Idris Elba reveals his favourite role ever ahead of tonight’s BAFTAs honour

The actor has revealed his most beloved character – and it's not John Luther.

Idris Elba, the star of Luther on BBC One, The Wire on HBO and other dramas, will receive the BAFTA Special Award for contributions to television

John Luther? Stringer Bell? Thor’s Heimdall perhaps? Chances are if asked what Idris Elba’s greatest screen role is, you’ll have one character in mind.

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It turns out that there’s a part the man himself considers his best. Speaking to the British Academy ahead of the BAFTAs 2020 (broadcast on Friday 31st July, 7pm BBC One), Elba said portraying Nelson Mandela in 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom would be his top pick.

“That brings a lump to my throat,” he said. “It was an honour to portray him. I dedicated that role to my dad. He reminded me of Mandela, with his big white hair and infectious smile.”

Elba also opened up about his first ever screen role – as a murderer in a crime reconstruction scene on Crimewatch in 1994.

“I was thankful for the job. It sounds weird but, at the time, getting a job on Crimewatch was the first rung on the ladder. A lot of actors don’t like to admit they did Crimewatch, but I’m not embarrassed by it.”

After Crimewatch, Elba enjoyed several small roles in dramas such as Law & Order, before deciding to move across the Atlantic.

“At the time, the pinnacle [in the UK] was to get on Casualty, The Bill or Silent Witness. I’d done all of those and I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I do want to be bigger,’” he said.

“I remember looking at actors across the pond and seeing how their careers looked, and I thought, ‘I could have a piece of that.’”

Elba, who recovered from coronavirus earlier this year, is set to receive the BAFTA Special Award, one of the academy’s highest accolades. According to BAFTA, the gong has been given “in recognition of his exceptional career and commitment to championing diversity and new talent in the industry”. Viewers of the ceremony will see some “very special surprise guests” present the award (via video conferencing software).

The special socially-distanced BAFTAs ceremony will be hosted by Richard Ayoade, who will be joined (virtually) by guest presenters for each award. These include Adrian Lester, Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, Greg Davies, Himesh Patel, Jessica Hynes and Gangs of London’s Joe Cole and Sope Dirisu.

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The Virgin Media BAFTAs will air on Friday 31 July from 7.00pm BBC One. If you’re looking for something to watch, check out our TV Guide.