Idris Elba: ‘I was prejudiced about South Africa when I got there’


Here are some photos of Idris Elba and Naomie Harris at the Paris premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The film’s rollout has been slow but steady, and the film is already breaking box office records in South Africa. I keep forgetting to mention this too – while people think Idris’s performance as Nelson Mandela is solid-to-great, Naomie Harris is enjoying some of the best reviews of her career for her role as Winnie Mandela. I think the studio probably won’t follow up on that much (they’re probably saving their money to launch a campaign for Idris), but if this was any other year, I’d say Naomie might have a shot at a Best Supporting nomination.

Incidentally, Naomi’s dress is Vionnet Spring 2014. Pretty. Honestly, I’m not in love with most of her fashion choices, but I almost always love the way she’s styled. Her face is epic and her makeup game has been tight. Idris’s grey ensemble is Dior Homme. LOOK AT THE GREY LOAFERS! I love Idris for bringing men’s shoewear to a new level.

Meanwhile, Idris is getting better at this whole interview thing. I’m serious! He’s not talking about himself in the third person or talking about his deejay career (thank God). Some highlights from two Idris interviews:

Idris on working in South Africa: “I was prejudiced about South Africa when I got there. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I really was really surprised. They opened their arms for me, showed me a lot of love and just gave me the food I needed to bring this character alive. I enjoyed it, I even asked for a passport. They didn’t give me one.”

Working on Mandela’s voice: “His voice was really tricky, the voice is very distinctive, everyone knows what he sounds like. And so I really spent a lot of time trying to figure that out. I have a very London accent and my voice is nothing like his, nowhere near as distinguished and I had to sort of figure out a way to make that real. I watched a lot of footage, I listened to his voice a lot. I kind of watched his body language. I also watched the people and how they reacted to him. There were lots of people going ‘Ah,’ and that was what I realized his essence was about.”

He stayed a night in Mandela’s prison cell: “That was an education and very inspirational. I was trying to figure out who Mandela was – I felt more like a researcher than an actor. I started to understand what kind of human being he was to survive that. I only spent one night but it was enough for me to understand that it was incredibly tough. There was a thin bed and a bucket for a toilet – that’s all. The guy who locked me in the room kept hesitating to leave, as if to give me a chance to change my mind, but I didn’t.”

Honorary Mandela: “It’s an incredible honor [to have shown the film to Mandela]. They told me this story about him getting a picture of me when I was going to do the movie. Apparently he looked at it forever and just said, ‘Really?’ Now, after spending so much time with his family, I’m an honorary Mandela.

Possibly being cast in a Roots revival: “I watched Roots when I was a kid, so just to be brought up in that dialogue is incredible. All I can think is, ‘Wow.’”

[From Rolling Stone & The Voice]

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ve seen the trailers a few times, and Idris does nail Mandela’s voice. I was so happy when I discovered that. The South African accent is so tricky, I think. It’s trickier than the English accent and even the Aussie accent. You know who else got it right? Matt Damon in Invictus. To me, he sounded really authentic. Maybe to South Africans, it sounded like nails on a chalkboard, so maybe I’m wrong.

Also – why wouldn’t South Africa give Idris a passport?! I want to know that story.



Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet.

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35 Responses to “Idris Elba: ‘I was prejudiced about South Africa when I got there’”

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  1. pinkerton says:

    lol because our immigration laws are a bit more thorough then “oh you starred in a movie about mandela have citizenship” christ.

    • mk says:

      Hahaha <3

    • blue marie says:

      ha! should have read yours before I posted mine.

    • TheOriginalKitten says:

      He was completely joking right? That’s how I took it..

      • Melissa says:

        I really mean this in the less offensive way possible, but a lot of black people from Europe and America think they automatically have a birthright in South Africa or Africa in general. I understand they are African descent but it doesn’t give you a free pass. People don’t understand that the country has a history, culture, language, customs, politics, lifestyle of their own.

        My great grandmother was from Africa and my closest relatives still live there and I always visit them, and although I love them to death and always feel at home in Africa, I always respect the land and never think I’m entitled.

        P.S. Idris looks divine.

      • MsT_Shady says:

        @TheOriginalKitten- yep, I’m fairly sure he was joking. Typical geezer: he really has that cockney cheeky humour thing going on!

        @Melissa I’m really not sure where you’re coming from with your comment? Most Africans in Europe have not been here for more than a few generations. They know where their families have immigrated from, they often speak one of their native country’s languages and sometimes even go back there for holidays. They are generally proud of belonging to a specific country in Africa, not some supposedly homogenous landmass.

        Things are different for most North Americans (USA and Caribbean residents) because of the lack of direct history due to the horrors of transatlantic slavery. I agree that the USA does seem to pay a lot of attention to SA amongst other African countries but you can really say that about Afro-Europeans.

      • lrm says:

        and don’t forget brazil/south america=greater number of slaves! just sayin’…..yes, ‘belonging to mother africa’ is a thing for some….alas, political boundaries prevail, but your heart and soul can be a citizen, still. (:

      • LL2 says:


        I’m not so sure about still speaking the language. I know of quite a few Afro-British who don’t including Thandie Newton, Freema Agyeman, Rakie Ayola, Zawe Ashton, Tanya Fear, Calvin Demba, etc. I think that speaking the language depends on the specific individual’s and their family’s level of acculturation. That said, you are absolutely right about them having a strong sense of pride in belonging to and identifying with a specific African country and culture.

  2. mk says:

    One night, eh? I’m so method, I’d have stayed a week. I will be seeing this film.

  3. blue marie says:

    They would make a lovely couple, both so attractive. I’ll definitely see this movie.

    And maybe they denied his passport because he did come out an say at one time he was a drug dealer? You don’t get a pass for simply making a movie.

  4. capepopsie says:

    Nice post. There has been times when I didn´t reveal where I came from, in the past. Thanks to Mandela I am no longer ashamed of my origin, not for the same reasons anyway! :) About the passport: during apartheid people were forced to carry a “pass” when they were outside their township, so I dont know whether that has some referens to the current situation? On the other hand, no country goes dishing out passports left right and centre, do they?

    • TG says:

      Okay I know I am being extra cynical this morning, partly because immigration is furry personal to me but I will go ahead and say it that the US seems to give passports/Visas out to a lot of the wrong people. Those two thugs who blew up the Boston Marathon were both legal, with the youngest having just become a citizen. And if I am not mistaken most of the 9/11 terrorist had been given visas at some point. Meanwhile folks who want to work herd and provide for their family and contribute to society are denied legal status or legal entry. Go figure.

      Regarding Idris he is so hot but I hope he was joking about the passport thing.

      • capepopsie says:

        I understand you! This seems to be happening all over.

      • Buckwild says:

        Uh, how do you expect immigration to have somehow detected that these candidates were “wrong” for citizenship (re: Boston bombing brothers)? As far as I have seen, no one has suggested that they didn’t follow due process and laws in obtaining their citizenship/immigration status. There’s a process in the US, in any country, that is to be followed to obtain status, and it doesn’t include some kind of subjective projection about the people that these candidates go on to become if they don’t have a criminal record etc for a reason. Because that is way too subjective and can lead to decisions made on violations of the right to equality and fundamental freedoms. Instead they use what they can, other economic, medical and criminality criteria to make their decision.

        And where does your line start? There are just as many, if not more, “born in US” criminals as those who immigrated later. So why not go back two generations and say that those earlier generations should never have been given status? Sorry if I am taking your point the wrong way but to me it sounds a lot like the dangerous way people have been painting criminals as “outsiders” and reason to tighten immigration laws when as many of their “own” (the “real own”…you know, the Americans born in America or the ones where their grandparents were born in the US) have done harm.

  5. Fangirl says:

    As a south african im quite keen to see this movie , reviews are quite good. If Naomi doesnt win some award….. Haibo !

  6. smee says:

    @pinkerton – Right? BC he’s not from ZA – it’s not like an honorary degree.

    His sartorial choices are perfection, but he’s from London, so it can be expected.

    I like her dress – sort of a modern version of a 1920s bias-cut gown – but I don’t think navy blue is her color.

    South Africa is the most amazing place on earth – I strongly recommend visiting it (and staying for several weeks bc there’s so many different things to see and do).

    I can’t wait to see this movie!

  7. Momoftwo says:

    I saw this movie last month and I loved it! (I thought) he sounded just like Mandela. He got the gravely nature of his voice down

    I had work hard to not focus on how hot his Mandela was

    • TheOriginalKitten says:

      Ha ha to the last sentence :)

      I wanna see it…is it playing everywhere or just limited release?

  8. Tulip Garden says:

    He is sartorially splendid, that is all! (She’s pretty too).

  9. Trixie says:

    Oh, MAN. Idris for dinner last night [Pacific Rim on Netflix after seeing it twice already at the theaters] and Idris for breakfast…Thank you, Celebitchy!

    • sienna says:

      Do you watch Luther? The first 2 season are on Netflix and we just bought the third. He is sooo good as John Luther.

      • Trixie says:

        Yes, Sienna! :) I finished all of the seasons and understand there is talk of a movie but I’d be happy for more of the series, honestly.

  10. TheOriginalKitten says:

    Much better, Idris, now I can go back to fantasizing about you.

  11. Lark says:

    Um, I’m pretty sure the passport thing was a joke. I feel bad that Naomi won’t get a chance for a nom, Harvey really screwed Mandela and Fruitvale Station over. He snatches up all these films, but then only picks one or two to push and it seems like it is Philomena and August: Osage County this time.

  12. lilian says:

    Matt Damon’s South African accent sucked. Leo Dicaprio in Blood Diamond was much closer to ours.

    • GlimmerBunny says:

      Agreed! I went to South Africa last Christmas and I was shocked at how much everyone sounded like Leo in Blood Diamond (one of my favorite movies by the way.)

    • yummy says:

      preach leo was really good also can I add that morgan freeman was the best madiba I’ve seen so far, I’ll admit I haven’t seen idris’s version, besides the trailer, and it annoys me that he uses broken English in one scene (when they arresting him). Mandela is a LAW GRADUATE his command of the english language is great why the hell would you do that?

  13. BooBooLaRue says:

    One sweet slice of man pie.

  14. Mich says:

    I’ve lived in South Africa for 15 years and can’t mimic the accent to save my life. The only dialect I can get even remotely close to is the Durban surfer. England and Australia – I can do those to perfection.

  15. sienna says:

    I think male shoe porn may be a British thing. My hubby is a brit and he has the best shoes. When we go back to the UK he can spend ages in Selfridges trying on shoes to find just the right ones (of course, unlike me, he demands comfort AND style!!).

  16. JulieN says:

    I’m South African and my friends and I agree that Leo’s accent was horrible, very forced, though I think he may have been going for an older generation’s style, it seemed odd since his character was young. Matt’s was much much better because it felt subtle, natural. Idris’ Madiba surpassed my expectations, I’m excited for the film!

  17. MsT_Shady says:

    @LRM – You’re totally right about South America and the African slave population. There aren’t many of those peoples here in UK but I have no idea why Europe kinda… Just…. Forgets about them. It’s bizarre. I’m sure that will change after the Olympics 2016.

    @MELISSA Perhaps it’s more prevalent in European Africans who have chosen to marry others from their ethnic group? Nigerians married to Nigerians, Ghanaians married to Ghanaians, etc. The shared sense of history and cultural awareness remains strong in those families, even for the subsequent generations of children. I hope that doesn’t sound racist but most of the mixed heritage people I know are Carribean-European, not African-European; I noticed that your list of celebs are all bi-racial, aren’t they?

    • LL2 says:


      If you don’t know Afro-European people, how can you make generalizations about them and their culture? They aren’t all bi-racial. Rakie Ayola has two black parents. Most African countries are multi-lingual so even if their parents were both Nigerians doesn’t mean their parents speak the same language. Like I said, you can’t make generalizations because whether or not someone speaks the language is based on their individual level of acculturation. There are even many people who live all their lives in Africa and speak only European languages, so please don’t make generalizations if you have not done your research.