From a recent Telegraph (UK) profile of Idris Elba: "It was really weird,” he begins. “I’d just done eight months in South Africa. I came to England and the day I came back I had to do reshoots on Thor 2.” He raises an eyebrow. “And in the actual scene my hair was different, my…” He stops and gives an exasperated sigh. “I was like, ‘This is torture, man. I don’t want to do this.’ My agent said: ‘You have to, it’s part of the deal.’ ” In the scene in question in the superhero movie, “I’m actually falling down from a spaceship, so they had to put me in harness in this green-screen studio. And in between takes I was stuck there, fake hair stuck on to my head with glue, this fucking helmet, while they reset. And I’m thinking: ‘24 hours ago, I was Mandela’. When I walked into the set the extras called me Madiba. I was literally walking in this man’s boots. [Within] six months, the crew, we were all so in love with this film we had made. I was him. I was Mandela, practically,” he insists. “Then there I was, in this stupid harness, with this wig and this sword and these contact lenses. It ripped my heart out."
Reading this, I tried to make sense of what he really was saying here, without actually saying it, and this is what I came up with: His frustration with having to take what are essentially secondary, peripheral roles in major Hollywood movies, and only really being able to play leading men when it’s a *smaller* picture, typically one made outside of the USA, that he co-produced.
My thinking there then led me to a question we’ve asked on this blog a number of times – whether Elba will ever really become the Hollywood leading man that his white contemporaries currently are – some who, in some cases, don’t even have anywhere close to the on-screen presence that he possesses seemingly effortlessly. By all accounts, at this stage in his career, Elba probably should be in contention for almost every top studio project with a leading man role in it (which is really most of the movies made in Hollywood today). Instead, he gets to play second fiddle to guys like Chris Hemsworth, Charlie Hunnam, and Nicholas Cage to name a few. And that’s when he’s actually cast in a major studio project, which, even though it may seem like he works a lot, really isn’t all that often.
Skimming his IMDB credits, aside from *niche* fare like "No Good Deed" and "Obsessed" several years back, he really hasn’t STARRED in a Hollywood studio-backed MAJOR production – and by that, I mean, like a Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Johnny Depp, Mark Wahlberg, Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr, etc, etc, etc, starring in a film produced to be seen widely, GLOBALLY; an expensive genre movie, or even a franchise, or a smart, solidly written drama that’s both commercial and awards-worthy, like some of the white actors he plays sidekick or mentor to, typically get to star in; instead of, as he suggests, having to essentially take several steps back, each time he’s offered a role in one of these kinds of movies, after having played an icon like Mandela in a much smaller movie, not made in the USA, that isn’t seen by as many people.
It’s not as if he’s an *unknown* actor or doesn’t have crossover awareness. Fanboys and girls across the country, regardless of skin color, seem to love him, and want to see him on screen more, preferably in juicier, starring roles. For those, he has to head back to the UK, and/or produce himself. Not that doing so is a negative. It’s a good thing that he’s able to get some passion projects off the ground, whether the backing comes from the USA or elsewhere. But, the point is, it seems like, as he appears to be stating here, that he should be doing more than what he’s been given to do when it comes to what Hollywood specifically has to offer him, and, like his white contemporaries, he should be able to move from a project like "Mandela" to another role, in another film that’s just as prominent, but on a much larger scale, and not a peripheral character like Heimdall from the "Thor" franchise.
I’m certainly not one to use the so-called "race card," but I just can’t help but believe that if Idris Elba were a white actor, he wouldn’t be starring in his own well-financed studio-backed movie franchise right now. I think he’d be in far more demand than he currently is. His name would likely be on every leading man role shortlist.
And it looks like the trend will continue. Upcoming projects on his slate include a spy thriller starring Sean Penn titled "The Gunman," the indie drama "Beasts of No Nation," reprising his role as Heimdall in the next "Thor" movie, the French-made thriller "Bastille Day" with Richard Madden from "Game of Thrones," an indie flick with Sam Worthington and Noomi Rapace titled "Alive Alone," and voicing 2 animated characters in 2 Disney movies.
That’s it! Again, it’s definitely work, and he’s collecting paychecks, at least, which many others can’t say. But, again, the point is whether he’s been fully embraced in Hollywood (the largest and most influential film industry in the entire world) as leading man material, and whether his frustrations, as expressed in the quote at the top of this post, are valid.
You can read the full interview here.