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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 Lutherreturning to BBC AMERICA on Thursday, December 17.

In his own words:

  • He was born Idrissa Akuna Elba in East London on September 6, 1972

I love the U.K., grew up in East London and I love it there. That’s where my roots will always be.

  • What was his earliest London memory?
Here is an exterior photo of Queensbridge Primary School now. (Photo:

Playing on the playground slide in Queensbridge Primary School in Hackney, when I was about five. I loved that place.”

  • 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).
This isn't the actual car Elba drove, it's a "stunt double" of a Mini Cooper. (Photo: Wikipedia)
This isn’t the actual car Elba drove, it’s a “stunt double” of a Mini Cooper. (Photo: Wikipedia)

“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. 

“I was born in Forest Gate and lived in Hackney and in Canning Town. We moved to Canning Town when I was going into the first year of high 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.


“I just forget that people might have seen that. Somehow I figure that it might disappear. ‘Idris Elba in Ab Fab? No. You mean that guy is Idris Elba? What?'”

  • In his early 20s he wanted a change. 

“I was working straight out of college. By the time I was 23 I’d clocked up a few good credits, telly, a bit of theater, but I was still aiming for something bigger, and New York beckoned.”

  • He left the U.K. for more acting roles in the U.S. in the late ’90s. 

“Even when I went to America I didn’t work for four years. It wasn’t like I came to New York and it was the land of milk and honey.”

  • He worked as a doorman at Carolines Comedy Club in Times Square.
Elba rubbed elbows with famous comedians like Dave Chapelle and D.L. Hughley when working at Carolines. (Photo:

“It was survival tactics for a couple of years. I was jobbing it. I used to finish at two or three in the morning and stump the streets back to Jersey City.”

  • 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.
(Photo: 20th Century Fox)
Elba in ’28 Weeks Later’ as Stone. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Danny Boyle and Juan Carlos, they made the decision about bringing me in. It was a good part and a very interesting film.”

  • In 2010 he returned to the U.K. to film the detective series Luther.

“I always go to Luther when I’m at my grumpiest. I use John as a little bit of therapy for me. There’s a lot of screaming and shouting …”

  • 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. 

“Look!! it’s my Dad Dad!!” ….Nice one Birds…great pic.;))

A photo posted by 7dub (@7dub) on

“I love being a dad, its an important part of my life.”

  • He broke an 88-year-old speeding record on Discovery’s Idris Elba: No Limits

  • In 2015 rumors flew that he might be the next James Bond. 
(Photo: BBC America)
Elba stars in ‘Luther’ as DCI John Luther. (Photo: BBC America)

“Luther is my bond.”

  • These days he doesn’t sit back and expect things to work out. 

“I don’t try to get too comfortable in any of it. If I did, I’d probably stay still.”

Did you learn anything new about Idris Elba? 

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Filed Under: Idris Elba, Luther
By Brigid Brown