Idris Elba on race & Hollywood: “The less I talk about being black, the better”

I should do more Idris Elba stories. He really doesn’t give that many interviews, though. We should be hearing more from him in the next few weeks, because Idris is also in Prometheus – with Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. I haven’t heard much about Idris’s character other then the character being the pilot of Prometheus, the spaceship (or whatever) flying into Planet Hot Death. In the previews, Idris is doing a rather hokey Southern-sounding accent which irritates me because A) His normal English accent is lovely and sexy and B) Idris can actually do a really good straight-up American accent – I don’t get why the character needed to be Southern. Anyway, Idris has a new interview with Vulture, and I found it really interesting. I didn’t know his real name was Idrissa! That’s rather pretty. He also has some interesting thoughts on race and Hollywood – you can read the full Vulture piece here, and here are some highlights:

He hasn’t had a home in more than a year: “No fixed abode, because there’s no point,” Elba says in a thick London accent when I ask him where he lives. “I’m a traveling circus for a while. It feels kind of weird. Like, if I wanted to go home, there isn’t anywhere to go. Just a hotel.” All of his things are in storage, save for a suitcase filled with D.J. equipment and a limited wardrobe of road-friendly darks. “I’ve worn this outfit a million times,” he says of the black shirt, gray jeans, and newsboy cap he has on.

Being in Atlanta: He meets me at the Crosby Street Hotel on his single day off from shooting the thriller No Good Deed in Atlanta (No Good Deed is actually a clever ploy to squeeze in time with his 10-year-old daughter, Isan, who lives with her mother, Elba’s ex-wife, Kim, in Atlanta.)

He’s going to play Nelson Mandela in the biopic Long Walk to Freedom: He’ll begin shooting in South Africa the day after he wraps in Atlanta. “It’s one of my biggest opportunities, and I can’t think about preparation or where my head is at. I just get this sinking feeling as soon as I open my mouth,” he says. “I wish I wasn’t working directly up to it.”

Asked if he blames his career on a shortage of roles for black actors: “Next question,” he says when I raise the subject. “I’m so bored of answering that. Are there differences between black actors’ opportunities and white actors’ opportunities? Yes, there are. It’s been said. I’d rather a young black actor read about success as opposed to how tough it was. I get these roles because I can act and that’s it. Hopefully that’s it. The less I talk about being black, the better.”

But he’s okay talking about growing up poor in Hackney: From the rough neighborhood of Hackney, the son of West ­African immigrants, he left home at 16 to join the National Youth Music Theatre, and toured with a production of Guys and Dolls. (He played Big Jule.) “We traveled the world,” he says. “I didn’t ever see a future in musicals, but I loved it.” It also kept him out of fights in Canning Town, the ostensibly nicer neighborhood where he went to high school, then a hub for the extreme right-wing party, the National Front. “Their beliefs are ‘Keep Britain White,’ ” he says. “Walking down the street, someone would call you a black c–t. I was like, ‘F–k that.’ ” It was around that time that he shortened his given name, Idrissa, which he says means “firstborn son,” because he got tired of beating people up when they told him it sounded too feminine. “I quickly got well known because I was tall and wasn’t taking any s–t.”

He’s a DJ too: The last time Elba had time for leisure might have been while shooting the first season of Luther in London. He rented a huge place, he says, “and because I hadn’t been home to England in forever, all my mates moved in.” It became a “party house” complete with turntables. Elba has been spinning professionally since he was a teen, and has opened for electronic acts like Deadmau5 and Skrillex. By the time the season wrapped, he’d changed his D.J. name from Driis to 7Wallace, the address of the house. “Some people think the name is about Wallace from The Wire, like ‘Oh, where’s Wallace, String?’ ” Or they ask if it’s a tribute to Notorious B.I.G., whose real name was Christopher Wallace. “We did have a Christopher Wallace suite, which was for Christopher Wallace–type activities,” says Elba, refusing to elaborate. “You’re going to have to use your imagination,” he says. “When you watch season one of Luther, understand that most of those scenes were done with a hangover, which is what makes it grumpier and more interesting to watch, I think.”

Boxing, training and worrying about his pretty face: “If an alien craft were to come down and go, ‘We want the fittest people in the world,’ we’d give them a bunch of soldiers and boxers,” he says. “I want to take my body there.” He’s considering making a documentary about his training, the culmination of which, he hopes, will be a charity fight next year to benefit children in Sierra Leone, where his father is from. (His mother is Ghanaian.) But isn’t he worried about damaging his leading-man looks? “If I made my living off my face alone, I don’t think I’d be here talking to you now,” he says. “I don’t have much to lose. Besides, there are characters out there that have crooked noses. I think I’ll get those characters.”

He admires The Rock: “I love kids and kids like me, so I’d like to do something a bit silly,” he says. “I admire Dwayne Johnson, the Rock, and his fearlessness in taking roles like that even though he’s known for being a hard man. That shows versatility. Plus those movies are a lot of fun, and my daughter likes them.”

[From Vulture]

Oh, Idrissa. I mean… I love the guy. He’s super-talented, he’s badass, he’s sexy as hell. But I get the feeling that this guy has some shady stuff too. Bossip tried covering all of the drama with one (or two?) of his baby-mamas, and all of the stuff with deejaying and partying… I don’t know. It seems like he should be outgrowing some of that. He turns 40 years old this year, in September (he’s a Virgo, like me!). Enough with the boy stuff and partying like a kid.

Photos courtesy of WENN.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

56 Responses to “Idris Elba on race & Hollywood: “The less I talk about being black, the better””

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Eve says:

    I find the top of his head really strange…still incredibly sexy though.

  2. Bisolar says:

    Are u kidding me?so he should stop deejaying cos he is now 40?Something he has been doing since he was a teenager.
    Give me a hot hollywood type who remains true to who he is and doesn’t let fame change him anyday rather than some Hollywood Actors who shed all aspects of their personality as soon as they hit the big time/or take up a holier than thou persona.

    • Jen says:

      I think the point Kaiser was trying to make is that if you’re still doing the same crap at 40 that you did when you were 19 or 20, you’re caught in a bit of arrested development. Partying is fine when you’re 19…when you’re 40, it’s just kind of sad. There’s so much more important stuff to life, and you’re missing it. IDK…

      • ORLY says:

        …but he has been married and has a kid (kids?). He has been grown up. I see nothing wrong with enjoying life the way he wants to. Just because someone is a certain age doesn’t mean they have to spend time doing dinner and movies or other ‘subdue’ forms of entertainment.
        Now, if he was only hanging out with 19 or 20 yr olds, then that would be pathetic.

      • Christine says:

        Whatever happened to live and let live? He isn’t hurting anyone – he’s clearly making an effort to spend time with his daughter, and I’ve never heard of him being unprofessional on set or getting arrested or anything like that.

        If, in his free time, he wants to party with his friends, that’s his business. Not everyone aspires to live the same way, and I don’t think that enjoyment of life (provided it doesn’t harm anyone else) should have an age limit.

      • Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

        Hey man, people have been saying for some time now that he would make a good James Bond and I’m inclined to agree. He’s got an aura of rarefied elegant masculinity that would suit the role and I don’t think that we would be able to master that kind of baccarat, boutonnieres and babes sly charm if he were childish.

        I had no idea that he DJs as well, so I guess that means he’s good at two things. Prodigies are curiousities to me, they work within the context of their own lives and experiences and people flock to the newness of it. That’s great and vital, but that doesn’t really lend itself to the widest scope of range of expression. It’s not good or bad, it’s just the truth. But another ‘truth’ is that we’re being told about the same stories, the same experiences–from the same people. It’s a little like someone in casting, ”What if THIS time we set it on New York City, but make sure it features six thirty-ish singles–white, it they’ll allow it– or semi-singles who make astronomical amounts of money and mire the whole affair in ‘will they/won’t they’ romantic misunderstandings’.

        I don’t think ‘arrested development’–to the contrary, I get to appreciate the ‘development’, because this man has 20 more years of experience, talent and growth that a lot of his peers and frequently, my ears *need* to be able to hear what the grown people are saying…and not in the ‘I hear you’ve developed quite the huffing addiction’.

        Now, if he were doing this solely to attract waify 20-year-old hipster co-eds who wear their their grandmothers’ frames and their grandfathers’ cardigans, he’d be Gerard Butler. Give the man some credit for not being Gerard Butler.

  3. TheOriginalKitten says:

    Yeah he’s interesting but I’m not sure how likable he seems from this interview. He is so incredibly hot though. Good god…

  4. sullivan says:

    I didn’t know he could get any hotter until I heard him speak with his English accent. I melted.

  5. Karrra says:

    Kim is not his “baby mama”. She was his wife and she had his kid. You should know this, its dead and centre in the Vulture article.

    A “baby mama” is a woman who has your child out of wedlock. Say like Anjelina Jolie is Brad Pitts baby mama. But somehow I dont see C B calling Angie a “baby mama”. Respect people, its not that hard.

      • Naomi says:

        I feel so disappointed, which is odd cos it’s not even like I know him. But I guess they way he came across to me, I just expected better of him. Guys remember contraception is a two way thing, I am sure you can afford a condom. Although it seems to imply that Elba has washed his hands of the situation in the Bossip link I can’t believe he would not provide for his child.
        If this is true by the way

      • ViktoryGin says:

        At least he tried. At least he didn’t pull a Jude Law and start acting brand new when he discovered that she was knocked up. Sometimes you really can’t turn a ho into a housewife.

    • lw says:

      Totally agree. It is an important distinction to make, especially given the subject of the post. I guess I should also “get a grip”.

    • Rose says:

      I agree with @Karrra . Kim was his ex-wife, and any philandering that Elba does with other women has nothing to do with her.

  6. Cameron says:

    Look at the success of “thInk like a man”.. It was budgeted at $12 mil and has made close to $90 mil to date. Granted it was distributed by big studio Sony however it shows there’s an untapped market that’s not interested in Tyler Perry’s shite. My rant may not be related to idris issues but i wish more Asian , Hispanic, and other ethnic groups make more successful movies instead of relying on HW to cast them in their horrible part 2, 3 and 4 blockbusters .

  7. Fyofeelings says:

    So he can’t party because he’s 40?! Ok

    • LizEJ says:

      Exactly. I didn’t know there was an age cut-off for partying. As long as you’re not doing drugs or getting ur ass drunk every time, I don’t see anything wrong with partying at 40.

  8. NM6804 says:

    Why doesn’t he want to talk about being a black actor? In all fairness, all men have it easy but being black is still an issue in showbusiness. It’s the successful actors/actresses who can speak up and make a difference. You can talk about the rough road of black actors and how it didn’t stop them from reaching success. They can decide the direction of the interview if they have the skills.

    It’s not boring repeating that issue because you are making a difference for other people. It’s not because he made it despite his ethnicity that he shouldn’t do anything about it.

    The rest of the interview was ok. He seems like an interesting person who has more in his life than acting. His past is also not the usual “I was a waiter for x years before I got my big break and woe is me because I got bullied” He actually seems like a person who you would like to listen to in real life and would have some cool stories to share.

    • ORLY says:

      I think he is saying that, it’s been done, it’s been talked about, ad nauseam. He sees no point in dwelling on it over and over. He did talk about race though, when discussing where he grew up, so I’m assuming he isn’t trying to avoid talking about race in general.

      • A Girl Named Mikki says:

        Yes, but there is also the element of unmitigated freedom involved in just being a “talented actor” as opposed to being a black “talented actor”.

        Yes he’s black! Duh!! But like it or not, it’s very limiting to beat the drum of “I’m black, therefore…” when you’re working to stay out of the box.

        Love you Idris! Make it “do what it do” babe!

      • ORLY says:

        Are you agreeing with me or disagreeing?

      • A Girl Named Mikki says:

        Sorry ORLY…but that was aimed at NM6804 (or whomever).

        In my urgency to reply with a passionate comment, I hit the wrong reply button.

    • GrandPoobah says:

      See I disagree. The most successful black actor is Will Smith and he never made his race an issue. He plays it down as much as possible in order to be the ‘everyman’. White actors don’t push their whiteness or talk about their racial makeup all the time-why should black actors?

      If you go into acting with a defeatist attitude, you’ll get nowhere. Telling black actors that it’s nearly impossible to not only break into the business but to succeed does not help or make a difference, in my opinion.

      Making less of a big deal about it and not constantly speaking out about it normalizes blackness.

      Of course, that is just my opinion.

      • annaloo. says:

        I second Grand Poohbah’s comment.. I think it’s far better to present qualified achievement, talk about the craft and stop the “woe is me bc I’m black” thinking. He really owned that moment of brushing off that question.I agree: a person can really separate themselves from the population at large when they delve into skin color. not everyone is going to relate.

        I think my Korean grandma said it best when she said “black this, black that. Who cares?” (I’m half black too, BTW)

        Besides the only color Hollywood really sees anyway is GREEN.

      • NM6804 says:

        He played it down because it’s not a favourable position to be in. Why should white actors make a point about their ethnicity when white is the most favourable position to be in? There are plenty of white actors, for every black actor there are 100 white ones.

        Smith is also one of the most safest actors out there and The Fresh Prince was based on playing very much up on very stereotypical black people (for instance Jazz: fried chicken gag, Will: acting like a fool 90% of the time with over the top facial expressions). He didn’t exactly think out of the box for that show.

        I meant that he could talk about the industry and how they treat black people or anybody who is not white for that matter. Halle Berry talked about her having to fight for a part because the director didn’t see the character as black even though it wasn’t described anywhere what ethnicity the character had. I think by not avoiding these issues, you are pushing for change.

        We are not living in a post-racial society and I think that term is invented to try and ignore racism. “Hey, let’s not talk about it because it’s not an issue so let’s not turn it into an issue ok?” Fact is, it IS a big deal. It is telling when Hollywood consists mainly of white actors and stereotypes other ethnicities. If Mr. Elba decides to ignore the issue, he’s basically siding with the ruling white people to keep everything the way it is just because he happens to be lucky to be a working rich black man in Hollywood. He defeated the system so why help others enter it I guess. Wouldn’t want to lose that safe position.

        Of course, that too is just my opinion =).

      • ViktoryGin says:

        I understand your argument and am partially inclined to agree with it, but I wholehearted understand his desire to be an individual uniquely expressive without the constant burden of having to be reminded of one’s ethnicity esp. if he has interests that extend beyond his race. I can see if he avoided the discussion of race entirely but he doesn’t. He just tired of

      • ViktoryGin says:

        He’s just tired of having to take up arms for the race and it’s exhausting. And considering he’s an actor and not an activist, I don’t blame him. This is further proof that we as blacks aren’t individuals so much as representatives of the race.

      • NM6804 says:

        Having read other comments I see what you and others mean ViktoryGin. Maybe I’m just too idealistic to think that those minorities who do make it despite all the hate and prejudice, can speak up for the ones that didn’t make it or want to make it and would have somebody to look up to. For me, that would be a lifelong struggle to open debate.

  9. grabbyhands says:

    He is just unbelievably hot AND he is an amazing actor. The sequel to RocknRolla needs to happen so we can see more of Mumbles. Or they need to film the next season of Luther stat!

  10. Agnes says:

    you should totally do more stories on him. with lots of pictures. 🙂

    and it’s pretty awesome that he DJs – life doesn’t stop when you’re 40.

  11. Mia says:

    Loved him in Thor. Now I see the helmet did wonders for his looks. Lol

  12. C Fox says:

    As a fan of both the Rock and Idris….that theoretical movie would be fine as hell with the two of them in it.

  13. Navy Blue says:

    He’s beautiful. It does get boring I imagine being bombarded with race questions just as older actresses get the plastic surgery questions.

  14. Jilliterate says:

    Love him. Anyone from The Wire is A++ in my books, and I’m glad his career has flourished since then.

    • Lol says:

      Yup. The wire had a few really good actors/actresses. I wish more of them had success.

  15. phlyfiremama says:

    He is so beautiful. Sexy. Talented. Yummy~

  16. taylor says:

    I think he’s absolutely gorgeous (and I love what he said about his looks in the bit about boxing). He’s also an extremely talented actor and I love that he’s doing a charity event for Sierra Leone. But he still seems like kind of an ass.

  17. MsJAPrufrock says:

    I love how Kaiser always throws in “shady past” theories on most actors who look hot and dangerous.

  18. Faye says:

    I don’t know anything about the lady-baby drama, don’t care to know. What I do know is that what he said about being an inspiration to young black actors,(success stories vs struggle stories, a career due to merit) was very wise. He wants to be seen as an actor, not a BLACK actor, but someone who is where he is because of what he’s accomplished and is capable of doing. I think that’s great. (Not saying, of course, that his being black doesn’t factor into his life in any way because I’m pretty sure it must in our society. I don’t mean to demean his experiences as a black man, whatever they may be.)

  19. xxoo says:

    He’s so right. Jessica ‘i don’t get the great parts because of my heritage,not because my acting is painful to’s cus i’m latina’ alba, listen to this man!!!

    • ViktoryGin says:

      Haha. If she were blonde of Norwegiwn descent, she’d still be a dreadful actress.

    • Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

      When did she change her mind about being Latina? I’m being genuine because I remember the days when she would throw a shit-fit if anyone mentioned that part of her heritage. I guess the celebrity backlash she got for that made her see things differently?

  20. DreamyK says:

    He’s lovely. It’s not often that I remember an actor by their role more than their actual name. I look at him and think Stringer and that’s all I need to know.

  21. B says:

    I’ll gladly take more Idris stories! He’s great, very talented.

  22. cc says:

    Haha, I love how that kid in the last picture is wearing practicallly the same shirt! I don’t know why I’m so amused by that.

  23. Anon73 says:

    LOVE me some Stringer Bell !! 🙂

  24. Lisa says:

    He may come across as a bit of a snob in interviews, but there is no denying he is a good actor and incredibly HOT!!!!

  25. Aubra says:

    I’m with him all the way on this! Halle Berry did it damn near every Essence/Ebony/Jet mag interview she did back in the 90s. I think with black actors they tend to be categorized as:

    1.REAL actors

    2.Character actors who can’t make it off of straight to DVD

    3.Musicians who need not act

    4.Comedians/rappers turned actors

    …It’s hard to see an ABUNDANT amount aof black actors with REAL versatility