Idris Elba: From Mandela to murderer

2014-09-17 06:00

Los Angeles - British actor Idris Elba has come a long way from his east London roots. The son of a car factory worker, he is now one of Hollywood's most sought-after stars.

The Golden Globe-winning star of The Wire and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is fresh from promoting his latest film No Good Deed, which topped this weekend's North America box office.

idris elba

Elba plays an escaped convict who terrorizes a woman along with her two children in the thriller, which made some $25m despite being panned by critics

But the 42-year-old says he is keen to avoid getting himself typecast  he has played his fair share of gangsters, a world away from the South African statesman.

He says he'd like to try his hand at directing some day.

Brought up in London's Canning Town he is proud to call himself a genuine Cockney, born within the sound of Bow Bells he began acting professionally in his early 20s.

Having moved to the United States he has lived there for 15 years  he became a jobbing Hollywood actor in the noughties before earning his Golden Globe for 2010's made-for-TV movie Luther.

In the last few years he has hit the real bigtime, landing roles in blockbusters like Thor (2011 and the 2013 sequel) and last year's Pacific Rim.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom also came out last year, coincidentally premiering in London the very day that the anti-apartheid icon passed away in South Africa.

Ironically, he was studying Mandela's autobiography as he was playing escaped convict Colin Evans in No Good Deed.

"The irony is that I was going from that movie to go to South Africa for eight months to go do Mandela. So I was reading Long Walk to Freedom as I was playing," he told a small group of reporters.

The new movie may have had poor reviews it received a paltry 14% on ratings website Rotten Tomatoes, which called it "dull, derivative and generally uninspired"  but it made nearly twice its $13m on its opening weekend.

And Elba is clearly going from strength to strength.

Working with A-list directors like Guillermo del Toro Pacific Rim has taught him a great deal.

"Guillermo is a legend," he said. "I learnt a lot .. I'd like to direct at some point. Just watching him direct was just incredible," he gushed.

Elba is currently working on a smaller project in London  giving him a chance to see his family. And while he seems equally at ease with the trappings of Hollywood success, he admits it sometimes baffles his mum.

"She's always worried about how much I work ... when you get to a certain level of success it's just an ongoing thing, it's great, but it really is taxing. And she worries about that," he said.

He also downplays his reputation as a sex symbol. "It's a compliment no doubt," he said, but added: "You should see me in the mornings."

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