Hollywood Spotlight: Idris Elba

147 views February 5, 2018 10:00 AM

Image above: elpais.com
Written by: Karen Cryer 

This week's Hollywood Spotlight is on Idris Elba! The super talented, multi-faceted actor has graced our screens since the early 90s and continues to surprise us with his range and versatility. Not only is he a force to be reckoned with in front of the camera, he's also shown us that he can produce, write, direct and make music! We've got a lot to cover with this superstar, so let's get started!

Born Idrissa Ekuna Elba on September 6, 1972, in Hackney, East London, he is the only child of Winston, from Sierra Leone and Eve from Ghana. Growing up in the notoriously tough Holly Street Estate, Idris had a working-class upbringing. His immigrant parents were strict and instilled a strong work ethic in their son.

At the age of 14, Idris started helping his uncle with his job as a wedding DJ and later went on to start his own DJ company. Playing in nightclubs under the name Big Driis, Idris developed a passion for music, which is still very present today. However, we'll get to that later.

So, how did Idris get into acting?  He was on all the sports teams at school, but it was drama class that really caught his attention. After auditioning for the National Youth Theatre, and getting in, his mother said the family couldn't afford to send him. On advice from his teacher, he applied for a grant from the Prince's Trust and was successful. That £1,500 was to change his life and he describes it as his 'golden ticket'.

However, it wasn't always plain sailing for Idris and there was a lot of hard work plus disappointment beginning in the 90s. During this time, coloured actors in Britain were often pigeon-holed and rarely given significant roles. In fact, Idris had to work night shifts at the Ford Dagenham Factory (where his father also worked) to make ends meet at the time.

Image: Elle UK

After several small television roles in the United Kingdom, including "Bramwell", "Absolutely Fabulous", "The Bill" and "Ultraviolet", Idris packed up and moved to New York in search of more opportunity. The Big Apple proved to be a tough nut to crack, and he was struggling to follow his dream. While searching for acting jobs, he worked as a doorman at the famous comedy club, Caroline's, did several DJ-ing gigs and sold marijuana to keep a roof over his head.

After going back to London occasionally for bit-parts and getting a supporting role on an episode of "Law & Order", Idris auditioned for the now famous and critically acclaimed television series "The Wire" in 2002.

Idris, although initially disappointed that he did not get the role of king-pin Avon Barksdale, drew on his observations of London gangsters while growing up to channel the character of smooth-talking dealer Stinger Bell. After three seasons, Stringer Bell's character was killed off but, despite Idris now being a household name and having a huge fan following, he was surprisingly cast in fairly average movies over the next few years. Those included "The Gospel", "Daddy's Little Girls", "The Reaping", "This Christmas" and "Obsessed". The highlight of this period in his career was in Ridley Scott's "American Gangster".

It was when Idris was cast in "The Office" in 2009 that things started looking up again. His comedic role showed his versatility and after his seven-episode stint, he was cast in a wider range of roles and higher quality projects. In 2010, he got the lead role in the hugely successful UK television series "Luther".  It was for this starring role that he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Mini-Series, the NAACP Award for Outstanding Actor in a Mini-Series, the Critic's Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Mini-Series, the BET Award for Best Actor, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Mini-Series.  

Idris co-starred in several serious action flicks such as "Prometheus" and "Pacific Rim" and his 2013  lead performance in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" earned him a Golden Globe nomination. His father, who had been supportive but fairly unimpressed by his son's previous roles, wept with pride when he found out Idris would be playing Nelson Mandela.

Image: Discovery UK

After his father passed away at the age of 72, Idris went through what he describes as a mid-life crisis. Feeling lost and as if he was simply going through the motions at work, he decided to make a documentary in 2015, claiming the inspiration came from his late father. "Idris Elba: No Limits" was a four-parter, putting him in various 'flight or fight' situations, such as flying in a stunt plane and competing in a rally. He followed this up with "Idris Elba: Fighter", in which he won his kickboxing match by knocking his opponent out.

In 2015, he also starred in "Beasts of No Nation" as the ruthless commander of child soldiers, set in a fictional West African country. His incredible performance earned him another Golden Globe nomination. He won a Screen Actors' Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male.


Image: Entertainment Weekly

Last year, Idris starred in the British TV series "Guerilla", in "The Dark Toweralongside Matthew McConaughey, in the action-drama "The Mountain Between Us" with Kate Winslet, "Molly's Game" with Jessica Chastain, and in the incredibly well-received "Thor: Ragnarok", for which he received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

We mentioned Idris' passion for music earlier and this part of his career is just as impressive as his acting. He continues to DJ under the name DJ Dris, these days to crowds of thousands, as well as releasing his own music over the years, which has earned him much respect in the industry.

He has worked with several top artists, including producing and performing the intro for Jay-Z's American Gangster, rapping for indie band The Milk, directing and performing in the music video for Mumford & Sons Lover of the Light and opening for Madonna's Rebel Heart show in Berlin, Germany.


Image: EDMTunes

Idris is currently dating American actress and model, Sabrina Dhowre. He has a 16-year-old daughter, Isan,  from a previous marriage and a 3-year-old son, Winston, with his ex-girlfriend. Despite his busy schedule, he is a doting father and likes nothing more than spending time with his children. When he's not working and spending time with his family, he loves to cook as a means of relaxing, describing it as therapeutic.

Idris recently made his directorial debut with the TV Series "Yardie", inspired by the 1992 novel by Victor Headley, which he read as a teenager. The show follows the story of a boy who moves from Jamaica to London and is embroiled in gang life and the drug trade. This year, he will also be appearing in the comedy TV series " The Long Run" (which he also co-wrote), as well as continuing to play everyone's favourite dark, moody detective in "Luther".

Did you watch Idris play the infamous Stringer Bell in "The Wire"?  Let us know your favourite Idris Elba character in the comments!

Here are some fun facts about Idris Elba:
  • His first roles were in "Crimewatch" murder reconstructions
  • He once played a gigolo in "Absolutely Fabulous"
  • He loves football and his favourite team is Arsenal
  • He was once Beyonce's husband...in the movie "Obsessed"
  • His daughter made him a Golden Globe in 2011 when he didn't win
  • He has been the voice of three animated characters - Chief Bogo in "Zootopia", Shere Khan in "The Jungle Book" and Fluke in "Finding Dory"
  • He broke a land-speed record (known as 'the flying mile') in 2015 by driving across a Welsh beach in a Bentley. The top speed was 186.4 mph
  • He was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England in 2016
  • His favourite song is Darling I Need Your Loving by reggae artist John Holt
  • He first started DJ-ing at 8 years old for family birthday parties
  • His dream is to work with Denzel Washington
  • In 2016, he created a fashion line with Superdry
  • He is an adrenaline junkie
  • His celebrity crush is Meryl Streep
  • To hone his American accent, he would spend hours on end at his local barbershop in New York

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