About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Studios Home
March 2005
Sometimes in April: An Interview with Idris Elba

Sometimes in April: An Interview with Idris Elba

By Wilson Morales

Idris Elba is mostly known for playing the character of Stringer Bell on HBO's The Wire. It's a character that was playing against the law, but was well loved by the audiences. It's no secret that in the last season, Stringer Bell was killed. Now Idris is embarking on a new journey. It's a journey that will remove him from that character and established him as a talented and versatile actor. Working with HBO again, Idris will be the part of Augustin in a film that focuses on the genocide on Rwanda in 1994. The film is called "Sometimes in April" and Elba recently spoke to blackfilm.com about taking on the role and the experience on making this film.

How did you go about in getting the role?

Idris Elba: There are actors that are very established and have name value and Raoul had a problem with the fact that most of the actors the producers wanted weren't of African descent. Of course, my relationship with HBO at least put me in the picture as a likely candidate with African descent and can possibly play the part. I had no inroads or anything like that. I was probably within the last group of actors that Raoul had probably had seen. He had seen a lot of people and I was working on a play in New York and rehearsing at the time. I was into my rehearsal for 3 weeks when the script came to me. Raoul was very excited to meet me. I had worked with the casting director in Paris and she had mentioned to Raoul about using me. "Idris is in New York" she said and that's how the whole thing came about. When you play "Stringer Bell", they are not looking at me to play Augustin. Raoul was like, "He's not right. He's an American." Someone had told him, "No, he's not American. He's English and his parents are of African descent so you should look at him". The rest is history.

Do you think that you have been stereotyped in your career because you played Stringer Bell?

IE: My career didn't start with Stringer Bell. I have been acting for a long time. I have acting for about 12-13 years. In England I've played characters that were un-stereotypical, which is very lucky for me. I've been choosy. I don't act for money, and what that afford is me choosing roles that I think will make sense. I believe that I'm an everyman. I don't because I'm black, tall, and big build that I should play characters are intimidating, so in answer to your question, no. Now after Stringer Bell, an actual fact,. The industry has an understanding that I'm an artist who comes from England and I can play American characters and they give me scripts that are un-stereotypical just because they think that I have some unbelievable talent and can be able to transform myself into different characters, which is what an actor is supposed to do; however not all African American actors are afforded that privilege. So it's an advantage that I come from England and play a character like Stringer Bell and play a character like Augustin and show that range. It's an advantage to avoid being stereotyped.

What country are your parents from?

IE: My mother is from Ghana and my dad is from Syria.

What did they think of your performance?

IE: That's a good question. I haven't had in-depth conversations with my parents. They were proud that I was going to Africa first of all because they hadn't taken me to Africa yet, so they were proud that I was going. My dad is a very outspoken man and in-house politics. He will be the first one at the head of the table and give his opinion on what's going on in the world. To be honest with you, like myself, he wasn't that aware as to what happened in Rwanda at the time in depth, so he didn't have much to say about it. My mom was the same way as well. They were pleased that I was going to Africa to make a film about it.

What did you do physically to prepare for the film?

IE: Well, my character goes through an aging process that starts off in 2004 where he's around 49 years old and physically, I just adapted an older man's stance. My hairline was removed. The people from Rwanda have a gentlemen type when they walk. They are very tailored in their movements. Not like New Yorkers who are big on the hand movements. The Rwanda men are smaller in polite and tailored in movements. I observed that and tried to bring that in my character. Outside of that, there wasn't much physical change. I didn't lose or gain weight to play the part. The TV makes you look big and in some cases I was big because I was eating like five meals a day.

Did you get to meet any survivors and talk to them about their experience?

IE: Absolutely. That was the majority of what my original stay was for. It was to meet and talk to people who had gone through what my character had gone through. In particular, the guy who was driving me around; his name was Alex and he's 24 years old. He's a young and really nice guy and one day he decides to tell me what happens in his life. While he driving to a memorial site, he's explaining how he had survived. That was the first time I had heard a true account. It's hard to bring that sadness. It's sad to hear what happened but as filmmakers you goes through a glass ball and remove yourself a little bit. When Alex was telling me his story, I cried. He witness his whole family, having like 4 or 5 siblings, and mom and dad, who were all in the house when the militia came and murdered everyone right in front of his eyes. They started chopping up everyone and he played dead underneath his family. The militia decided to use the house and piled the bodies to one side of the room and used the house to drink, smoke, and rest while they were in that area. So for two weeks, Alex played dead underneath his whole family, and he and his younger brother did the same. He has raised his younger brother since and that was 10 years ago and he's 24 years old now. He spoke very graphically about how it was. I can't imagine on what that must be like. We can only hear those stories, but we can't imagine what that is like. He very quickly put it in perspective for me. Rwandese people aren't really forthright with those stories. They put them in the back of the heads. Unless you ask and come to their level, they don't like journalist coming in and prying. They would relate to me because I tried very hard to strip myself of me. I didn't walk around with a Yankees hat and all that. I just tried to fit in and be as personable as I could be. I'm six foot tall and I look like an American. I stood out in Rwanda. It was a matter of coming down and breaking bread and talk. That's how I got into speaking to people.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy