Interview: Idris Elba

The actor best known as The Wire’s Stringer Bell talks about new crime drama Luther

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Idris Elba…on acting

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“I was doing the night shift, listening to Sam Cooke on my headphones, I’d been there [the Ford assembly line at Dagenham] a year. And my supervisor p****d me off one night. I jumped in an electric cart and drove around the four-mile radius of the plant all night, thinking about my future. ‘What am I gonna do, man? This is not the way I wanna live. I feel like I wanna be an actor, I feel like I can do it.’”

…on race

“I’m in the front seat on [heist drama] Takers. You know, calling a spade a spade – I’m a black man, and I’m not Will Smith. But putting me in the front seat, you’re asking people to ignore whatever prejudices you have about black people, black males, and watch an actor do his work. And I have to say, man, I’ve been privileged to climb that ladder. I feel like Luther is well deserved. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I just feel like, the British public need to see this man.”

…on playing John Luther

“It is a lot of work. Lot of lines. This character is very… what’s the word? Cerebral. Lots of passion, but then lots of rage.”

“You know you watch the news and someone has killed their children? And your instinct is to be like, ‘Oh, if got my hands on them…’? Well, his instinct is to do that but he’s a police officer. And when he does get his hands on them he doesn’t necessarily follow procedure. He will be as vindictive as the criminal.”

“His relationship with his wife is in a mess, too. He’s just not compos mentis when it comes to dealing with his personal life and with things in a proper fashion. If he wasn’t a policeman, he’d be a criminal, no doubt. But he’s not criminally minded. He’s not mean or vindictive. He’s actually tender and passionate. But he’s got a lot of rage.”

…on The Wire v Luther

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“People like what I did in The Wire, and liked that show. I cannot go back on television and do something that does not satisfy that audience. It’s crunch time for Idris right now, brother, it is. People are going, ‘That’s the geezer from The Wire!’… ‘Oh, he’s doing Luther? So he’s not gonna be Stringer no more? No!’ And if they don’t like what they see, it could be lights out for me.”