Where did Idris Elba come from? Yes, we know he was born in East London, but we’re keen to find out what made him into the fine actor he is today. Let’s hit the rewind button and get to know the man behind the acclaimed detective series Luther, returning to BBC AMERICA on Thursday, December 17.
In his own words:
- He was born Idrissa Akuna Elba in East London on September 6, 1972
- What was his earliest London memory?
- He was raised in Hackney, London by his parents, where a housing complex was named in his honor in 2011.
“It is well documented that I was in Hackney for quite a long length of time. But just to have someone say: ‘We are so proud of what you have done we are going to name a building after you that is cost-effective, clean and new,’ is a great honor.”
- He learned to drive when he was 13 (his parents didn’t know about it).
“I was driving when I was 13 years old. I was 13 and had a beard. As soon as I could grow a beard I was like, ‘This is a good idea, man, why not buy a car?’ I bought this car, it was like for 50 quid ($75). It was a little Mini Cooper. I was 13, no sense. I loved it, I used to drive to school, park around back. All my boys used to eat lunch in the back.”
- He was dating at 14.
“When I was about 14 I had a a girlfriend who was 19. It was a good life, maaaan. Comeon. Good life. [She didn’t know he was 14.] Her name was Judith. She was lovely. She was beautiful. I used to stay around her house, but I would tell my mum and dad that I was staying at a friend’s house. And in the morning I would say I was going to work. I’d drive and I was actually going to school. And I remember one time I had some homework I had to take care of when I was around her house. I was like, ‘Ugh, my boss makes me do his children’s homework!'”
- He moved to an all boys school in Canning Town.
“I said to my mum, ‘Where do the girls eat?’ The receptionist started laughing. She said, ‘This is a boys’ school.’ I felt robbed, mate. I couldn’t even understand the concept. A boys’ school. What is that? Did I do something wrong? Am I in trouble?”
- He shortened his name to Idris in secondary school.
- His drama teacher Miss McPhee helped him join the National Youth Music Theatre.
“I’m a recipient of Prince’s Trust generosity. I got £1,500 ($2,272) to help me get into the National Youth Music Theatre, which was a lot of money back then. I probably wouldn’t have gone if they hadn’t given me that. That was a life-changing experience for me.”
- He followed in his father’s footsteps, working at a Ford factory in the U.K.
“I find that a lot of actors who are good and open to challenges have lived a full life. When you walk into an audition, you have more to say for yourself because you come from the real world. It’s more enticing for directors, I think.”
- He landed small roles in London like on Ab Fab in 1995.
- In his early 20s he wanted a change.
- He left the U.K. for more acting roles in the U.S. in the late ’90s.
- He worked as a doorman at Carolines Comedy Club in Times Square.
- In 2001 he was cast in Sir Peter Hall’s off-Broadway play Troilus and Cressida.
“It was a pivotal time for me, make or break, stay in America and continue to do something that was not going very well, or come home? There were bouts of absolute poverty, homelessness, jobs that could have got me into an awful lot of trouble, but the truth is, it was survival instincts.”
- In 2002 he landed the role of a lifetime and his first child was born.
“My (then) wife was about eight and a half months pregnant by the time I got the news I was going to be on The Wire. If I didn’t get it, I was going to leave the U.S. We knew that if I didn’t have acting work after my daughter was born we would be up [expletive] street.”
- He hit the big screen in roles like 2007’s 28 Weeks Later.
- In 2010 he returned to the U.K. to film the detective series Luther.
- He portrayed Nelson Mandela in 2013’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
“People are going to judge me for this role. I don’t look like Mandela, some say I don’t deserve it. Whatever. For me, it’s important I am who I am, as I present this piece to the world. I’m 40, and I’ve had a great career. I’m alright to be myself at this point. Look, if I never work again, I don’t care. I did my bit, you know?”
- In 2014 his second child was born. He named his son Winston after his own father.
- He broke an 88-year-old speeding record on Discovery’s Idris Elba: No Limits.
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) July 27, 2015
- In 2015 rumors flew that he might be the next James Bond.
- These days he doesn’t sit back and expect things to work out.
Did you learn anything new about Idris Elba?Read More