which Mandela is willing to die. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opens in limited release on Friday, November 29th. In anticipation, I recently enjoyed an in-depth and insightful chat with Elba about playing one of the most iconic world leaders of the 20th century. Here’s what Elba shared with me about filming on-set in South Africa, the on-screen relationship he shared with Harris, and filming Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Jackson Truax: You said that director Justin Chadwick told you what he wanted to do with the film, and that made you want to be involved. What was it that Justin said that made you excited about the project and about working with him?
Idris Elba: He offered a different perspective on the saintly Mandela that we all know. He offered something that I think hasn’t been seen… This was a very personal take on a part of Mandela’s life that we don’t know. We know he went to jail. We know he came out and became President. But what do we know about him as a younger man? So it was just a really interesting, sort of young, sort of energetic version of Mandela that really interested me. And then journeying that into the older Mandela… It was a showcase piece for any actor. It’s a gift of a part. But it really shed some light on a time that not many people know about.