Exclusive: Idris Elba Talks Prometheus, No Good Deed, and playing Nelson Mandela
June 1, 2012
Coming out on June 8th is the one of the most anticipated films of the year, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited sci-fi thriller, ‘Prometheus.’ It’s been nearly 30 plus years since Scott tackled the genre when he created the ‘Alien’ franchise and helmed the classic ‘Blade Runner.’
Featuring a cast that includes Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, and Guy Pearce, ‘Prometheus’ takes a team of scientists and explorers on a thrilling journey that will test their physical and mental limits and strand them on a distant world, where they will discover the answers to our most profound questions and to life’s ultimate mystery.
For Elba, who plays the ship’s Captain Janek, the role gave him the opportunity to work with Scott again after appearing in a smaller role opposite Denzel Washington in ‘American Gangster.’ Although the London native has appeared in a horror film (The Reaping, 28 Weeks Later), a supernatural film (The Unborn), a comic book (The Losers, Thor, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and plenty of dramatic films (Obsessed, Takers, Legacy), this is his first time entering the sci-fi genre.
Since he left his role as the infamous Stringer Bell on HBO’s acclaimed series, ‘The Wire,’ Elba has been working non-stop. He’s appeared in about 3-4 films yearly since 2007, and on top of that, he’s also had time to do a TV series, the detective drama, ‘Luther,’ for which he won a Golden Globe award in 2011 for Best Actor In A Miniseries Or TV Movie.
Coming up next for Elba is his fifth collaboration with producer Will Packer, the thriller ‘No Good Deed,’ which will pair him opposite the lovely Taraji P. Henson. After that film wraps, he’s off to South Africa to start filming the role of a lifetime, playing the great leader Nelson Mandela in the biopic, ‘Long Walk to Freedom.’
In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Elba talked about his role in ‘Prometheus,’ working with Scott and the cast, playing Nelson Mandela, and his great friendship with Will Packer.
What makes Janek different from the other characters?
Idris Elba: He’s impartial to the exploration. His job is to make sure that the vessel carries these people to their destination and that’s it. He doesn’t really get involved in any of it. Eventually he has to because he runs a ship and it’s his responsibility to keep everyone safe on the boat. When I say boat, it’s because it’s very much the same mentality of a longshoreman that rides a long vessel into the deep sea. They’re not real talkers. They have no personalities. If they did, that’s not where they should be. That’s why Janek is different from everyone else. He’s straight down the line and all about the work.
What was the attraction to doing the film?
IE: I got another call from Ridley (Scott). The first call was for ‘American Gangster.’ So this is my second time working with him. The first time he taught me a lot about being an actor, an aware actor. Actors need to be aware as to how they are being used in film. “Here’s the script. You know what you’re doing” and what Ridley did was say, “In this section we’re filming, I want the audience to feel or feel that.” That’s where I learned a lot from Ridley because he puts you into perspective of how this performance is actually going to be utilized. That’s interesting for an actor to understand. Prometheus is a huge epic film that will definitely take you on a journey. It will answer some questions about us as human beings and mankind. The cast is amazing with some really good acting and good actors and great visuals. It’s a Ridley Scott film and you should check it out. I have a good role in it and a great film to see.
You’ve done a lot of films and tackled a number of genres, but this is your first true sci-fi film. Had you seen Ridley’s previous sci-fi films?
IE: I’m a big fan of ‘Bladerunner.’ I love that film and ‘Alien’ of course. I think Ridley has an imagination that is magic, detailed specific, and smart. It’s a privilege for any actor to work with him.
How was working with the rest of the cast?
IE: It was like being asked to play on the Olympic team. There were players on “this team” who you know are good and when you get the call from Ridley Scott, who’s a mastermind, it’s a great feeling. By the way, he has great taste in actors. I felt honored to be a part of that group. No matter how successful you are as an actor, when you see yourself in a room with really phenomenal actors, you start to merit your own weight as an actor.
As the levelheaded captain, who controls the ship, how much authority does Janek have amongst the crew onboard?
IE: The thing about the storyline is that there are two sets of people on the ship. There are the scientists and then there’s the corporation. I work for the corporation. Typically, the corporation is not on the ship. They send their scientists out. In this particular story, they are. The why part will be explored in the movie. In answer to your question, Janek’s authority gets questioned a little bit because suddenly the corporation is on the ship and they are coming on this journey. This isn’t his first journey. He’s done plenty of them, but Janek is saying to himself, “Okay now, so the corporation is telling me what to do. What are you doing on the ship? I’m taking these scientists somewhere and what do you want.” He’s very much a working man and doesn’t ask for much except a paycheck.
How was shooting the film? I’m sure you traveled to many locations.
IE: We went all throughout London, my neck of the woods. I was predominantly on the ship, but the exteriors that I was involved with, were done in Pinewood Studios.
Moving from one character to another, you’re about to play Nelson Mandela in another film. Are you ready to play the role?
IE: I’m already playing him. I’m three people right now. I’m playing a role opposite Taraji (P. Henson) in ‘No Good Deed’ that’s quite consuming. Then I’m Idris, who is sitting here with you and then I’m Nelson Mandela, who’s preparing for one of the biggest roles in my life. It’s essentially one of the most challenging roles in my life that I have ever taken. What does it feel like to be me right now? I feel like I’m a well oiled machine being pushed further and further. I’m enjoying it. I’m exhausted but I chose this lane. With the type of actor I want to be, I want to keep people guessing. I want to be able to take a year off and no one sees me and come back with something amazing. The way to get there is to do what I’m doing right now.
With many films under your belt and a best actor award for Your TV series Luther, are you ready to be a leading man in Hollywood?
IE: I’m ready, but I feel like I’m more of a character actor. I’m ready for it. I get more attracted to character roles that challenge that leading man thing. By the way, that “leading man” moniker has become an old hat actually. When you consider film lately, there’s rarely one leading man. There are leading men like the George Clooneys and the Denzels, but that style is perhaps not as current anymore. You are seeing more ensembles. You are seeing pairings with good actors and so on. I’m ready to do the leading man thing, but I also feel I’m more of a character actor.
With ‘No Good Deed,’ it’s the fifth film you’ve done with producer Will Packer. What makes working with him special?
IE: The shorthand is that when we are on set, he pushes as an actor. He analyzes me as an actor in a deeper sense. I enjoy making films with Will. He’s good at what he does. He’s very successful. If I said to Will, “I want to play an Eskimo,” he would say “Let me think about that” and see where the challenges are with that. He would definitely be one of my producing partners for the rest of my life.
What will the audience from ‘No Good Deed’ with you and Taraji paired up?
IE: There’s a real interesting thing happening with me and Taraji as we speak and that she’s very vibrant. It’s a good old fashion thriller. I think a film with two blacks in the lead, this film hasn’t been seen before and I’m pretty excited by it. I love working with her. She’s crazy and very good. She brings all her energy to the set.